William Penn, India’s leading brand for premium writing instruments and lifestyle accessories recently acquired Sheaffer, the 110-year-old iconic American manufacturing company of writing instruments, mainly known for their luxury fountain pens.
In 1907, Walter A. Sheaffer invented an ink-loading system for fountain pens and W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company was incorporated in the US on May 16, 1913 and grew to spread its footprint in over 75 countries. With the Sheaffer ac quisition, William Penn has become a global brand.
Founder and Managing Director of William Penn Nikhil Ranjan, who is a Mysurean, always believed in the power of the written word. After getting a mechanical engineering degree in Mysuru, Nikhil thought out-of-the-box and founded William Penn in Bengaluru in 2002, to introduce the beauty of fine stationery. He launched a line of luxury stationery and soon, his business flourished. Today, William Penn is also credited with bringingthe fountain pen and ink back from the brink and reclaiming its rightful place in fine writing. B.C. Thimmaiah of Star of Mysore spoke to him about the acquisition and what it means to William Penn. —Excerpts:
Star of Mysore (SOM): What do you have to say about this acquisition?
Nikhil Ranjan: Well, we have been in the business for the last 20 years and until now, we have been the retailer and distributor of global brands. This is an opportunity for us to own a global brand and that’s a big step for us. This allows us to design and market products across the world because Sheaffer is an iconic brand, it is a 110-year-old brand present in 75 countries. We will have a footprint in those countries and it is a huge leap.
We also believe that as a company which is home-grown, out of India and being a global brand, having the opportunity to design and market products to have an impact around the world is what excites us.
SOM: Many in Mysuru would not know that the William Penn brand was founded and established by a person who hails from Mysuru. Why not a store in Mysuru?
Nikhil Ranjan: In fact, we had a store in Mysuru at the Forum Mall which is now Nexus Mall and we had to shut that down during the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately. So, at the moment, we do not have a store in Mysuru. We have 25 stores across India all in the top Tier-I cities.
SOM: Any plans to set up a store in Mysuru, a Tier-II city?
Nikhil Ranjan: As of now, we are not planning to re-establish a store in Mysuru. Let the connectivity of the city with other cities improve, then we will see. Particularly, the Bengaluru-Mysuru connectivity must improve. Connectivity is the need of the hour. Especially in the light of what happened in a couple of days where a lake breached and a part of the Bengaluru-Mysuru Road was marooned. It was a real mess and to travel between the cities itself is a task.
SOM: Does William Penn provides everything related to writing?
Nikhil Ranjan: No, I don’t think it is a right thing to say. We are a retailer of premium brands of writing instruments and accessories. It is not about all writing as all writing is a vast sphere. We specialise in premium writing.
SOM: Since you specialise in premium writing products, how do you bridge the cost gap between the premium writing instrument and customers?
Nikhil Ranjan: Yes, there are many who use premium writing instruments for their day-to-day duties. I think premiumness is always about building aspirations. You aspire to own something premium. Like you look at a car. A basic car too does the job but you still aspire to own a premium car or a luxury car. We are talking about premium prices but not luxury prices. India is definitely a market for everything — for mass, premium and for luxury.
SOM: So, this acquisition is for the premium clientele?
Nikhil Ranjan: Yes, absolutely. Sheaffer is for the premium segment. Of course, you have brands like Montblanc in the luxury segment — upward of 25,000 and Rs. 30,000. There is a market for luxury brands also, for people who aspire to own that one day. However, we are in the premium segment starting at Rs. 1,000. Now like a car, this is a writing instrument. If you are using a writing instrument, you might as well use a premium one.
Another big driver of this kind of purchase is the gifting purpose. And India has many numbers of gifting occasions. It is because of that you know, products such as writing instruments are very nice and memorable articles for gifting.
SOM: We have seen many home-grown Indian companies acquiring companies in the US and in other countries. How does it feel for a person who comes from Mysuru to own a global brand?
Nikhil Ranjan: (Laughs). As I say that this was an opportunity that presented itself. We are truly excited to make an impact around the world. We also believe that it is a big responsibility too, to sustain the legacy of such an iconic brand. It is both an opportunity and a responsibility. And we believe that we are more than capable of something like this.
I remember those days when I was starting William Penn. Our vision was to provide our customers with a world-class experience in a category, hitherto unavailable in India. Working with a formidable global player like Sheaffer was a distant dream then. Years of hard work, passion and commitment to excellence have helped us achieve many milestones during our journey. Today, it gives me immense pride to say that we are one of the key global players in the writing instrument space.