William Penn restarts growth story, eyes global markets – MediaNews4U

William Penn, the premium writing instruments and lifestyle accessories brand, acquired the 110-year-old old American writing instruments brand Sheaffer in August 2022. William Penn which had its beginnings in Bengaluru in 2002 as a single retail outlet, is planning to expand its presence globally with the acquisition. The brand also recently launched Startup Journal – a guide or workbook which helps entrepreneurs to structure their business ideas.
In conversation with Medianews4u.com at its Bengaluru head office, Nikhil Ranjan, Founder and MD, William Penn, spoke about the plans to scale the business with acquisition of Sheaffer, turnover expectations, trends in gifting solutions, marketing plans and more. 
On the acquisition, Ranjan said, “Sheaffer is a brand which is well known across the world. In 2003, William Penn started distribution of Sheaffer on a pan-India basis, exclusively. We have been the distributors of Sheaffer for the last 19 years. And, when the opportunity of acquisition came along, we went ahead with it, mainly because we were conversant and emotionally attached with the brand. We had played a major part in building that brand in India. It was an opportunity for us to move from distributor to brand owner.”
Gifting and more…
Elaborating on the customer profile and marketing plans, Ranjan said, “Going forward, we will be looking to distribute Sheaffer around the world. And who do we look to as our customers? In fact, across the spectrum, I will broadly classify them into three buckets. One is pen aficionados- people who are very passionate about pens and know the brand Sheaffer in and out. The other is the younger audience who are buying pens for the first time. The third is gifting – which is one of the strongest reasons why people buy pens as it makes an ideal gift.”
He explained, “With the first segment, we plan to reach out through different Facebook groups, then we have our own retail stores. We have influencers around the world who talk about pens and writing instruments and they provide a credible voice in the world of marketing. When it comes to younger audiences it is social media and Instagram. Journals and journaling is a trend now – the need to disconnect from electronic devices and take on something physical. For the gifting it is across the board. If we walk into our stores, there is a call for gifting especially from October to January. For corporate gifting, we reach out to them through a variety of means: through our own team, event partners, and then through exhibitions and trade shows. Finally, through our web store and social media.” 
The brand, which had a Rs.100-crore pre-pandemic turnover, aims to see a 30 pc growth on that base this year and doubling that number in the next two to three years. 
“During the pandemic period we lost 50 pc of our business in 2020 and about 25 pc in 2021. This year we foresee a 30 pc growth from the pre-pandemic period,” Ranjan added. 
Brands galore…
William Penn  has its own in-house label Pennline and had acquired British brand Lapis Bard before lapping up Sheaffer. The brand also retails global brands like Montblanc, Cross, Pelikan and Sailor. 
Speaking on  the share of owned brands vs brands that it distributes, Ranjan said, “In our stores 30pc sales share is from our own brands including Pennline and Lapis Bard until now. Now we have added Sheaffer, so the 2022-23 financial year is going to be a transition period for us. We will not be seeing any significant growth beyond 30 pc, but hopefully significant growth will be witnessed next year.”
“70-80 pc of products bought at William Penn, whether at corporate or retail stores, is done with an intent to gift. With gifting growing, we are looking at robust growth,” he added. 
WP has over 20 outlets in the country, including outlets at key airports. Asked which among these contributes more to the sales of William Penn and the purchase trends, Ranjan said, “At the airport outlets there is a lot of impulse purchase that happens. People  come to purchase refills, inks etc at the airport outlets; a lot more gifting product purchases at the airport outlets are observed. In city stores, there is a lot more planning that goes into the purchasing. Higher percentage of purchases in city outlets would be for their own consumption.”
Omnichannel future…
He adds, “Unfortunately, we have had to downsize our stores during the pandemic. We are looking at further expansion plans in the next 12 months and are planning to open 4 to 5 stores. The next two stores are coming to Bangalore, followed by Pune, Delhi, Ahmedabad. What pandemic has taught us is that a  lot could be achieved online and digitally. Our focus during the pandemic was digital store growth. Now, we give equal importance to digital and physical stores. And for sure the future is going to be the combination of both.”
Mumbai is the biggest market for William Penn. The brand has eight stores in Bombay and its corporate gifting section is larger in Mumbai. Mumbai contributes 20 plus percent of overall sales followed by Bengaluru and Delhi.
On the online sales, Ranjan said, “During the pandemic, everyone moved online and that trend is continuing. Now, we are averaging approximately 20pc of our overall business online between our own store and market places. During the pandemic it was close to 40 pc. We are seeing it growing further and hopefully next year we want to achieve a 25 pc increase of overall contribution from digital avenues.”
The global market…
Elaborating on marketing plans, he said, “Till now, our marketing was India-related; with global acquisition we are going to address a global audience. We will lead through social media because it has the best and targeted reach. Since it’s a global brand, if we can ensure that our influencers, social media marketing are strong, I believe we can make Sheaffer visible across the world. Another aspect would be that we engage with our distributor partners who in turn will take care of activities in the local market. We intend to do that through trade shows, distributor conferences etc.”
“It is a combination of global marketing handled out of Bangalore and local distributor through local market,” Ranjan concluded.
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