Tag Archives: profile

The Pen Shop profile

The Pen Shop is, well, a chain of shops which sell pens.  We caught up with Hannah, who handles awkward questions from fountain pen obsessives with great aplomb – as you’ll see:

So what’s the Pen Shop story?  How did one or two shops become the ‘chain’ of outlets The Pen Shop has today?

Believe it or not we have been around since the mid nineteenth century! The company started as T & G Allan in 1858 when the first store was set up on Collingwood Street in Newcastle by local brothers Thomas and George Allan. They then started opening stores around the North East’s high streets: the stores had numerous different departments including stationery, books, gifts, pens, toys and greeting cards. People in the North East tend to have very fond memories of the T & G Allan branches and we still actually have a popular T & G Allan store up in Morpeth. Due to the stationery departments doing so well in these shops the company first opened a dedicated Pen Shop in Newcastle in 1946 which was the first specialist writing instrument shop in Britain. Since then we have opened stores all across the UK, our latest addition being at St.Pancras station in London.

A brand new Pen Shop, looking pristine

There aren’t so many proper fountain pen specialists based in North East England.  Is having an HQ within smiting distance of the Angel of the North a help or hindrance?

For the most part I don’t think people always realise we are a North East company. Our directors do some travelling to and from London for meetings but with the power of email, conference calls and the occasional Skype everywhere’s pretty well connected – as we have stores all over the UK for people to visit I don’t think it matters too much if our Head Office is a little out of the way (although Tyneside is the centre of the universe, of course). As we were founded in Newcastle I think it is lovely that over 150 years later we are still based here.  We like the human touch though, so we always encourage enthusiasts nearby to arrange a visit.

…still looking amazingly shiny….

A lot of competitors have moved online-only, but you’re gradually growing the bricks-and-mortar business.  What makes that work for you?

We are very proud of our physical stores as it gives customers the chance to go in, pick up a pen and try it for themselves. There is something special about that which you can’t always experience on-line. In our shops you can try the various pens on offer, test the nibs to see which one is best for your own individual style of writing, and bend the ear of our staff too. Our staff are an enthusiastic bunch, and making sure they can get out to see the pens being made too seems to pay off; the majority of our managers have been here for 10+ years, our Manchester King Street manager has been here 30+ years – the one to beat however is our office manager at HQ who is on 38 years with the company. Once people come into The Pen Shop ‘family’ they don’t tend to leave, and that feel seems to get reflected when customers visit our stores.  Running in parallel with our bricks-and-mortar business, though, is our on-line presence, an area of the business that we are investing heavily in – so expect to see more on the way!

Before opening 1 (2)
…and now with added customers!

Us fountain pen enthusiasts can be a demanding crowd.  What brands sell best to the cognoscenti – and what are they sometimes missing out on at the moment?

Montblanc is actually our best-selling brand, both on-line and in our stores. They seem to appeal to quite a wide cross-section of people.  On the other end of the pricing scale our Dex pens are becoming a big hit with people starting out with fountain pens, which we’re always pleased to see. We do also find there’s a loyal fan-base for Yard-O-Led; they are one of the few British ‘big brands’ still going and with genuinely beautiful products we’re very proud to stock them.

The pen is mightier than the… ah, no, too late.

Finally the key question – and be honest now – what pen is in your pocket today?

A bright purple Dex with a left-handed nib, which is surprisingly comfortable to use – and I’ve certainly tried my best to break it with my dreadful handwriting! I have even used purple ink and started using my special flowery Ted Baker notebook this week. Our Managing Director reckons the pen and ink you use is an extension of your own personality – so bright purple floral probably sums me up quite well…

Fosfor Bangalore fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Esther and Pablo at FPnibs evidently delight in bringing something usefully unusual to the market, and Fosfor pens are no exception.  We’ve covered the affordable-but-quite-nice end of Indian fountain pen production in our previous Fountain Pen Revolution article, but Fosfor is quite a different proposition; the brand is essentially one man, Manoj, hand-making pens from scratch in Pune.Banga1How it looks  Like a work of art, which is what it is – or, at the very least, the product of expert craftsmanship and painstaking care.  The material (polyester, in this case) supports some wildly contrasting colours, and every one is essentially unique.orange writing sample 3How it feels  Warm, light… and large.  This isn’t one for grabbing in a hurry to jot notes; for one thing, it takes a while to unscrew (somewhat to Ruth’s frustration!), and that big #6 nib lends itself to calm composed writing rather than hasty scribbles.  Despite the generous proportions, it doesn’t feel overbalanced, and those who like their pens on the big side will find it handles very well.

still unscrewing
Still unscrewing!

