Pen to paper

A chance meeting inspired the launch of father and daughter business, Studio Pens. Since then the company has been on an upwards trajectory 

two green pens with gold nibs When did you start up and why? Studio Pens is a father and daughter business. Ian has a background in manufacturing and has been in the pen business for many years. Nikki's background is in marketing. Ian became involved in the pen world quite late in his career, as the result of a chance meeting in 1999 with George Kartsotis, the founder of US pen brand Retro 51. Ian served his apprenticeship in the writing equipment business as the Retro 51 and Schmidt Technology UK distributor for ten years, and we remain Schmidt's UK distributor to this day. In 2009, Ian met Michael Gutberlet of Kaweco at Paperworld and subsequently became their UK distributor. The business flourished. Nikki, his eldest daughter, joined Ian in 2015, fulfilling a lifelong ambition of Ian's to build a family business. Esterbrook was added to our brand offering in 2020.

What prompted you to launch the business? The launch of Studio Pens was really just a case of the right opportunity coming along at the right time. A chance meeting at a trade show gave Ian the initial introduction to the pen business, but it wasn't until Ian saw the Kaweco range on display at Paperworld that his fate was sealed. He knew straight away that this was a special brand, and he hasn't looked back! What challenges have you overcome since the company's launch? As a distributor, your stock holding is the key to success. A key challenge has been to allow the business to expand sufficiently to meet the demand of a growing customer base without having to resort to external funding. On the flip side of the coin, it has been hard to grow without working with large multiples (who tend to ask for unfavourable credit terms). In the long run though, this has benefitted all of our brands, as you won't find them in large multiples, but rather mostly in smaller retailers across the country, who share our values and small business mentality.

Tell us about your product offering. We distribute three brands to UK retailers – Kaweco writing instruments and accessories, Esterbrook writing instruments and accessories, and Schmidt pen refills and components. We also sell Schmidt pen components worldwide. Kaweco has been manufacturing pens and pencils in Germany since 1883. The best-known Kaweco pens belong to the Kaweco Sport family, which includes the CLASSIC Sport range and the weighty BRASS Sport. The Kaweco Sport was first produced in the 1930s and was designed with an oversized cap, in order to be small in the pocket but large in the hand. Today, the Sport family of pens (fountain pens, rollerballs and ballpoints) and pencils come in a wide range of colours and finishes, including many special editions. Other popular Kaweco ranges include the SPECIAL, which includes technical drawing pencils of varying lead sizes, and the STUDENT, a classic traditional fountain pen, as well as LILIPUT, the smallest fountain pen to accept a standard international cartridge.
Kaweco writing instruments are suitable for everyone, from those learning how to use a pen to professional artists and calligraphers. Kaweco uses high-quality materials to produce excellent quality pens, including sustainable materials like Brass and Bronze. Bricks and mortar Kaweco stockists can borrow Kaweco's lever presses for "make your own Kaweco pen" events, so that customers can make their own Kaweco pen in exactly the same way as Kaweco pens are assembled in the Nuremberg factory! The pen presses are always a crowd pleaser at shows and in shops - for more information on how to hire these, please contact us. Most Kaweco pens can also be cobranded– for more information, please get in touch.

different styles and colours of pen laid out on a table with other items Cornish expatriate entrepreneur Richard Esterbrook established The Esterbrook Pen Company in 1858, and at its height, Esterbrook was the largest pen manufacturer in the United States, employing 600 workers and producing 600,000 pens a day. Much of America's history has been written and created with Esterbrook pens, with owners including US presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, Disney artist Carl Banks and Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, and millions of American students grew up learning to write using Esterbrook pens. Having ceased trading in the 1970s, in 2018 Esterbrook was revived by Kenro Industries to write its next chapter. Esterbrook moved 120 miles north to Kenro's headquarters in Mineola, New York, where its storied past will forever be a part of its future.
Esterbrook's most popular range is the Estie; these pens are available in 7 core colourways with a variety of different trims, plus a multitude of limited edition colours which often feature DiamondCast ™ acrylic bodies made by Mckenzie Penworks, which contain real diamond fragments to add to the luxurious feel and sparkle of an Esterbrook Pen! In addition to the Estie, Esterbrook also makes the JR Pocket pen, Camden and Model J, and a variety of desk accessories from brass bees to leather pen cases. Vibrant colours and elaborate designs are at the heart of Esterbrook products, and the high level of craftsmanship is clear to see.
Esterbrook has a Custom Nib Program. Working with expert nibmeisters from all over the world, Esterbrook are able to offer a range of nibs that are more unique than standard nibs and have been hand ground for a specific effect. There are currently four custom nibs in the range, Journaler, Scribe, Techo and Needlepoint. Schmidt is a long-established German family firm, who mostly produce OEM pens and refills for well-known brands. We supply their pen components to smaller pen makers and hobbyists, and we also supply Schmidt's own-brand refills to UK stationery retailers.

What are your most popular products? Our most popular products are the Kaweco Sport and the Esterbrook Estie ranges. Both come in a wide range of colours and finishes, including limited editions, and are the core products of their respective brands.

Have any styles taken you by surprise with their popularity? A couple of years ago, Kaweco released a pen in its Sport range called Kaweco Collection Iridescent Pearl. It was a limited edition so it was only in production for 12 months. It was a freak product! It was a very nice pen, but even so, demand for it was unprecedented. Try as we might, we could not keep up with demand, and it was the same the world over. It won the Writing Instrument of the Year award at the London Stationery Show in 2022.

What sets you apart from your competitors? We hold extensive stock of our brands here in the UK, which means that most of our customers' orders are fulfilled within 3-5 working days and there is no long wait for deliveries, costly shipping, or having to deal with Customs for imported goods. In addition, we represent only three brands (and in the case of Kaweco and Schmidt we have done so for many years), which means we have in depth knowledge of their products and have strong working relationships with the brand owners.

How are you finding the current climate in the UK? Is it affecting business? So far, demand has held up well. With Kaweco in particular, most of its core products are at a price point where people are still willing to treat themselves or others.

How do you view the future of independent retail? We see that consumers are becoming more discerning and enjoy buying from independent businesses rather than large faceless organisations. Whether it's online or in a bricks and mortar store, retail increasingly needs to have a face. People like to buy quality products from people they can relate to. This shift is being accelerated by some of the larger retailers themselves, because as some have faced financial challenges, they have cut back on some of the things that used to set them apart, such as staff in store and customer service, and they are being punished by consumers for that. An online presence is very important for driving demand. Some independent retailers have achieved an almost cult-like status on social media because they have made their business personal and have unique online content (e.g. https:// and well as a beautiful shop and great products.

Are you active on social media? How is this important for the business? Yes, we are active on social media, we have Facebook and Instagram accounts for Studio Pens and also separately for Kaweco as UK distributor. We feel it's an important way to spread brand awareness of our products. It's a tricky balance as a distributor though, as social media is still mostly the domain of B2C marketing and we don't want to create confusion with consumers.

What can we expect in the future from the company? We'll continue to bring the full range of Kaweco, Esterbrook and Schmidt products to the UK market. Expect Kaweco and Esterbrook to continue to innovate with both colours and materials - we love finding out what they have planned next!

T: +44 (0)1423 815 700

two blue pens on a pad of graph paper

Share on Facebook