Stylus Fine Pens is a Edmonton, Alberta based retailer and one of the few Canadian stores with an online presence. James Leech co-owner of the store was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
What originally brought you to fountain pens, ink and fine paper?
I have always had an appreciation and an enthusiasm for the items that I offer in my shop. The world of the fountain pen is a wonderful and wacky one. It involves the triad of nib, ink and paper. It is full of different characteristics and idiosyncracies. I like it. I was residing in a city that did not have a dedicated pen, paper and ink shop. Thus, at this stage of my life, I decided to try and establish one myself.
What is your biggest selling brand of ink, pen and paper?
Diamine in ink; Lamy in pens; Clairefontaine in paper.
As far as I know Stylus is one of the few Canadian retailers that has a strong online presence, what is the ratio of sales online v. at the store?
I cannot give you an exact figure, as that stat is privileged information. However, I can say that online sales are a small percentage of our total sales.
What is your favourite ink and favourite pen? What do you use daily?
I cannot say I have one favourite ink, as my various fountain pens prefer different brands of ink. This example is one of the idiosyncracies of the FP world that I mentioned above. I prefer dark tones of colours. Midnight in Diamine and Army Green in Noodler’s are two particular favourites of mine. If you were to pin me down to pick one favourite brand of pen, I would pick Pelikan. Their fountain pens are superb writing tools. The fountain pen I use everyday in the shop is a Cleo Skribent Chiffre 2000, with a medium nib. It has never let me down: a great pen for a good price.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced getting Stylus Fine Pens off the ground?
The biggest challenge is establishing an independent specialty shop in an urban area that is dominated by malls and big box stores. Getting the word out that your shop exists is exhausting. Advertising is expensive. Retail leases are expensive. A shop like mine has to lay a foundation as a place with quality products and quality service. People will suffer bad service at national or international chain stores but not in a small specialty shop. Fortunately, we have garnered an excellent reputation which has created a “word-of-mouth” promotion for us.
What has been the most satisfying aspect of promoting and being part of the Fountain Pen community?
Introducing the fountain pen to individuals who had never even held one in their hands, something we have done continually throughout the last four years. There are now two generations of North Americans who have never been taught to use a FP. The public school system has decided that this issue is not an important one for them, so venues like Stylus have to lead the way. When a person comes into our shop and tells us he or she wants to start writing again, their enthusiasm is apparent. We make recommendations and suggestions to them regarding pen, paper and ink, but in the end each individual makes a personal choice. When our customers come into the shop and tell us how delighted they are using fountain pens that they purchased from us, their feedback is very gratifying to hear.
Are there any products that are unique to Stylus Fine Pens that people should be aware of?
For examples, we are the Canadian distributor for Diamine ink. This brand had no presence in Canada until we opened. It can now be found in shops across Canada through our efforts. We are one of the few brick and mortar shops in North America that carry Cleo Skribent writing instruments.
What does the future hold for Stylus Fine Pens?
A shop like mine has to take it one year at a time. After four years in business, we have run out of space: We need more room. There are numerous products that I want to bring in, but I cannot bring them all in because of a lack of floor space. We have continued to improve from year to year, which is a solid sign for the shop, especially in the midst of a recession. These days the future for most independent specialty shops is unstable. I would like Stylus to continue operating for as long as it is able, according to the personal standards that guide the shop.