There is a transformation of the pen industry. The industry is moving from one that creates writing instruments to accessories for life styles, or accessories to use to identify yourself.
Over the past few months in talking with those involved with the production, distribution and retailing of pens I am getting this sense of transformation.
Over the past year the retail scene for pens has been difficult. The economic recession has taken its toll. I regularly hear how over the past year it has been the sales of the $80 to $100 pen that has been a mainstay for stores. Other stores tell me they are hanging in because of the diversity of retail platforms: a physical store but also a web site that expands their market reach. Other stores have said that is a mix of associated items to pens like leather goods, watches, or pipes that together have made a winning combination.
The type of pen that is a seller varies. There have been some new lines, such as Visconti's Homo Sapien has been very successful. The new 23k dreamtouch nib is often quoted as being something that has created the needed level of want to drive sales.
The "want factor" is important and something that my conversations with the leaders of many pen companies is very clear. They have all identified the success factor in creating a want, something to drive a person to buy a particular pen.
This "want factor" is also about lifestyle and having a pen that matches one's self-identity.
One of the stores in Italy that I visited was very clear in the future trend of the business. No longer carrying a full range of pens such as Waterman, Parker, Lamy, OMAS etc., the line up of pens one would expect to see in a pen store, business is now focused on the pen as a lifestyle accessory. The store focuses on jewelry, watches, cuff links, leather goods and the accompanying line of pens.
As I talked with the owner I saw an example of lifestyle purchase. A young fellow in a dark blue suit walked into the store. He was carrying two large shopping bags from some high end fashion stores in one hand and his cycle helmet in the other. He walked up to the sales person and pointed to the Montblanc cabinet. Although I did not hear his exact words, the case was opened and a pen come out. Very shortly the fellow and the sales person walked over to the cash register. The warranty card and sale were completed and the fellow left with one more "designer bag" and purchase in hand.
It is what I did not see in that transaction that is also important in terms of the transformation of the pen business. There was no discussion of various lines, there was no dipping and trying of various pens. There was no counter with three of four pens laid out and a decision of the right pen being made. The customer knew what he wanted.
In this case he selected a Montblanc pen, but the pen could have been one of the Cartier or Dunhill pens laid out with matching lighters, jewelry, watches and other accessories.
As I talked with the owner of the store I got the idea of what I saw transact is his view of the future of the pen business.
The impact of the lifestyle accessory model of business to the pen industry is significant. As the market contracts to a more limited scope it lessens the opportunity for the larger range of pen production. Pens based on lifestyle or personality are specific and have a more defined market. (Pictured above: recent press release from Montgegrappa about Jean Alesi flying at Mach 1, with a Montgegrappa pen.)
It also leads to pens being designed and manufactured at higher price points. If I spend $1000 on a watch then a $50 pen would never hold the same level of perceived value. If the company has to pay rights to use a brand, that all goes into the cost of the pen.
For some, the introduction to using a fountain pen is a low to medium price points. Only makes sense. Make sure you like writing with a fountain pen before investing a sizeable amount of money. I regularly receive e-mails from individuals who write about how they now want to acquire a better pen at a higher price point. Who will be making the good quality entry and mid-level pen?
Montegrappa's new Muhammad Ali pen linked with a personality. We may see more of these from other companies as well. Icons much as Muhammad Ali and others hold special meaning to individuals, and this means this pen will be of interest not only to those who like pens, but to those that follow boxing.
Other companies, such as Krone Pens also produces pens with event or historical linkages as a means of making the pen be of interest to individuals other than the traditional pen market.
Montblanc in September 2010 announced it is issuing a limited edition John Lennon pen to celebrate the 70th anniversary of John Lennon.
Visconti has linkages with Ducati and lines such as the Carbon Dream using carbon fiber and titanium, materials found in racing motorcycles. This marketing and production is about about lifestyle more so than the picking of a material to produce a pen.
In reviewing the Richemont 2010 Annual Report, the strategy of one of its companies, Montblanc, is to recover from its current drop in sales by diversification presenting innovative watches and sophisticated writing instrument and other "luxurious objects" to customers around the world. Lifestyle.
Xinyu Hengdeli has a strategy for OMAS to expand into high-end consumer goods that include leather goods in addition to its line of writing instruments.
Sanford Newell has identified a strategy to expand the marking of its fine writing instruments to international markets, rather than relying on only the North American market as a means to expand its sales base.