2012 - Charals Celebrates 25 Years
When you open your store on your wedding day, remembering the anniversary date is easy.
Construction delays changed a planned opening from April to August 1986. From that time forward, Charals is one of Vancouver's Great Pen stores.
Charals continues to provide excellent service and a wide selection of pens and accessories within a very pleasant and upscale decor.
Owner Al Charania always wanted his store to be more than a pen store and it is. He carries lines of related merchandise of interest to business professionals or those who want accessories consistent with owning a quality pen.
In addition to the wide selection of pens there are leather desk accessories, writing paper products, watches and business related luggage.
I have been visiting Charals since I returned to Vancouver in 1987.
Whether to see the wide range of pens or to buy a Filofax refill, visiting the store and talking with Al Charania has always been a great experience. If I saw a new line of pen from OMAS, Visconti or Montegrappa - Charals is the store I knew I would be able to see and try the pen.
After biting his teeth in retail with a small shop in New Westminster, BC. Al went bold and opened Charals in the centre of Vancouver, in the historic Sinclair Centre. The Sinclair Centre covers an entire block and is comprised of four classic buildings that were restored and joined together by a glass atrium roof. The complex of buildings from the early 1900s provides a classic and upscale feel to the shopping experience.
From his travels through Europe Al had an idea of the layout and decor of the store. He worked with a designer to open what is truly a beautiful store. The high ceilings make the store feel even more spacious. The cabinets along the walls, and the presentation cases all provide ample space to display pens as well as the wide range of accessories he carries.
Al Charania of Charals.
I always found that as I looked through the cases, the selection of pens is impressive. It takes some time to look at all the items in the store and you will never feel pushed or pressured. Looking around and talking about the pens is all part of the Charals experience.
The store today is twice the size it was when Al first opened in 1986. He started with 500 square feet, opening at the same time the Sinclair Centre itself opened. In 1997 Al had the opportunity to expand and the space of the store doubled bringing the Charals to its current size of 1,045 square feet.
When I talked with Al about what he senses in change over the last 25 years, he says now it is even more about quality. He clarifies that quality has always been an important part of the pen business. Shoppers today, however, place quality high on their list of priorities in their product selection.
Al enjoys his customers, and he recognizes that for those who select a pen, it is very much a personal selection. He enjoys building a relationship with the customer.
Although he trained for a role in hotel management, ever since he started in retail it is the relationship with customers that Al says is the draw of being in the retail business.
Beautiful desk accessories available at Charals.
He is pleased with his choice of market presence. The sub-title on his web site, "The unique and the extraordinary" describes the focus of his store to sell pens, related accessories, organizers, watches and luggage items.
When had the opportunity to talk with Leo Desautels, Director, Sales & Channel Marketing for Newell Rubbermaid Office Products about Charals. The Office Products Division of Newell Rubbermaid owns Parker and Waterman. Newell Rubbermaid's vision includes to be a global company of "Brands that Matter". Those brands include fine writing instruments. Similarly, Charals selects and array of brands that meet customer needs for their client. Leo Desautels notes that Charals is a good example of a store that knows and understands the value of brands. The products and brands selected, the central downtown business-centre location and the upscale architecture of the Sinclair Centre all nicely come together.
The impact of the economic recession has been felt by the entire retail industry. For the pen retail trade it has meant that customers are more price conscious and seeking the best quality they can have with their purchase.
Al says the Internet has really changed the scope of comparisons that customers make. It is part of the business model now. Al's web site (www.charals.com) means that Charals is part of the web-based product comparison that costumers now make on a ongoing basis.
It is a challenge for Canadian retailers who face a different price framework from retail stores in the United States. He sees this also with tourists that visit his store. Charals is just a few blocks from Vancouver's major cruise ship dock. Both American and European tourists regularly visit Charals. The additional buying power and price base of those from Europe make the Canada pen market more competitive.
Charal's customers include business clients in the downtown centre of Vancouver. The majority of the pens sold at the store tend to be rollerball and ball point models. Fountains pens are a regular part of his business, but not the majority of pens sales.
Of the lines that tend to be the most popular, Al says Montblanc, Waterman and Faber-Castell are some of the most popular lines. Charals also has a wide selection of lines that would include OMAS, Visconti, Aurora, Cartier, Parker and Lamy.
I acquired my Visconti Homo Sapiens fountain pen from Charals, after visiting with the owner of Visconti, Dante del Vecchio in Florence, getting this pen was very meaningful.
But in the end when you put product and selection in a store, Al says it is the quality of service which is of prime importance. He tries to make this a defining aspect of being a customer of Charals.
Al explains that with a pen, quality is even more important as the pen is an item your hold in your hand. Your fingers feel every detail of the pen. The fit of the various parts. The finishing. The balance. It all goes into what he considers the total package of the pen.
Al likes to spend time with his customers and he is pleased to have them try a pen. As he explained, that is the part of the business transaction that the store can exceed. A customer may find a better price of a pen somewhere by searching on the Internet. None matches the experience of holding and discussing the pen. The in-store experience is the edge that retail stores will always hold over Internet sales.
Leading brands like Montegrappa are at Charals.
In terms of looking forward, Al is optimistic about the pen business. Pens meets a need. He see's an ongoing interest in pens and in individuals wanting to have a pen that is their own.
As for his advice to the pen manufacturers. He says it is all about the quality of the product. Pen companies have to keep this as one of their primary business principles. Manufacturing locations may change, however, in the end the success or failure of the brand line rests with is quality of the pen itself, and that is something over which the manufactures have total control.
Congratulations to Charals. Charals is one of Vancouver's Great Pen Stores. Charals have provided Vancouver with selection and service - I share the views of other pen users, we look forward to your continued success and having Charals as a valued pen store.