This week, our roving eye takes a little way out of the world of quaint market towns with nice pen shops in the corner and all the way to… Arizona. If that seems a bit of a leap, it will soon make sense. We caught up with founder Ron Manwaring, ably assisted by marketing supremo Zach Jolley.
So Ron, how did you end up opening a pen shop in a chalet in Mesa?
Well, I actually moved here at first to work in software! Then I got interested in the potential of online retailing, and while I searched for an underserved niche a lot of my friends started telling me that I should take a look at fountain pens. It’s been quite a learning curve since then – but now I can see what fuss is about.
There isn’t really a chalet, though?
Sorry to disappoint you! It’s more of a warehouse, although a warehouse with some pretty cool stuff in it, it’s got to be said.
You said it was quite a learning curve. What drew you in?
Well, the pen community is very well-connected – everyone knows everyone, and everyone seems to have an opinion. That keeps us honest; you have to treat people with respect and customers really know what they’re doing! It’s great dealing with people who are so enthusiastic, and it’s nice to hear good things in return. We try to go the extra mile when we can and that seems to be appreciated.
So this probably isn’t going to be the first time you’ve talked to pen bloggers.
Oh no, we talk to bloggers all the time! We get to see a lot of the US bloggers at pen shows and the like, and we’ve already worked with a couple of United Inkdom members (Ian and Stuart) so you were never going to escape.
So let us in the secret – what sells?
It’s not such a big secret. Everyone loves big exciting gold nibs, right? But the other thing that really gets people interested is interesting design, and there are a couple of unusual brands which are doing that for us. One is Opus 88, who are doing a great job of reinventing the eye-dropper, and the other brand which leaps to mind is Taccia, who are the only company we can think who get to re-badge Sailor nibs. Actually, we’re going to see if we can United Inkdom to try both of those out.
So, here’s the killer question; what are you both writing with today?
Ron: I love the Pilot Custom 823, which is a serious fountain pen, but a Retro 51 roller can be useful too – I hope the nib fans will forgive me!
Zach: I’ve taken to an Opus88 – that smooth nib takes some beating!
OK, you’ve sold it to us! We’ll have to put those pens through the review mill…