A Look at the Current State of Promotional Writing Instruments
In December, Cimpress, Venlo, Netherlands, entered into an agreement to acquire Shelbyville, Tennessee-based National Pen Co. As part of the acquisition, Cimpress plans to develop National Pen Co.’s e-commerce business and implement National Pen Co.’s product offerings into its Vistaprint, and Upload and Print e-commerce brands. For distributors, this news could have been distressing. Brands like Vistaprint offer their clients direct access to branded items, including business cards, T-shirts and (now) pens from the promotional space.
“We believe our industry is at the beginning of a period of disruptive shift to e-commerce, and we are thrilled about the opportunities that joining Cimpress will create for our customers and team members,” Peter Kelly, president and CEO of National Pen Co., said in a statement in December. “We expect our business to thrive as part of Cimpress, and we look forward to pursuing an exciting vision together to strive to eliminate the cost barriers that currently keep businesses from fully expressing their individual brands across a wide variety of personally relevant marketing materials and gifts.”
Though some might see this news and recoil, Joseph Fleming, president of Hub Pen Company, Braintree, Mass., was more optimistic about the marrying of two facets of the industry.
“I think you’ll see a lot more direct mail from Vistaprint,” he said. “I’m sure that’s a big reason why it will help Vistaprint reach an audience in a different method. They’re reaching their audience mainly through online and through TV ads, and radio and stuff, so this is just another way to get their audience through their direct mail that National Pen Co. does so well.”
He added that this news doesn’t worry him about the status of writing instruments in the promotional product space.
“Vistaprint typically goes after different audiences than we do,” he said. “Unless or until that changes, I don’t think it’s going to affect our business at all.”
He specifically cited Vistaprint’s target market of small, two-to-eight person shops. While Vistaprint excels at small runs, National Pen Co. is good at direct mail.
“You put those two together, and I think it’s great for both companies,” Fleming said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect a whole lot of the promotional products industry. Maybe the segment that handles the two-to-eight person shops it would have a more direct impact on, but not the larger companies. I think it’s exciting. I think it’s cool. I think they’re both terrific companies.”
Fleming may be onto something—at least based on what we’ve heard from Cimpress. Back in December, Cimpress CEO Robert Keane laid out his hopes for the two companies’ partnership. He specifically mentioned National Pen Co.’s mass customization and supply chain capabilities, and low minimum orders to serve low-volume needs of small businesses, just like Fleming said.
“National Pen is a clear leader in one of the key promotional product segments, and has excellent manufacturing and supply chain capabilities, which we do not have today,” Keane said in the statement. “By combining the company’s capabilities and expertise with those of Cimpress, we are confident we can help to grow both National Pen and the promotional products offering of our existing portfolio of brands.”
So, after breathing a sigh of relief, we can look into carrying on with business as usual when it comes to selling pens and other writing instruments. Rhonda Reilly, sales manager of promotional products at Pilot Pen, Jacksonville, Fla., is looking forward to new product offerings from the company.
“We are excited to be adding our G2 pen stylus—premium G2 writing experience with ultra-smooth G2 gel ink,” she said. “[It’s] available in three contemporary barrel colors—gray, red and turquoise.”
She also mentioned that the company is making additions to its fine writing product offerings by adding products with brass barrels and matte finishes in retro patterns. Reilly said that these serve best as executive gifts.
But, with the new year comes a new season of trade shows, and Reilly said that these are some of the top opportunities for selling writing instruments at the moment. She also said to look into schools, as universities are starting their spring semesters; medical clients, company launches and the financial sector.