William Penn is among the world’s biggest multi-brand retail chains for luxury writing instruments and accessories. The retail chain features over 20 well-known international brands such as Sheaffer, Caran d’Ache, Lapis Bard, Lamy, and Sailor to name a few. William Penn also retails top-quality men’s accessories from international brands like Dalvey, Lapis Bard and Sheaffer. William Penn currently has 26 outlets spread across Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kochi, Kolkata and an online store www.williampenn.net. Nikhil Ranjan, CEO of William Penn talks about the current trends in the Indian luxury market and growth plans of the brand.
Starting from the scratch
The brainchild of Nikhil Ranjan, William Penn was started in 2002 in Bengaluru, India. It was a unique, stand-alone store dedicated to the fine writing instruments and writing accessories. Ranjan noticed a huge number of customers who were constantly on the lookout for a good writing instrument. He also noticed that there was a need for the customer to realise the importance of a good writing instrument, and hence decided to address this by having a first-of-its-kind ‘Pen Fair’ in 2002. The event spanned 4 days and was a phenomenal success. Over 6,000 people visited William Penn during the Pen Fair. This got Ranjan thinking further and he opened an exclusive ‘Pen Store’ in the country at Forum Mall, Bengaluru. William Penn remains India’s only multi-brand retail chain for fine writing instruments.
Product portfolio and growth rate
William Penn has retailed over 1,000 products and their average price starts at Rs. 1,000 and goes up to a few lakhs for limited edition pens. The brands average bill size is between Rs 5,000 and Rs. 6000 at the city stores and between Rs. 6,000 and Rs. 7,000 at the airport stores. Talking about the growth rate of the brand, Ranjan shares: “We have had a double-digit growth rate in the past few years and this year we expect to repeat the same.”
Currently, William Penn has 21 stores and 5 shop-in-shops across 7 cities in India. The average store size is between 450 sq.ft. and 600 sq.ft. According to Ranjan: “India has one of the fastest growing luxury markets in the world. The average Indian is travelling more, and also getting more brand aware and brand conscious. Today, customers realise that a good writing instrument is not just a pen. It is also an extension of one’s personality and style. Many of our customers are in the age group of 25 to 55 years and they are increasingly conscious of the accessories they carry or use. The fact that we have 21 stores itself is a testimonial to the kind of popularity writing instruments have gained.”
Ranjan elaborates: “William Penn’s main aim is to give customers a unique shopping experience. With elegant interiors, the open store concept, which we have introduced in our new stores, and excellent customer service, we want to invite customers into our stores and allow them to experience fine writing instruments.”
Talking about challenges involved in this business, Ranjan informs: “Foreign currency fluctuation and the lack of uniformity in the tax laws in India, which can be overcome by the implementation of GST, are some of the challenges we face in addition to finding quality work force for retail. Also, easy availability of products in the grey market is one of the biggest challenges we face and it affects our sales considerably.”
Trends and concepts
The Indian consumer is increasingly brand aware and brand conscious. Consumers feel the need to upgrade their lifestyle and this also reflects in their choice of accessories. Writing instruments today are an extension of one’s personality and style, despite the advances in technology and popularity of gadgets. Fountain pens continue to be the popular choice of writing instruments across age groups.
Writing instrument makers also view India as having great potential for growth. Limited edition pens are now being designed for the Indian market. Caran d’Ache’s Shiva and Balaji were huge hits in the market. Similar was the case with the Sailor Venkateshwara and Ganesha by Nobila.
Ranjan reveals: “William Penn was and continues to be the only multi-brand fine writing instruments retailer in India. We also acknowledge the fact that we need to continuously innovate and increase our operational efficiencies to grow our business y-o-y.”
Marketing and promotion plans
The company’s marketing strategy includes:
Focus on digital marketing: Apart from the traditional mode of print advertising in magazines and mainlines, they are also focusing on digital marketing with an e-commerce website www.williampenn.net, which caters to pen lovers across India.
- To build loyalty and involve the customer, they have a loyalty programme called ‘Penn Clique’.
- Promotions and festive offers at city and airports stores. To indulge customers all round the year, they run offers and promotions. In addition, they offer customers the option of selecting a pen as a gift for various occasions like Father’s day, Valentine’s Day, Teacher’s day or festivals like Holi, Diwali, etc.
- William Penn has been appointed as the official distributor of the renowned German design brand LAMY in India. “For Lamy, we are looking at being present in malls and at retail spaces that are relevant to the youth today. We have launched new products in attractive and refreshing colours, which we believe will catch the attention of youngsters. We are using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc. to establish connect with the younger target group along with the launch of the e-commerce website www.lamyindia.com,” asserts Ranjan.
- The company has introduced the combo box, which is an exciting gift option for the customers.
- They also organised an event to encourage writing through an activity called ‘Write a letter, Say it better’ at the Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3 domestic departures.
- They recently ran a promotion called ‘You Choose Your Gift’ where customers shopped with them in a particular month.
- For LAMY, they are introducing the ‘LAMY Hologram’ on the product box that will help the customer establish the genuineness of the product in the Indian market. This will help combat the grey market as well.
William Penn has had an online presence since 2004 and an e-commerce site since 2007. The focus on the e-commerce site was not the same then but now the timing is great for e-commerce. They are focused, driven and optimistic about the website sales in the days ahead.
Their website www.williampenn.net focuses on premium writing instruments and is the only such website in India with the widest range of international brands. While the contribution to sales from the e-commerce store is still very small, it definitely provides the platform to reach all across India. The website is a medium for visitors to browse and buy pens and have them delivered to their doorstep.
The road ahead
“We need to grow our brick and mortar stores along with our e-commerce store. We also need to innovate and we acknowledge that this is the key to success. We intend to open a couple of stores in the next year. Our Noida store is next in the pipeline. In addition, we intend to grow our retail presence by opening more stores and shop-in-shops, setting up pen corners or kiosks and through focused efforts to grow our e-commerce store,” concludes Ranjan.