How it fills  This is a straightforward cartridge/converter model, and none the worse for that.

Crucially, how it writes…  Of course that depends upon the nib, but the #6 JoWo steel nib which this test unit was fitted with was impressively smooth.  Pablo will happily fit a gold alternative if you prefer, including one of his hand-finished semi-flex nibs – indeed, the video demonstrating the semi-flex nib was filmed with this very pen.Ruth writing with the Fosfor

Pen! What is it good for?  There’s no clip, and the vivid colour-schemes perhaps don’t naturally lend themselves to the office, so this is perhaps ideal for journalling, note-taking or doodling at home.

VFM  It’s not cheap, but it’s far from exorbitant either; prices compare well with hand-made pens from John Twiss or Edison, for example – and so does the quality, we think.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Well, Manoj takes on personal commissions, if your budget will stretch to bespoke design.  His triangular pen, for example, is quite something to behold.orange writing sample 1

Our overall recommendation  If large pens in vibrant hues are your thing, Fosfor pens are worth checking out.

Where to get hold of one  Now that’s a little tougher, as rather inconveniently FPnibs have just sold out of Fosfor stock!  But you can contact Esther and Pablo directly via their site if you’d like to ask them to get some more in, or you could head straight to Fosfor’s own site of course.orange writing sample 2

This meta-review references:

Fosfor on woodThanks to  Esther and Pablo at FPnibs.com for supplying the Bangalore we reviewed – and letting us give it away!  To enter, we asked readers for their ideas for what Manoj should consider having a crack at next – whether that was new colours, new shapes, or a return of something old but good.  There’s more on that in the comments below…

 

Cult Pens profile

Cult Pens are one of the best-known names in fountain pen retail (and various other goodies) in the UK – and, as it happens, one of the earliest supporters of this site, although we were all customers already.  So when we decided to broaden the format of the United Inkdom to include the occasional company profile piece, they were a natural choice to get us started with that too.  We caught up with one of the company’s founders, Simon Walker, for a very light grilling.

How did it all get started, and how has it changed?

Well that’s been pretty well covered elsewhere, but it was the classic evolution from a small shop to early e-merchandise, and on to today.  Getting the software to work well is a lot easier these days, and it’s grown from a couple to eighteen people – and a dog, of course!

Herbie the Cult Pens despatch hound, hunting the famous Dartmoor tiger.

What brands have been the big hits – whether or not they were expected to be?

Kaweco stand out as fellow stationery fans, and they’ve been great to work with – their success has really come from listening to customers and shaping their offer accordingly, which fits well with works for us too.  The other big brand that stands out is Platinum; they too have really listened to customer feedback and put time and effort into understanding what writers are looking for – when you see the chief executive of international big name like that making it all the way to Devon to meet us, you know they’re serious!

How is the humble fountain pen holding up against its competitors?

The biggest competitor these days isn’t really another writing device, but the smart phone and the tablet.  It sometimes seems like hand-writing implements as a whole are a declining market, so enthusiast markets are the key.  That’s fine by us though – the enthusiasts are really nice people to work with, and it all drives innovation.

So, what should we look out for next?

Oh, now there’s a trade secret!  Actually the big new releases should be starting to crystallise fairly soon; it’s the big trade show coming up soon in Frankfurt where the latest models and designs start to get shared.  We’re hearing rumours about some significant new products from some very well-known names, but ‘watch this space’, as they say.

What do you write with every day?

Honestly, I’m more of a mechanical pencil obsessive!  But the rest of the team are all keen on putting the latest opens through their paces; the Decimo is putting in some miles at the moment, for instance.

How is your Cult Pens ‘own brand’ line developing?

The Deep Dark inks are going very well – Diamine did a really great job there, and the feedback has been very positive too; they sell almost as fast as the Shimmertastic range! The CP mini fountain pen has been a very successful project, designed for us by Kaweco and filling a need we saw for a small, affordable pocket pen.  We’ll be interested to hear United Inkdom’s ideas for a ‘maxi’ pen but you haven’t quite persuaded us yet!  Our own mechanical pencil is doing well too – I gather Ian was suitably impressed…

We had to leave Simon to get back to running the ship at this point, but not before setting up exactly the follow-on you’d expect – so look out next week for a United Inkdom meta-review of the Cult Pens mini fountain pen.