Bengaluru-based William Penn, India’s leading brand for premium writing instruments and lifestyle accessories, has acquired Sheaffer, the 110-year-old iconic American company known for their luxury fountain pens.
This is the second major acquisition by the made-in-India company, which had earlier bought Lapis Bard, an English premium brand of leather bags, and entered the business accessories segment. The company has widened its product range by introducing crafted leather bags, sleek wallets, elegant cufflinks, watch chests and pen cases.
It is not only historic but also one of the biggest acquisitions in the premium writing instrument industry pegged at around Rs 450 crore, which will see William Penn taking over Sheaffer’s manufacturing, marketing and retailing across 75 countries including the USA, the UK, Mexico, Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa, Japan and India among others. The acquisition from A.T. Cross Company comprises the brand’s complete product portfolio and licences, including premium pens, journals and gift sets. William Penn plans to double Sheaffer’s market share from the current 15 per cent in the next three years.
In 2002, Nikhil Ranjan, an engineering graduate from Mysuru (who worked in IBM) founded William Penn, on his quest to bring the fine writing instruments of the world to India. They opened the first store in Koramangala in Bengaluru to bring renowned international brands, such as Montblanc, Caran D’ache, Parker, Cross, Sheaffer, Pelikan, Faber Castell Design, Moleskine and Sailor under one roof, to give the Indian customer a feel of the best brands. Not to forget the Fisher space pen that writes in zero gravity underwater, upside down and in extreme temperatures. William Penn retails premium fountain pens made by Ranga Pens, an iconic brand from Tamil Nadu. However, it is wary of collaborations with other home-grown entities for want of scalable manufacturing model.
Interestingly, the company was named after the eponymous founder of Pennsylvania. William Penn was a staunch advocate of religious toleration and a prolific writer, with connections to both American and European history. And the company hoped to bring the iconic writing instrument brands of the West to India. As the founder puts it, it’s also the name of the most famous writer William Shakespeare.
Besides the 25 stores across India, the William Penn premium products are also available online on its e-comm platform and on leading luxury portals.
In 2011, the company launched its signature experience of allowing patrons to put any pen in the store to the test. The following year, it hosted a workshop by Sailor’s legendary nib master Nobuyoshi Nagahara and an exclusive limited edition exhibition.
In 2016, Pennline, an inhouse brand focused on creating innovative writing products, was launched. Innovative products like wireless power bank organisers and Quikrite, a productivity boosting journaling system, made it to the stores. The company evolved from a premium fine writing store into a multi-brand and multi-category retailer. In 2019, it focused on in-house product-personalisation services where they curated the product catalog based on the purchase history of the consumer and provided customised products with logo, engram, taped name.
Like most businesses, William Penn too survived the pandemic by enhancing its digital presence, and a unique initiative - “Words that Matter” (inviting people to write in the words that matter to them) was held to to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the firm (on January 11, 2022).
Nikhil Ranjan sees the current acquisition as a remarkable opportunity to further build on the preferences and tastes of Indian customers, while developing new Sheaffer models and lines.
“This is a proud moment for us. We are excited to embark on this new phase of growth with an iconic American brand. 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 has helped us achieve many milestones during our journey in the last twenty years. Today, it gives me immense pride to say that we are one of the key global players in the writing instrument space.”
“The American brand enjoys a 15 per cent market share in the premium writing instruments (pens above $10) segment in India. We hope to double this market share and plan to make India the No.1 market for Sheaffer in the next 3 years. As a global player, we look forward to changing the rules of the game,” added Ranjan.