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The Death And Life Of Great Pen Stores



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Good evening everyone,

 

The recent closure of Art Brown got me thinking - can retail brick and mortar pen and stationary stores survive in this day and age? Loathe as I am to admit it, they are almost like a worn, tattered ship, buffeted on one side by the rise to preeminence of the ballpoint/rollerball in daily writing (and the concomitant decline in what are now termed "fine writing" instruments), and on the other by an Internet so pervasively well-integrated into our lives that not even the most efficient and customer friendly of B&M establishments can exist without a competent online ground game.

 

However, I feel that the truly interesting question is whether one can open up a new establishment devoted solely to pens and stationary that can not only stay above water, but thrive. This would require the right set of circumstances (i.e., low rents and overhead, and possibly being located within a stone's throw of a major metropolis), but it would also be incumbent upon the newfound entrepreneur to capture the imagination of the writing public, and not just connoisseurs like ourselves - sort of like how the railroads experienced a brief renaissance in the late '40s-early '50s with the introduction of more streamlined, modern hardware.

 

But please, enough about me, DISCUSS!

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Penne Stilografiche

can retail brick and mortar pen and stationary stores survive in this day and age? I think that natural selection will take place, and only the largest of the brick and mortar stores will survive for now (ex: Fountain Pen Hospital, etc. ). Maybe one day there will be a great revival of the use of fountain pens, and more stationary shops will open and thrive. As of now, the future of the surviving stationary stores seems uncertain.

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

 

—Oscar Wilde

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I think in a very small niche market like ours it is almost impossible unless it gets cheap over head in a major city that has enough FP users to stay afloat. I mean where i am i do not think there is any B&M stores. I wish more B&M stores would pop up. I always wondered if they could market FPs as "green" since you are not wasting 50 Bics a day, maybe even cheaper in the long run.

Edited by Cerbervs
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Of course they can market fountain pens as "green technology", but they won`t. Don`t know why. Maybe because the idea of a consumer society is based on disposable pens, not fountain pens, and the entire industry has been pushing forward the "use and dispose" idea for the last 60 years. Yeah, the future is bright- and full of trash.

 

Now, about shops: i`m thinking that the only way to go is very small shops, even mobile selling units- just like ice cream trucks. The advantage of a real shop will always be that the customer can see and try the pen that he wants. And you don`t need a 2 floor showroom to do that- pens are small.

Edited by rochester21
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Greetings all,

 

I am afraid the days of the classic B&M pen shop are gone. I went to FPH earlier today, (their website), to look for a pen and their selection was terrible compared to what it was a couple of years ago- they seem to have barely anything in stock; Pendemonium stopped re-stocking inks, etc., etc. Commercial real estate values, where ever you go these days, has reached the point where novelty stores cannot afford the rent. I see the same thing in my other hobby- model railroading- great, well-stocked hobby shops, (that also have a web presence), are dropping like flies.

 

These specialty shops just can't compete with the internet and while they once were the sole fount of information and expertise, they have now lost this edge to the internet as well. Any possible information you could ever hope to learn is available in forums such as this or in videos on YouTube. They have lost whatever edge they may have had. I hate to say it- but IMHO, I think they are dinosaurs.

 

All the best,

 

Sean :(

Edited by S. P. Colfer

https://www.catholicscomehome.org/

 

"Every one therefore that shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father Who is in Heaven." - MT. 10:32

"Any society that will give up liberty to gain security deserves neither and will lose both." - Ben Franklin

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The last time that I can remember buying a fountain pen in a brick and mortar store was in 1990, and the store was a Left Handed Shop in Boston, Mass. Since then I have bought online, mainly ebay. I have been relying on a lot of sellers who probably get their merchandise from estate and yard sales, flea markets, etc. Recycled pens, some never inked or NOS, but mainly used. The only store near me is Staples. In the 1970s and 1980s I bought pens from office supply stores in Florida, but there is nothing much like that in small town Michigan. Any startups I find are online, in a global marketplace. I used to find pens in yard sales, but I don't seem to have the time or energy to go that route any more. I am getting too old to be running around looking for pens. My wife and I agree that if it were not for ebay, we wouldn't get anything.

