An English author once said that the pen is mightier than the sword. In the promotional products industry, it is. Writing instruments made up 9.04 percent of distributor sales last year, up from 8.68 percent in 2009, according to the 2010 PPAI Sales Volume Study. This gargantuan category was beat out by only one contender: wearables.
Even outside the industry, people can’t get enough pens. The global market for writing instruments is forecast to reach $19.4 billion by 2015, according to Global Industry Analysts, Inc. The fastest-growing segment? Ballpoint pens.
Bill Mahre, president of Hugo, Minnesota-based supplier Windmill Planners & Saratoga Pens (UPIC: WINDMILL), attributes pens’ popularity to their far-reaching appeal. “The price points are attractive, and they appeal to a broad audience,” he says. “Plus, people use pens on a daily basis.”
His company’s best-seller, the metal Triple Pen, has been in the lineup for five years. “In terms of life cycle, that’s a long time for a writing instrument,” he says. “We add different attributes to keep it fresh and new. For example, we added comfort grips and started offering a 22K gold-plated version.”
The trend now, he says, is individual personalization of each pen. “It’s taking it to the next step so that it becomes a personal item. Ten years ago, in most categories, personalization was at least the cost of the item itself. It can be done affordably now,” he says.
Another big trend is full-color writing instruments. Customers can submit a photo of a building or staff, and it’s then put on something as slim as a pen barrel.
Mahre advises that distributors familiarize themselves with the vast number of choices in the writing instruments category. “From colors, styles and types, there’s a wide range out there. Come to the supplier with an understanding of what you’re looking for so no time gets wasted,” he suggests.
Steven R. Flaughers, owner of Akron, Ohio-based distributor Proforma Eclectic Technical Systems, is always diligent about staying on top of trends in writing instruments. “We’re mindful of what’s out there. When we get an e-mail, catalog or samples, we don’t just toss them,” he says. “We look at the pens, write with them and test them out.”
Flaughers has found success pitching writing instruments because of their many applications. “Not only are they great to use as promotional products, but they can also be used as gifts, incentives and be integrated with technology,” he says.
If his clients want to take an eco-friendly path, Flaughers sources writing instruments that are made from recycled material or that feature soy-based ink. For a high-tech approach, he pitches pens that are integrated with lights, laser pointers or USB drives.
“The options today are far greater than they once were,” Flaughers says. “But distributors shouldn’t get overwhelmed with the many choices. They should educate their customers on how to integrate pens into current promotions.”
Mahre says that because of their appealing price points, writing instruments are virtually recession-proof. “You can get a laser-engraved metal pen with a high-perceived value for less than $2,” he says. “If you can buy 1,000 pens and not break the bank, you’ve got a great promotion.”
1. Squeeze the top of the Magnetic Pen Clip to open the clip or retract the pen. It’s great for keeping shopping lists together or clipping to a vehicle’s sun visor.
Magna-Tel, Inc. UPIC: MAGNATEL 800-467-2537
2. Stray highlighter marks are no match for the Erasable Double, which features a patented clear solution that erases the pen’s highlights from most papers.
Beacon Promotions, Inc. UPIC: BEACONP 800-628-9979
3. Offered in five translucent colors—black onyx, emerald green, mocha diamond, ruby red and sapphire blue—the Javalina® Jewel is a modern twist on a signature pen.
Hub Pen Company UPIC: HUBPEN 800-388-2323
4. Uncap the Sharpie® Gel Highlighter to experience a gel technology that glides on a page completely dry, eliminating bleed-through. It also won’t dry out if left open.
Sanford Business-to-Business Division UPIC: SANFORD 800-356-9466
5. Wrapped in genuine leather and crowned with a leather-covered button, the Cross® Torero exudes sophistication. The Bordeaux croc style (shown) features crocodile-embossed wine-red leather.
A.T. Cross Company – Corporate Writing Solutions UPIC: ATCR0001 401-333-1200
6. Choose from a number of designs, including tires, awareness ribbons and school busses, for the eye-catching Logo In Motion™ pen. When users twist to open, a logo is accented with motion special effects.
Troy Sunshade Company 800-833-8769
7. A gift that’s polished and practical, the Balmain® Narbonne Pen Set includes a twist and roller ball pen tucked inside a one-piece Balmain presentation box.
Leed’s UPIC: LEEDS 800-860-1555
8. Users can unfold the clip on the UpWrite™ Pen to prop up this retractable ballpoint pen. It’s perfect when customers must sign receipts, whether they’re at a bakery or the dry cleaners.
Bullet Line LLC UPIC: BULLET 800-749-7367
9. The Triple Click Pen & Pencil Set is presentation ready and offered in a spectrum of pretty hues including champagne gold, emerald and pink (shown).
Windmill Planners & Saratoga Pens UPIC: WINDMILL 800-852-5208
10. Ideal for students, the BIC® Clic Matic® is Scantron certified and includes an eraser, side lead-advancement mechanism and a textured rubber grip.
Norwood & BIC Graphic North America UPIC: BIC 888-446-5242
11. Users know exactly what they’re getting with the Proxy Pen Highlighter—this pen and highlighter combo features color-coordinating highlighter ink and grip. The pen with black details includes a yellow highlighter.
Crown Products, Inc. UPIC: CROWNPRO 800-367-2769
12. Newport FGT Pens feature Glide-Write™ Ink, which is a gel and ballpoint formula that provides a smooth, dark and consistent lay down. Foil barrels can be screen printed or lasered.
Evans Manufacturing, Inc. UPIC: EVANS 800-745-3826
How I Did It: Pen Promotion
“Our client, Delta Media Group, asked us to provide three things: giveaways for real-estate brokers, USB drives and printed documents/manuals. We decided to purchase ink pens that were integrated with a 2GB USB drive and have all the documents preloaded onto the USB drive. The end result was a wow from the brokers who received a nice pen. But when they were instructed to unscrew the end of the pen to find the USB drives where their documents were pre-loaded, a real ‘Oh my gosh’ factor set in. We knew we hit a homerun.”
— Steven R. Flaughers, owner of Akron, Ohio-based distributor Proforma Eclectic Technical Systems
Did you know that National Handwriting Day is January 23 or that most pencils can write 45,000 words? Learn more fun facts from the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association below.
Writing Instruments: A Closer Look
• A typical pencil can draw a line 35 miles long
• Most ballpoint pens will draw a line 4,000 to 7,500 feet long
• In 1908, A.C. Steward developed a press that could imprint round pencils
• The porous-point pen was introduced in 1963
• In 1977, a new type of ballpoint that uses low-viscosity ink was introduced as the roller-ball
• An unpainted pencil inserted into the soil of a potted plant can eliminate bugs on plants
• Plant growers mark their plant labels with pencil because it won’t fade in sunlight
Source: Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association
Why Are Pencils Yellow?
Pencils have been painted yellow since the 1890s—and not just so students can spot them more easily in the classroom. During the 1800s, the best graphite came from China, and American pencil makers wanted to alert consumers if their pencils contained Chinese graphite. American pencil manufacturers began painting their pencils bright yellow, a color associated with royalty and respect in China, to communicate this regal feeling and association with China. Today, 75 percent of pencils sold in the United States are still painted yellow.
Source: Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association