Kanpur Writers makes the best fountain pen nibs in India. Period. But there is a lot more behind the statement and it will make immense sense to know more about the brand Kanwrite; the company owning them, Kanpur Writers; the family that runs them and the business philosophies of the men at the helm. For, in many ways, Kanpur Writers, founded by the Late Laxmi Shanker Awasthi, is the yardstick against which Fountain Pen company performances are measured in India – “Kanwrite” being a name so synonymous with achievements of such magnitude that it is placed on a pedestal, revered, no less. The story gains additional significance as Kanpur Writers, today is a “case study” in management – quietly integrating forward into Fountain pen making, reinventing itself as it were, to offer end to end solutions, spearheaded by Pradeep Awasthi, Partner and the elder of the two Awasthi brothers; leveraging its considerable clout and impeccable reputation to aim for a major chunk of the fountain pen market – the end result being a fountain pen line, which will write smoothly from the time it is unboxed to when the pen is uncapped, even after a month.
It will not be out of place to mention here that Kanpur Writers is terribly media shy, consciously choosing to stay away from the arch lights. Besides, the company is tremendously honest and upright, where playing by the book is the rule as opposed to being the exception; and finally, it is extremely conscious about maintaining quality, the fruits of which, off-course are for all to see – the continued trust reposed on it by some of the biggest brands in the industry.
Inked Happiness caught up with Sandeep Awasthi, the younger of the two Awasthi brothers, men behind the enigmatic brand. Excerpts:
Inked Happiness: How does it feel to be India’s top (and undoubtedly the only large-scale) manufacturer of fountain pen nibs?
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers: We have achieved this position of pre-eminence only in last the 4-5 years. It is easy to take credit and say that we have achieved this by our hard work and by doing continuous improvements and developments, which we have, but as a matter of fact, in our heart of hearts we know that this has been made possible by the inputs and demands made on us by our users and OE customers, who have constantly driven us towards perfection. Yes, our single defining policy, that “the customer is always right” and its corollaries, that we must listen and do our best about addressing their criticisms and meeting their expectations, have also undoubtedly played a major role in helping us scale the heights that we have.
Inked Happiness: Kanwrite’s journey started in 1986 – when the fountain pen had already started on its downward slide. You have since then, valiantly defended your position on the face of the Chinese flooding of the market, survived the calamitous late 1990’s when demand had all but vanished and have painstakingly built up an enviable global reputation. What has been the secret behind this tenacity, the recipe for your success?
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers: The fact that we were associated with another Kanpur based company before 1986 and had started our own venture already secure in the knowledge of the intricacies of the business was a major differentiator. Besides, being new, we were not saddled with legacies and were much more agile than the established players, which had given us an additional edge. But what was, and continues to be the key factor behind our success is our uncompromising attitude towards the single principle – to maintain quality of our products at all costs – literally, even to the extent of willingly compromising on our margins.
Inked Happiness: How big is the Indian market for fountain pen nibs? How much market share do you have? How do your products compare – price wise – with the German imports that are so favoured by the pen turners here?
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers: When we had started, Kanpur Writers made only Fountain Pen nibs and our production was approximately 30 – 40 thousand pieces per day. During those days, other major producers together made another 2.0 Lakh units per day (approximately). In the present, either most of them have closed down or have reduced productions substantially and the total production is less than 1.0 lakh units per day. We enjoy approximately 40 % share of the current production, our output primarily targeted, en mass, to the premium segment of the market.
Inked Happiness: What percentage of your total turnover is accounted for by OEM supplies? Which countries are Kanwrite nibs mostly headed to?
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers: In the beginning, we used to manufacture only Fountain Pen nibs. However, as the market for nibs contacted, we diversified into Fountain Pen making, initially supplying to a big entity based out of Mumbai. It wasn’t before long that we realised that in the domestic market, there is a distinct cap and up-scaling in terms of better quality or price was not an easy option. It was then that we decided to develop International OE customers.
In number terms, we can say that 70 % of our sales comes from International market (including FP and Nibs) and rest comes from our domestic sales of Kanwrite brand products + domestic OE nib sales.
Inked Happiness: Which year did you first venture out of India as an exporter? How do Kanwrite nibs compare with what is generally available in the global market in the same price brackets?
