With 100 years of experience, the world’s first national standards organization is home to one of the UK’s best-known brands. Stuart Crainer investigates the story behind the Kitemark.
The British Standards Institution (BSI) has a reassuringly traditional ring to it. In the world of national stereotypes, the British and standards fit as comfortably together as the French and romance. But, appearances can be deceptive. BSI Product Services is responsible for the UK’s best-known quality standard: the Kitemark, which is found on products from windscreens to condoms. The Kitemark is identified as a “superbrand”, alongside the usual brand giants. Little wonder.
The Kitemark is recognized by over 82 per cent of the UK adult population and trusted by more than 88 per cent. There are brands and then there are brands. BSI traces its lineage to the beginning of the 20th century and the standardization of iron and steel sections. The Kitemark was first registered as a trademark for tramway rails. Now, its activities embrace the development and sale of private, national and international standards; certification of management systems (things like ISO 9000); and testing and certifying products and services to provide Kitemarks and the European, CE, standard.
The last element is the province of BSI Product Services, a classic science-led organization. Its scientists – 70 per cent of whom are university graduates – test a panoply of different products. If you are exporting light bulbs to Namibia or launching a medical device in Japan, BSI Product Services will ensure that your product meets local standards. For example, in China, a product needs a special mark (called China Compulsory Certification); and, if it doesn’t have it, you can’t sell that product in China. BSI tests everything from commercial construction products to motorcycle helmets, from fire extinguishers to car headlights. As business and standards become more global, it is a good business to be in. BSI Product Services has customers in over 110 countries and offices in 50. Three-quarters of FTSE 100 companies use its services, as do 42 per cent of the Fortune 500 and 42 per cent of the Hang Sen. Standards are the building blocks of globalization.