Vancouver Pen Celebrates 25 Years
October 2011 is the 25th Anniversary for Vancouver Pen - a leading pen store in Vancouver, BC Canada.
The 25th anniversary is an accomplishment and demonstrates the long-term commitment to quality products and good customer service.
I have been shopping at Vancouver Pen for more than 20 years. Store owner Margot McRae has been there for as long as I have visited the store. With 24 years at Vancouver Pen this is not just a business for Margot. The customers and staff all feel a strong connection.
I regularly see Shannon Gray and Fernie Lacelle who both have been at with the store for 16 years. Thomas Stingl, who works part-time, has been with the store for two years.
It is the family nature that contributes to making it a great experience. I have always felt the sense of family and high level of commitment to the customer every time I visit the store.
Long-time customers fondly remember Margaret and Paul Leveque as the founders of Vancouver Pen. It was Margaret and her friend Irene Venebles that actually started the business. Her husband Paul worked for the Pen Shop in Vancouver, starting in 1947 and then became a distributor for Parker, Sheaffer and Cross. Good connections for Margaret! Indeed, Vancouver Pen was the first store in Canada to carry the Montblanc pen — that was even before Montblanc established formal distribution in Canada. When Irene and her husband moved from the Vancouver lower mainland Margaret bought Irene's portion of the business and became the sole owner.
Both Paul and Margaret have passed away, and almost like keeping Vancouver Pen in the family, Margot McRae took over the business in 2009. Margot and the staff provide a continuity of the store's experience.
Before joining Vancouver Pen, Margot worked in retail and has a background in stationery. The move to the pen business was an easy transition. A sales representative had told Margot about Margaret's need for staff. So just after a year of Margaret opened, she and Margot met and Margot joined Vancouver Pen.
Margot McRae, Vancouver Pen
Shannon Gray and Fernie Lacelle did not have a retail background in pens when they joined Vancouver Pen. They joined because of the feeling of tradition, honesty and loyalty to customers that they sensed right from their first meeting with Margaret.
When I asked Shannon and Fernie about what they liked about being part of Vancouver Pen, they were quick to note the overall approach Margaret always took at Vancouver Pen:
"... its not about the sale, but its all about the customer."
That approach is one of the key aspects that has kept me as a regular customer. Moving back to Vancouver in 1987 I have been a customer ever since. There is never pressure to buy a particular pen. It is fine to just go in and chat, ask questions, and try a pen. I remember feeling somewhat guilty about not be able to make a decision on a particular pen. I had gone in more than once and tried the pen. Margaret said to me "you will know the pen that is right for you."
In asking Margot, Shannon and Fernie about what they saw as the biggest pleasure in working at Vancouver Pen, it was not the exposure to great pens, but the interaction with customers as their main reason as the most positive aspects of being involved with Vancouver Pen.
They enjoy the variety of customers, their individual preferences and what they are looking for in selecting the right pen. They told me there is no single profile of a typical pen customer. There are students, lawyers, doctors, judges and politicians who all come into Vancouver Pen. People who need a pen refill, a pen replaced or want to try a pen as they have an interest in owning a good pen.
Margot, Shannon and Fernie all agree — the variety of customers, their interests and preferences in pens is one of the great advantages of being in the pen business.
Walking into Vancouver Pen, and seeing the many boxes of pens stacked in the shelves along the wall - always a great sight!
Product knowledge and customer service are just two aspects that makes Vancouver Pen a great pen store. This is not a store where staff read the label from the side of the pen box to you! They know pens. They spend time with supplier representatives, read and stay current with what is happening in the world of pens. Their love of pens comes through.
Just as there is no single customer there is no single price point. Vancouver Pen carries everything from disposable ball points, low, medium and high end fountain, roller balls, mechanical pencils and ball point pens. The selection is good. The store carries the major lines that include Montblanc, Waterman, Parker, Montegraap, Faber-Castell, Graf von Faber-Castell, Lamy, Sheaffer and Cross to name just some of the lines.
To be selected for a line of pens the store will carry, I have bought everything from a great writing fountain pen for $25 to my first Waterman Edson at Vancouver Pen. It cost way more than $25 but I bought it with confidence that is I had a problem, the staff at Vancouver Pen would be there for me.
Margot is clear, it is about quality of the product and service. There is the service we give to the customer as well as the service the manufacture gives to the retail store. Both are required. If you can't get a pen repaired then there is little use in carrying the product.
I also had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Leo Desautels, Director, Sales & Channel Marketing for Newell Rubbermaid Office Products about Vancouver Pen. Newell Rubbermaid's vision includes to be a global company of Brands That Matter and their brands of fine writing products include Parker and Waterman. When I asked Leo about Vancouver Pen, he notes how long the store has been in business. Vancouver Pen has seen the change in ownership of pen companies such as Parker and Waterman more than once. The store is known in Canada as a specialist pen store. As Leo noted, that is a reputation well earned. "Vancouver Pen knows their products very well and they know what their customers want" As a store, it stays very true to its business. Leo sees Vancouver Pen continuing to play an important role. Even if the pen retail drops, customers wanting strong product knowledge will seek out stores such as Vancouver Pen.
In terms of products, Vancouver Pen carries the full range of pencils, ball points, gel pens, roller ball and fountain pens. The largest segment of their business are fountain pens.
One of the aspects of Vancouver Pen I have always liked are the glass ink wells sitting on the counters. As soon as you ask to see a pen, the lid comes off the ink well, the pen is dipped and you are given the pen to try. That is what buying a pen is all about. The ink wells sitting on the counter really send a welcoming message to the customer.
When I asked Margot about her perspective of changes in pens since she started at Vancouver Pen 24 years ago, she feels the business goes through cycles. Despite the changes of what comes out in a given year, the classic, well styled pen prevails. Every year there is something new. Different grips, new colours or materials and overall size. While in the past years the size of pens have been getting larger in size, this year some "slimmer" models are coming back. Its the cycle.
Over the past few years, the economic downturn has had an impact on the price points for pens. Value is an important consideration. Value occurs along the full range of prices. For example, I was told the Lamy Safari is among the most popular pens Vancouver Pen sells. Great value in terms of the quality and design of the pen. A selection of nib choices makes the Safari all the better value.
Companies such as Sheaffer are marketing a full range of pens including a good selection in the lower price range. I wrote with the Sheaffer 300 while I was in the store. For its price, the pen has good style and writes quite smoothly.
Selection of Sheaffer pens at Vancouver Pen
I asked Margot about the advice she would give to pen manufacturers. She hesitated for only a moment and Shannon and Fernie both joined in: "all fountain pens should come with a converter." Of course they meant non-piston filled, it reflects the desire to provide a person with a pen that is fully equipped to meet their needs. Margot also added that a selection of nibs should be part of the line. She hears from customers how they want specific nibs and if they are available and can be changed in the store, that is a real advantage.
The store has regular customers and the staff know why type of nib many of these customers prefer.
What does Vancouver Pen see as the future of the pen business. They see a steady business, and one that will continue to meet a need. The level of pen purchases may never be what it was a few decades ago, but there is a ongoing draw for people to want to have a pen that is theirs, and to actually write a message. The use of technology will continue, however, personal writing is valued.
Congratulations to Vancouver Pen. You have provided Vancouver with a great pen store for 25 years and on behalf of pen customers, thank you and we look forward to many more years of a store and staff providing a selection and great service.Vancouver Pen
512 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC Canada