 

I think that after you get experience using and buying pens, you don't need the B&Ms, because your judgement is well formed enough that you know what to look for online. I have acquired a pile of pens online, and I don't think I need a pen to be brand new. That said, those pens I bought at the B&M stores back in the day are the ones I generally treasure most, because of the history I have with them and the friendships I had with the merchants. It is too bad about all those stores that went out of business, but the merchants aged and retired. Could someone start one up? The online competition is almost overwhelming. The merchant would have to rely on building relationships with customers. It would take a lot of capital to stock good merchandise. I think the world is moving on to a different marketing model.

 

I honestly don't know why anyone buys fountain pens today. Older people like my wife and I grew up using them, but most people I know think a Cross or Montblanc ballpoint or rollerball is the thing to buy. We are a small group of widely dispersed collectors. That wouldn't seem to bode well for a brick and mortar without a strong internet presence. It's a changing world.

Edited by pajaro

"Don't hurry, don't worry. It's better to be late at the Golden Gate than to arrive in Hell on time."
--Sign in a bar and grill, Ormond Beach, Florida, 1960.

 

 

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The trend is definitely moving toward online shopping. Shopping malls are declining. Large department store chains offer online catalogs, place an order on line from a central warehouse and pick up in a local store within 48 hours. Amazon is the largest growing site for ordering any item one desires, along with free shipping over $25.00, which is a big incentive for armchair shoppers.

 

Think of the advantages, overheads are minimal, no rents, no staff to pay wages, sick pay and vacation time, no utility bills. Free from the worry of shop lifters!

They came as a boon, and a blessing to men,
The Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley pen

Sincerely yours,

Pickwick

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olivier78860

I like B&M stores not for their stock (after all, if you really want something, they will order it) but for the relationship that develops with the person.

Where I buy my S.T. Dupont pens, now we know each other, we have a chat every other day, I get good price reductions. In this world of lack of interactions, it is a genuine pleasure to enjoy "old school" business practices, not to be just another customer. The shop owner even standed for me concerning a pen I bought second hand. This is service, this is good business, this is why I will always go and buy my pens from this brand there.

 

Now there is a very important factor with internet shops, it's price. The last time I went to another B&M shop (I wanted a Waterman Edson diamond black), the price was 950€ and not debatable. They barely knew anyway what they were selling. Bigger shop from a chain, just interested in not paying their employees, so no service, and a "buy of gtfo" policy.

I finally ordered mine from Iguana Sell, and they sold it with a 33% reduction compared to this price, without having to discuss. I am not affiliated with Iguana Sell, all I can tell is that the communication is good via email, and that they deliver what they sell. But compared to how I was received by the local chain shop, it's day and night.

 

In the end, no matter how expensive rents are, how little the segment is. Behind an internet shop, there are real people too. It's all a matter of compromise. I don't mind paying a bit more, when I see a use for it, and it's true for B&M and for Internet retailers. But if it is suggested that the shop gives me a priviledge when buying from them, I am out.

 

Now this has to be pondered, because life is becoming so expensive these days, so many family shops have to close down, leaving space to chains. My favorite shop also sells tobacco and lottery tickets. Some brands like Cartier removed them the right to sell their products, as it isn't prestigious enough. But if it gives enough backup to the nice people there, so they can keep selling fountain pens, I really don't care if they sell cigarettes, cigars, and lottery tickets. On the contrary. Cartier's behaviour is that of a spoiled child. If they want to sell only in the most "prestigious" shops, then godspeed to them. Sadly for them, I won't drive one hour to reach the center of Paris to see what they have to offer. At a point, all the "luxury" brands will have to give up on these idiotics stances of "exclusivity", if they want to be able to sell, or they will also disappear, because everybody wants to sell "luxury" (or at least price their product as luxury) nowadays.

http://i.imgur.com/bZFLPKY.jpg

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In Brussels there was La Maison de la Porte Plume ( MPP ), at it's best they had 4 shops and all of them were Ali Baba's caves. Due to changing habits, it went bankrupt 10 years ago.

Forty years ago, in Leuven, a city near Brussels known for ABInbev en It's university, you could buy a Montblanc, Parker, Shaeffer, etc. In 6 stores, now there is one left and fountain pens are just a part of their business.

My preferred shopkeeper tells me the shop is his hobby, sales on internet are his core business.

