Fountain Pen lovers of the world unite …
Okay. So, I vented my heart out. Pointed at all those things that I felt were wrong with the Indian Fountain Pen Industry. And, the responses that I got was overwhelming – though understandably, many did not wish to be named as they were sceptical about voicing their dissatisfaction openly.
The one response that had me really thinking was from a fountain pen collector who is highly regarded in the “write” circles and is known for his fierce apathy for the limelight. He, while acknowledging my concerns, suggested that I also write about the possible ways out of the “quagmire”, to show the light at the end of the tunnel.
Your wish is my command, Sir, and here is my charter of demands (sic) to the industry. The Ten Commandments they certainly are not – neither is this the Mount of Sinai, nor is the device you are reading this, a clay tablet:
Give us an “genuine” all-Indian Fountain Pen:
Make a decent pen. One that writes, does not leak or burp and is attractive to look at. We don’t give a damn as to whether you buy the turning kit or whether you turn it in your friend’s garage, or even why pens from all you guys have the same clips for that matter. Just make sure its quality is impeccable. As in, one we can ink and write. And call it our daily use pen.
A Fountain Pen that all can buy and use:
Make the pen affordable. Don’t restrict yourself to turning garish and unnaturally expensive pens for a few “collectors” who will post the pictures in the social media and carry them in wrap-around cases to pen meets. Cater to them by all means but understand that these collectors are literally just a handful who will soon be tired of your monotonous outpouring and move on. So please, also make pens that everyone can use – pens that are priced aggressively enough to be affordable, to students and daily users. “Actual users” as opposed to idle “accessory hobbyists”.
Besides, (I know this one is debatable, still) – sooner than later, most collectors realise that their collections, however rare and priceless they may be to themselves, have very little resale value. Few have heirs who share the passion which forces “rethinks” especially when they come in terms with the dynamics of a “seller’s” market. Spare them the ordeal, shall we?
(Yes, we also want a quality, mid-tier pen. But I guess that will be another story. As for the top-notch pens that cost a fortune, ask yourself, what will induce one to spend serious money to buy a virtually unknown and untested product in a segment dominated by the European, American and Japanese cult pen manufacturers, that too with proven track records? If you still want to do it, are you ready to put the money where your sac is and invest in building a brand?)
A Fountain pen from an entity where Customer Service is a delight:
Learn to live by the basic dictum the “Customer is the king”. Address complaints. Resolve them. Not taking calls from irate customers, however small, is not the answer. Be prepared to replace or refund in case of complaints – even secure in the knowledge that some customers will use your goodness to get old and used products exchanged for free. Remember, it takes all kinds to make the world. Because, old habits, you know, die hard.
A Fountain Pen that is backed by strong R&D:
Keep a certain sum aside – from every pen you sell – for R&D. Experiment, with designs, with materials, nibs and feeds, with embellishments. Build experimentation into your production process as opposed to paying only lip service to it, or even to take refuge in it as an afterthought. What your grandfather learnt as a lad five decades ago has brought you here – pay reverence to the legacy, his legacy, by creating something equally good for your grandchildren. And yes, that can certainly be a long forgotten Indian design that you help revive? Just abhor rusting in your laurels, keep moving. Remember, stagnant inks, even in sealed bottles, are soon evaporated.
A Fountain pen that values the Customer’s time:
Don’t take orders that you cannot meet within a foreseeable future. Some manufacturers are notorious about taking orders (and payments upfront) that they just don’t have the logistics to fill within reasonable time. Repeated enquiries are replied with silence, if not with downright ludicrous excuses. Be a sport, don’t be greedy, accept only what you can honour.
The other extreme, where some seek to create an artificial scarcity to jack up demand is also there, but that is less prevalent. Either way, like they say, turn your barrel according to your blank.
A Fountain Pen that represents Indian family values:
Collaborate with other Indian manufacturers. Join hands. Use our homegrown nibs (and yes, you do know how good they are). Work on each other’s strengths. Even a second-grade, all-Indian pen is more patriotic than one with a Chinese made copy with a German name as its nib and converter. And yes, have the guts to refute me in public if you think what I am saying is bunkum. But please don’t talk Nationalism with your forked tongue (flex nib?) while you cut corners with fake imports.
A Fountain Pen that co-opts the hobbyists:
Invite hobby turners to your facility twice a year for a day each, to teach them your tricks of trade. More competition, if you can call them that, will only expand the market and not eat into yours. Besides, they are the ones who will ensure that your name live on forever once “you” are discontinued.
A Fountain Pen that induces Children to write better:
Encourage children to pursue good handwriting. Encourage people to take up calligraphy as an art form, as a hobby. Encourage people to write with fountain pens. Go to one school once every year and hold a workshop about the advantages of a fountain pen, about their sustainability. Isn’t a class with a hundred students, also a new market with a hundred potential customers?
- A Fountain Pen that has a strong web presence:
Maintain a working website. One with actual pictures, product details and specifications. Your village is no longer your only market – the world is, and the website is your visiting card in the world wide web. Keep the website updated, get a professional to make it (the right, quality content in words and pictures separates the men from the boys and your phone, however expensive, cannot match professionally snapped pictures. Nor can you write SE Optimised content. Trust me you can Perish the thought). Get dedicated guys to maintain your web presence. Make sure you reply to all the mails before you call it a day. And for heaven’s sake – don’t use the Whatsapp to strike sales – use the Mail.
A Fountain Pen that respects the elders:
This is for the beginners. The barest minimum that we fountain pen lovers expect from “our” manufacturers. If you want to take things forward, beyond the rudimentary, let me suggest that you create a “body of elders” from within our ranks who will be available on call for all manufacturers to approach, to seek their guidance and expertise. Look around, there are many well respected achievers from different fields who not only have espoused your cause but are able and willing to help. All you have to do is ask. (And no, I am not suggesting that you add me among these legends).
Disclaimer. There is nothing personal about the points I have made. Call it the ramblings of a raconteur if you may or the pipe dreams of a pen pest, a penophile with a penchant for the puerile. I am a genuine buyer, have no “arrangement” with any seller whatsoever and am writing from experience. I may be wrong, and I realise that your experience may well have been different from mine, which only underscores the point that the experience of buying a fountain pen from an Indian manufacturer / seller is not a uniform one. Do write in. It is for the greater good, after all.