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers: We started exporting our products from year 2000 and really got entranced in the market from 2010 on-wards. As to comparing our products with those made in other countries, one should remember that there are only 4 countries that are producing nibs in an organised way:
- Germany – traditionally the best in terms of quality but very expensive in terms of cost,
- Japan – next only to Germany but also very expensive. I am not aware if they sell nibs to third parties as spares.
- India – we offer the best value for money, and,
- China – they offer nibs at the cheapest price points but there are no guarantees about quality. As a matter of fact, their quality is so poor that no one can predict that out of 100 nibs in a box how many will run satisfactory.
Inked Happiness: Kanwrite Pens – despite having the privilege of being backed by such a heavyweight brand name and being extremely good in terms of the quality to price conundrum, do not enjoy the kind of visibility that fountain pen lovers like us would expect them to. What is the reason behind this? What are you doing to set this apparent anomaly right?
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers: We have to accept this the fact that from the very inception, our major focus and strongest point was quality nib making. We diversified into Fountain Pen manufacturing quite late and all through, our stress was on the OE segment and our expertise covered primarily Industrial marketing. If we tell the truth, our launching of the Kanwrite brand in India was a pleasant accident. Although we had registered our brand much earlier, we had not really thought of launching our line of fountain pens, keeping the idea in the back-burner. As a matter of fact, when we came to know that many Indian collectors were importing our products by paying heavy Customs Duties, we decided to make some products available in the local market, purely as a test case. In a way, we are still pretty low on the learning curve about the retail market for fountain pens. But we are confident and working hard with our associate dealers who are just as excited as we are and our in-house team developing new models of fountain pens and nibs (some will be world exclusives and will be revealed in due course), up-scaling will not be a problem.
Inked Happiness: Post pandemic; which way do you think will the fountain pen market head? Do you see more young people picking up the fountain pen in the near term? Or is it just another fad, a flash in the pan?
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers: We feel that in our industry segment the brick and mortar companies – those that depend on the distributor-dealer networks to push sales will be the worst hit. Entities that have already made the transition to a web-based model, global or domestic, will not be affected that much – in fact, some are already enjoying brisk sales.
Inked Happiness: The web is increasingly becoming the principal driver of fountain pen sales. Yet, Indian manufacturers are still to get their digital marketing strategies right, preferring the antiquated brick and mortar route. What is your take on this? What are you doing to increase Kanwrite’s visibility in the web space?
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers: For Kanwrite we are associating with more and more people doing online business with only one condition: they must have good understanding about what a Fountain Pen is and how a person treats his Fountain Pen(s). The key factor being the emotional quotient, the understanding about the romance of the fountain pen, the involvement of the heart as opposed to only the mind.
Inked Happiness: What are the three major problems faced by the Indian Fountain pen / nib manufacturers? What according to you, should be done to set things right?
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers:
- Non availability of Good quality Trims and Ebonite rods,
- Very high custom duties and GST in comparison to China, US or Europe. The biggest irony is that on Ball pens (which generates a lot of plastic and pollutants harmful to the environment and have huge carbon footprints) GST is 12 % while on Fountain Pen (which is re-usable, mostly Bio degradable, eco-friendly and sustainable) it’s 18 %,
- No known institute or Technical establishment or Government Organisation exists which can support or provide the R & D support to MSMEs of this sector.
Inked Happiness: Anything that you would like to communicate to our readers.
Sandeep Awasthi, Kanpur Writers: I want to point out and request users and supporters of Indian Fountain Pens to come forward and speak more freely, strongly and openly in support of Indian Fountain Pen manufactures, specially about our strongest USP: Value for Money. No one in the world can stand in front of Indian makers on this front even as of now, and post Corona, the Indian offerings, I personally feel, will become even more attractive.
I ask our fountain pen lovers “Can you vouch, for sure, that the expensive pen that you import, after paying a stiff Customs Duty and courier charges, is not actually Made in India?” Have faith on your own country, on our own capabilities. Believe in India. Trust Indian products. Buy and encourage your Nation’s manufacturers. Together, we can win every time.
For More information visit the website: http://www.kanpurwriters.com/
Kanwrite Pens are available here: https://www.thepenworld.com/brand/kanwrite-fountain-pens/