The MBshop in Vienna with 5 windows of aprox. 2 m has only 6 writing instruments exposed in those windows.

When you enter a Cartier shop, they look disappointed if it is a pen you want.

How come that LE of maybe 500 or 1000 pcs wordwide are still exposed in a a shop 5 years after it's launch?

 

It is economics, stupid! We can be nostalgic about it, but the fact of closing penshops means their business isn't profitable enough.

 

Let's hope pens won't become booming business, prices will rise and availability wiil fall down and that is no pleasant prospect since I still have to many pens to collect.

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Pen shops may survive, but in combination with other things - specialized stationery, various kinds of other writing implements (ball points), art supplies, etc. And not too many of these in a single city, either.

True bliss: knowing that the guy next to you is suffering more than you are.

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I was in Art Brown several times, and I was very impressed with the selection of products and with the quality of service their sales people provided. We bought a pen for our son, and the salesman took a lot of time to understand his needs, interests, and personality before making suggestions. And they were open on Saturday, the peak day for tourist visits to New York.

 

But I have to admit that I was always puzzled how they survived. Their location was great for me (as a tourist - mid-town is where you are at), but rent in mid-town Manhattan is sky high, and while they carried a lot of very expensive pens, my observation the times I was there was that they vast majority of their business was in less expensive pens, inks, and miscellaneous stationery items.

 

I also visited Fountain Pen Hospital several times - their shop is smaller than Art Brown, in what I presume is a lower-rent area (certainly not an area that most tourists would visit), and their stock was limited. Theirr service was not even close to Art Brown standards, and they aren't open on Saturday or Sunday (my sense is that the area around City Hall is not very active on weekends, so I don't know if tourists would even want to go there).

 

The issue of Saturday closing in New York is, of course, complicated by religious issues. But the stores that have retained the Saturday closure tradition (eg, B&H Photo, Adorama, etc) have supplemented their B&M business with a robust telephone and internet business.

 

But the thing that struck me most is that both shops seemed to be focused on high-end pens. They aren't the only places in New York where one can purchase pens - there are literally hundreds of stationery stores that sell pens in addition to paper and art supplies. I've even seen pens in a few bodegas! So the point is that it would seem to me that the high-end fountain pen niche is entirely too narrow to support the 'nut' associated with show-room space in New York, and the key to survival of B&M operations is to offer as broad as possible selection of merchandise.

Edited by Monophoto
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ISW_Kaputnik

As others have observed, fountain pen users are niche market, but "regular buyers" must be a niche within a niche. It may seem normal within FPN to have twenty fountain pens, thirty bottles of ink, a couple of thousand pages worth of high quality notebooks and stationery, and still always to be talking about the next purchase. This is a hobbyist attitude, though. Surely most people don't get into it to that extent.

 

I doubt that most people are interested enough in writing supplies to become regulars at a stationery store. With one reliable fountain pen, and perhaps one more as a backup, it could be many years before your piston filler needs an overhaul, or you need to buy a new converter. Depending on how much you stock up, it could again be years before you run out of paper or ink.

 

For a ballpoint or rollerball user, even one who uses upscale brands of pens and stationery, there is even less reason to be a regular. If you're getting a nice pen, you may want to see it in person first, but when you're just getting refills or more paper, why not use the Internet, or your local big office supply store?

"So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do."

 

- Benjamin Franklin

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I believe, except maybe in a few choice locations, that pen and stationary stores cannot survive unless they also sell online. In most cases, the on-line business would bring in the majority of the income (by far), with the B&M being the "add-on" for the personal touch with walk-in customers. There are die-hards who prefer the personal touch. I wish there was a B&M in my area.

Edited by Blue_Moon

Franklin-Christoph, Italix, and Pilot pens are the best!
Iroshizuku, Diamine, and Waterman inks are my favorites!

Apica, Rhodia, and Clairefontaine make great paper!

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As others have observed, fountain pen users are niche market, but "regular buyers" must be a niche within a niche. It may seem normal within FPN to have twenty fountain pens, thirty bottles of ink, a couple of thousand pages worth of high quality notebooks and stationery, and still always to be talking about the next purchase. This is a hobbyist attitude, though. Surely most people don't get into it to that extent.

