William Penn, India’s leading brand of high-end writing instruments and lifestyle accessories, recently acquired Sheaffer, the iconic 110-year-old American writing instrument manufacturing company best known for its luxury fountain pens.
In 1907, Walter A. Sheaffer invented an ink loading system for fountain pens and WA Sheaffer Pen Company was incorporated in the United States on May 16, 1913 and grew to expand its footprint to over 75 countries. With the acquisition of Sheaffer, William Penn has become a global brand.
Founder and CEO of William Penn Nikhil Ranjan, who is a Mysurean, has always believed in the power of the written word. After graduating in Mechanical Engineering from Mysuru, Nikhil thought out of the box and founded William Penn in Bangalore in 2002, to showcase the beauty of fine stationery. He launched a line of luxury stationery and soon his business was booming. Today, William Penn is also credited with bringing the fountain pen and ink back from the brink and reclaiming its rightful place in fine writing. BC Thimmaiah of Star of Mysore spoke to him about the acquisition and what it means for William Penn. —Excerpts:
Star of Mysore (SOM): What do you think of this acquisition?
Nikhil Ranjan: Well, we have been in the business for 20 years and so far we have been the retailer and distributor of global brands. It’s an opportunity for us to own a global brand and it’s a big step for us. This allows us to design and market products around 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 these countries and that is a huge step forward.
We also believe that as a local business, outside of India and as a global brand, having the ability to design and market products with impact around the world is what excites us.
SOM: Many in Mysuru do not know that the William Penn brand was founded and established by someone from Mysuru. How about a store in Mysuru?
Nikhil Ranjan: Actually, we had a store in Mysuru at Forum Mall which is now Nexus Mall and unfortunately we had to close it during the COVID-19 pandemic. So at the moment we don’t have a store in Mysuru. We have 25 stores across India, all in top Tier I cities.
SOM: Are you planning to open a store in Mysuru, a Tier II city?
Nikhil Ranjan: At this time, we are not planning to re-establish a store in Mysuru. Let the city’s connectivity with other cities improve, then we’ll see. In particular, Bengaluru-Mysuru connectivity needs to improve. Connectivity is the need of the hour. Especially in light of what happened in a few days where a lake broke and part of the Bangalore-Mysuru road was blocked. It was a real mess and traveling between cities itself is a hassle.
SOM: Does William Penn provide anything related to writing?
Nikhil Ranjan: No, I don’t think that’s a good thing to say. We are a retailer of premium brands of writing instruments and accessories. It is not about all writing because all writing is a vast sphere. We specialize in premium writing.
SOM: Since you specialize in high-end writing products, how do you bridge the cost gap between the high-end writing instrument and the customers?
Nikhil Ranjan: Yes, many people use high-end writing instruments for their daily tasks. I think top quality is always about building aspirations. You aspire to own something premium. Like looking at a car. A basic car will also do, but you still aspire to own a premium car or a luxury car. We are talking about premium price but not luxury price. India is definitely a market for everything – for mass, premium and luxury.
SOM: So this acquisition is intended for premium customers?
Nikhil Ranjan: Yes, absolutely. Sheaffer is for the premium segment. Of course, you have brands like Montblanc in the luxury segment – over 25,000 and Rs. 30,000. There is also a market for luxury brands, for people who aspire to own one someday. However, we are in the premium segment from Rs. 1,000. Now, like a car, it is a writing instrument. If you use a writing instrument, you might as well use a premium one.
Another big driver of this type of purchase is the purpose of the donation. And India has many gift giving occasions. It is for this reason that you know that products such as writing instruments are very pleasant and memorable items to give away.
SOM: We have seen many local Indian companies acquiring companies in the US and other countries. How does it feel for someone from Mysuru to own a global brand?
Nikhil Ranjan: (Laughs). Suffice to say that it was an opportunity that presented itself. We’re really excited to make an impact around the world. We also believe that it is also a great responsibility to maintain the heritage of such an iconic brand. It is both an opportunity and a responsibility. And we believe we are more than capable of something like that.
I remember when I started 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 along our journey. Today, I am extremely proud to say that we are one of the world’s leading players in the field of writing instruments.