Pricing, pricing and pricing – the holy trinity of buying foreign fountain pens
Pricing of imported fountain pens is a thorny issue at its best, a contentious one leading to massive heartburns at its worst. Buying from the swank, authorized retail outlets with liveried assistants, gives one the scare – that the unnecessary costs are built into the pricing; while buying from hustlers and charlatans to save on the price, exposes one to all kinds of risks of being hoodwinked. Drop all that and import straight from buyer or their overseas outlets and one has to be prepared to be “Custom-ised” (read severely chastised). Buying from websites, with their discounted prices too, has its ups as well as down’s. Honestly speaking, things are mighty confusing for the average fountain pen lover in search of his (or her) grail pen and we caught up with Sripal Jain of Makoba to clear the air. A third-generation entrepreneur dealing with writing instruments, who can be better suited to shed light on the issues involved, we thought? Sripal Jain does not disappoint. Here goes, in his own words:
Pricing is the first factor that determines whether a person will close the deal or not. If you feel my first statement is right, let us take up the underlying issues one at a time.
But, before getting into how Indian prices are derived, let us understand the nuances of buying a genuine product from International sources as opposed to buying from hustlers who charge less because they don’t pay duties and taxes as opposed to buying from an organized player like Makoba.
Let us begin with the International sellers. It is a time-tested strategy of international players to sell the Pens by discounting only their local taxes. It works out as a great attraction as the buyer gets to save the direct tax component which often amounts to 15-18% of the price. Shipment costs are also absorbed by the seller if one reaches a minimum threshold value. All that is fine, but what many Indian pen buyers don’t realize is that they end up paying Indian duties and taxes when these parcels arrive. These can sometimes vary between 30-42%. One may argue that this is a rare occurrence. But our interaction with many buyers show that, all have paid these exorbitant amounts, more often than not.
With the Hustlers again, it is a completely different ball game. Imported goods are bought in by avoiding all duties and taxes, thus they cost less and are also sold without paying any taxes. The whole transaction cycle is made using cash. There are no records maintained for obvious reasons and once the goods are sold, it is Caveat Emptor, with the seller having no responsibility towards the product. Let us not even talk about the ethicality of the deal. Besides, one can never be sure about the veracity and authenticity of the products being bought.
Stores like Makoba and many others, import products through the right channels by getting into Joint Ventures with international brands. Here the whole transaction is legitimate and all duties and taxes are paid in advance to the authorities, that is, even before the stocks get on to the shelves for sales. Brands that are looking at getting a foothold into the Indian market, try to ensure the MSRP is equivalent to worldwide benchmark prices. The MSRP is usually equal or may be a bit higher, but such “legitimate” dealings definitely have their advantages. Let me elaborate:
Pune is an emerging fountain pen hub. Naturally, there are many acknowledged collectors and fountain pen enthusiasts here. One such FP enthusiast regularly buys pens from international websites or during his many trips abroad. He too has experienced paying the local duties and taxes in a couple of his transactions. However, in his case it wasn’t so much as pricing as after-sales service. He received a US made Wahl Eversharp Magnificent Seven series Decoband fountain pen set in spick and span condition from a seller in Malaysia. No complaints.
But to his utter surprise, in one of the pens he was not able to unscrew the piston mechanism to fill in ink. The gentleman tried all his resources to unscrew the piston. The result was a few dents on the pen, but still the ink wouldn’t fill.
Righty, he wrote to the Wahl Eversharp company in USA and explained his problem and was redirected to us, as we are the official India Partners of Wahl Eversharp. When we received the pen, though un-inked, we found two issues of concern:
- For some inexplicable reason, the brass piston mechanism in the pen had expanded and jammed.
- The rubber sack had completely degenerated.
We, were able to address them easily, point being, why scour the world when we are here to begin with?
Leonardo pens are very popular in India for almost two years now. Only recently, just before the lock down in March, we had our official tie up with them to represent the brand in India. Now this gentleman in Delhi, an amazing fountain pen collector, had some ink flow issues in his pen purchased from an International seller, approached us with the pen. We noticed that the ink feed had cracked. Being official importers of the brand, we had the pens in stock and also had some spares. We were thus able to replace the ink feeder on the spot and help him out.
In both the above cases, though the international sellers were reachable and the products had warranty covers, the challenge faced by the consumers was to send the pens for service and have them mended. Had we not been there, they would have had to go through the process which can take a couple of months or would have been forced to leave the pens lie unused. As a user, it is a huge challenge to pack the product in such a way that it reaches the destination safely. Besides, international shipments are not cheap and can cost anywhere between INR 2000 to 3000 depending on the location.
Had any of the above pens were brought through a wheeler dealer hustler, it would have been very, very tough to get the pens serviced, as all brands look for the official dealer warranty seal on the warranty card before touching them.
Take another case for example, this one from Chennai, the fountain pen capital of south India. We had this situation with a very good client of ours. He was gifted a very desirable Cross fountain pen which had developed some issues and needed replacement of the nib section. As luck would have it, there was no dealer seal on the warranty card. To complicate matters, when he tried reaching the person from whom the gift had come, he was informed that the pen was purchased from a shop in a local shopping complex that too with cash and had no bill.
To cut a long story short, the gentleman approached us and understanding his predicament, we took the pen for service. As anticipated, the Cross Service Centre asked for the warranty card and the purchase details neither of which were present. However, because of our long-standing relationship with the brand, we were able to convince them about the difficulty of the person and were able to get the pen serviced at a cost thus resolving the issue.
Now to address your main concern about pricing. We understand that as a consumer, your main aim is to get the product at the cheapest possible price. We appreciate that, just one request: in the process, do not compromise on the long-term peace of mind by giving up on your right to service back up.
Most of the official importers and dealers, sell products at the prices specified by the brands. Yes, the prices may seem to be higher than the floor price in the market, but then please understand, these stocks are all duty and tax paid stocks. We stand by what we transact in, and are supported by the full might of the brands that we deal in. Besides, we are always available to solve service issues to the extent possible and give our customers the additional assurance that no law is bent or broken in the process.
A final word of advice: pricing is dynamic as the world is in a constant state of flux. Naturally, as per the current trends, we too are able to match international prices and “exorbitant pricing” is nothing more than a myth. As a matter of fact, if you factor in the cost of service support that we provide, our prices are way cheaper than what one pays in the grey market. The choice then is that of the buyer – You can either focus on either just the price of the product, or get your pen at a decent price with “Peace of Mind” thrown in for Free!