 

I doubt that most people are interested enough in writing supplies to become regulars at a stationery store. With one reliable fountain pen, and perhaps one more as a backup, it could be many years before your piston filler needs an overhaul, or you need to buy a new converter. Depending on how much you stock up, it could again be years before you run out of paper or ink.

 

For a ballpoint or rollerball user, even one who uses upscale brands of pens and stationery, there is even less reason to be a regular. If you're getting a nice pen, you may want to see it in person first, but when you're just getting refills or more paper, why not use the Internet, or your local big office supply store?

Exactly, FP diehards are a vanishing niche of mankind.
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Ernst Bitterman

I think that the "Diehard" niche is developing rather than expanding. Online buying may not be helping the B&M shops, alas, but online encouragement is certainly helping ever more people realize the charms of the FP. There's a lot of regulars here who never touched one five years ago....

Ravensmarch Pens & Books
It's mainly pens, just now....

Oh, good heavens. He's got a blog now, too.

 

fpn_1465330536__hwabutton.jpg

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I live in Montreal, and there is only one B&M shop dedicated to writing tools only. There use to be two, one closed some 5, 6 years ago if my memory serves me well. I hope La Boutique du stylo will survive. They are nice people. But. I never bought a pen there, except for a couple of Noodler's (four I think). The simple fact that they are selling the L2K at some 220$ (15% of taxes not included) explains why. I buy my inks there as much as I can, and I could go for some other cheaper pens.

There is a shop selling paper (probably the only place you can find decent Japanese paper in this city) and office material that are also selling fountain pens, nice pencils (Midori, Faber Castell and so on). They are selling some Lamy product (Russel at Nota Bene is a hudge fan of the Safari) and now are selling Kaweco products, incl. fountain pens. But the shop makes a living selling paper obects and not FPs.

So I am not very optimistic about B&M shops selling mainly writing instruments, and mainly FPs.

amonjak.com

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free 70 pages graphic novel. Enjoy!

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It is not just fountain pens. The question is can any small family run retail enterprise continue in the future?

 

My Website

 

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B&M stores will survive, to sell goods people want to buy immediately and can't wait to have shipped to them; commodity goods people will want to buy regularly, like foodstuffs; and special-fitted goods like clothes, that you really need to try on before buying. bodegas and corner stores will survive, wherever there are enough people to go to them, to buy the sorts of commodity goods such stores usually sell. most anything else --- non-commodities you can wait for UPS to bring you, luxuries you could do without and won't usually be buying on impulse, stuff that doesn't need to be individually fitted, stuff you can return or resell if it isn't just right --- such goods are well fit for buying online.

 

and, well, fountain pens are in the latter category. what can i say, nature of the market now.

 

if i wanted to sell fountain pens in a brick-and-mortar store, there are a few precautionary steps i'd take. the very first is to link my inventory and pricing systems into a very good online storefront, and prepare to make a large share if not the bulk of my sales online. the second is to not sell JUST pens; branch out into other items of a similar nature, luxury "oddities" people might be attracted to, possibly jewelry or formal dress accessories of some sort. i'd look for a location that was fairly upscale but not too very expensive, some place where maybe a jewelry or a high-end formal clothing store could be placed.

 

i don't really see the traditional stationery store selling fountain pens any longer. they already got mostly folded into the bookstores, i'd say, and those in turn are having trouble enough surviving in brick and mortar form against the competition of amazon. what survives of stores you might physically go buy stationery in sell gel pens and mechanical pencils, but nothing much fancier. if the brick-and-mortar bookstores end up completely vanishing, i'm really not sure where we'll go to buy paper for writing letters on after that --- probably the office supply stores, in an endcap next to the copier paper. that's where any pens not made to be disposable will be sold, too, that and online.

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Dromgoole's in Houston's Rice Village is a good example of a store success. It's in an area of other "upper-end" stores so it does get some foot traffic. It has an excellent stationery section where you can do custom orders. It has basic office products to go along with the more expensive items. You can handle most any pen in the store, even the ones that cost thousands of dollars. But it's the incredible customer service from The Dromgoole brother, their children who have started working there and the rest of the staff that make it such a great place to shop and just hang out. They have developed a niche market for upper end LE pens,too which help the situation. Nothing beats actually inking a pen and writing with it before you buy it. It's the only real way of knowing.

Pat Barnes a.k.a. billz

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