Sheaffer to write new script for William Penn

William Penn hopes to leverage Sheaffer’s recall and aspirational branding

Sheaffer to write new script for William Penn
Luxury pens occupy 12% of the `4,500-crore writing instruments market in India.

By Alokananda Chakraborty

The writing instruments market in India was struggling to remain relevant to consumers with a rapid shift to paperless operations when Covid-19 struck. With students and office workers stranded in their homes, there was a sharp decline in the demand for writing instruments as a lot of their work shifted to digital devices.

For home-grown William Penn, which harboured ambitions to go global and expand into categories beyond the humble pen, the lingering impact of the pandemic opened up a new opportunity — inorganic growth. So it didn’t come as a surprise when it announced it had acquired the 110-year-old iconic American brand Sheaffer.

The reason is not far to seek. While the mass end of the writing instruments market was hit hard during the pandemic, the luxury segment held its own. In fact, globally, there seems to be a big surge in demand for high-end or luxury fountain pens. According to Straits Research, the global luxury pen market size was valued at $2,290 million in 2021. It has logged a steady 5% growth over the last two years, outpacing the overall market and is expected to reach $3,800 million by 2030.

Luxury pens occupy 12% of the `4,500-crore writing instruments market in India. It is also the segment that made a sharp recovery in 2021 after being disrupted by the pandemic in 2020, say marketers. “So we don’t write letters or postcards nowadays but the downward trend in the pen market that was evident since 2015 is reversing now,” says Nikhil Ranjan, founder & MD, William Penn, which was the exclusive distributor of the American brand in India for 19 years before the takeover. “When kids in 8th, 9th or 10th grades write their exams, they prefer using a good pen; when executives sit in a meeting they use a pen that is likely to make a statement. So there always will be space for analog products, especially aspirational ones.”

Sheaffer’s pens start at a price point of 1,000 and go all the way up to35,000-40,000 for some of its high-end products. An aspirational brand, it has been the default choice for people looking to upgrade from the more popular sub-1,000 pens, say analysts.

So what does Sheaffer bring to the table? One, its 110-year pedigree and two, its tremendous brand recall. As Ranjan acknowledges, “India is a large market for Sheaffer and it is a household name in the premium writing instruments market”. The acquisition is also in line with William Penn’s ambition to expand globally. That apart, it gives the latter an opportunity to expand into adjacent categories such as journals, gift sets and other desktop accessories.

The acquisition from AT Cross Company — which itself acquired the Sheaffer brand in 2014 — gives it access to the brand’s complete product portfolio and licences, including premium pens, journals and gift sets. William Penn will be taking over Sheaffer’s manufacturing, marketing and retailing across 75 countries, including the USA, UK, Mexico, Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa, Japan, besides India. Sheaffer’s global revenue was over `100 crore before the Covid-19 outbreak, and though it slid a bit during the pandemic, William Penn hopes its revenues will get back to that level within the next two years.

As part of William Penn’s bouquet of offerings, Sheaffer will gain access to a wider retail network and stronger marketing push. Starting operations in 2002, William Penn was the first Indian brand to organise big global writing instruments brands under one roof. The Bengaluru-based firm introduced international brands such as Montblanc, Cross, Pelikan and Sailor, to name a few, in the Indian market.

In 2016, the company acquired the British brand Lapis Bard and expanded its product range from writing instruments to leather bags, wallets, cufflinks, watch chests and pen cases, among other products. It currently has 25 stores across India, including retail outlets at key airports. Some of its premium products are available on its e-commerce platform and as on leading luxury portals.

The company plans to double Sheaffer’s market share from the current 15% in the next three years and is itself eyeing a 30% growth in FY23 with this acquisition. “We will have dedicated investments in product development and marketing and in augmenting Sheaffer’s digital presence,” says Ranjan. “We hope to make India the No.1 market for Sheaffer in the next three years.”

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