Doing it write: William Penn founder believes pen and paper still relevant in digital world

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 28 March 2020

From stocking stationery material to art and craft products and pens, William Penn has grown from one to thirty retail stores. Nikhil Ranjan, the founder and MD of the company, shares more about its journey.

Nikhil Ranjan has always been fascinated with pens, Sheaffer and Sailor in particular. He was exposed to the world of pens and stationery through their family business and decided to come up with a store, William Penn, in Bengaluru in 2002.

From stocking stationery material to art and craft products and pens, the brand has grown from one to thirty retail stores. The founder and MD of William Penn shares more about its journey.  

What made you start the first store of William Penn?
I was exposed to the business of stationery since my school days. I went on to study engineering, and I worked with IBM for a couple of years, before I started William Penn.

That early exposure helped in setting up the business. I was aware of the stationery available in different parts of the world. I had visited a few trade fairs; I knew what was available overseas and not in India. That steered my ideas in creating the first store in 2002.

How did the demographics change since then? Who were your first buyers?
When we first started, the store was a novelty factor for everybody. People, young and old, came to visit our store because they hadn’t seen anything like this before. We catered to every person in the family, from school children to women who wanted nice art and craft material. Now, we are a destination for premium writing instruments, men’s accessories and high-end stationery.

Who do you cater to now?
Our primary audience includes working professionals and businessmen/ women, which is why our stores are located in Tier-I cities like Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad Kolkata and Cochin.

We have 30 stores of which six are at the airport, including Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. We have recently launched one in Sri Lanka at the Shangri la mall in Colombo.

E-commerce is a big part of our business now. Today, we have a very well-established website (www.williampenn.net), which has been catering to customers for the last five years. It contributes to 10 per cent of our revenue.

Are you looking at developing stationery here, a Make in India initiative?
Of course. We have our inhouse brand called Penline. A large part of that portfolio includes products that are made in India. These enhance productivity at the workplace. We have our inhouse team of designers and product development executives. All the production is outsourced. Some amount of assembly happens inhouse.

How are the millennials responding?
As the world gets more digital, we find that interest in analogue products like pen and paper is also increasing. If you walk into any office today, you will notice that apart from the phone, laptop/ desktop, there are notepads and pens as well. Along with their digital devices, people are also choosing to write ‘things to do’ or ‘ideas’ in their notebook. To that extent, I think the relevance of writing instruments will continue. Bullet journaling has now become very popular in the Western countries in the last five years, and it has caught the interest of the millennials.

What made you come up with Superbook?
We, as a company, believe that we have to be relevant to the times. And, while our core is writing and writing instruments, we are trying to see how we can package it for today’s professionals. For example, the Superbook combines a wireless power bank organiser, a USB drive along with a notebook.

Today’s professional is on the move, travelling and attending meetings at different places. Very often, his mobile runs out of charge, and he requires a notebook and a pen to take down notes. So we came up with a product which combines all his requirements. Our basic premise is to bring out products which will help him to be more productive, suited for the modern workplace. 

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