Makoba feels that the best is yet to come, gets ready to reap the rewards on the other side of the pandemic
Inked happiness: Before everything else, what does Makoba mean? How old is the ecommerce platform? What attracted you to the world of writing accessories? How has the journey been so far?
Sripal Jain, Makoba: I must have answered this question for more than a thousand time over the 11-year journey of Makoba. And every time I answer it kind of takes me back in time and connects me remotely to my forefathers. Makoba is the short name of our Grandfather (that’s how he was called in our home town in Rajasthan). Even today, when we visit our home town, our neighbours and well-wishers address us as Makoba’s grandsons.
Our family has been in the business of imports and distribution of writing instruments and stationeries since 1960’s. My Family has focused more on the writing Instruments and desk stationeries while Nitesh’s family business has been more about filing, storage and paper products.
I remember my early days, when we used to visit our grandparents, I used to spend most of my time at the stationery stores we supplied to (some were close friends of my father). I remember picking up fancy fountain pens and ink cartridges and using syringes to fill used up cartridges. Messing up my hands with inks was a routine affair. During one such summer break, my granddad gave me this Fineliner pen which was then recently introduced by Staedtler. I don’t have a handwriting worth mentioning, but that day, for the first time I think I wrote well with that pen and got appreciated even by my grandfather. That day is so fresh in my memory even now. I guess, that was the day that had sealed my fate. It feels like, I have always been made for pens. All my life I have been around fine pens and probably that’s why we chose fine pens as a career.
The journey has just started for us. Fountain pen markets are just beginning to evolve all over again and it’s exciting to be in this sphere.
Inked happiness: How has Covid19 and the lockdown that followed affected Makoba? Certainly, as the fastest growing player in the space, with both brick-and-mortar and web-based sales models, the impact on you must have been proportionately more than the others? What are your plans for the other side of midnight?
Sripal Jain, Makoba: Initially we did fear Covid and made many contingency plans as we felt that it is better to be prepared than to repent later.
Covid, no doubt has been a dampener for business both at the real-world stores and the online store. But it is something that we have taken in the stride. We utilised the time to revamp our website with whatever little resources we could manage. We launched our blog and now we are also trying our hand at youtube. I wouldn’t comment on whether the impact has been more on us or less on others. The impact to every individual has been proportionate to his or her bandwidth. We are a closely held company and starting from mid of December, when the news started floating about Covid, we had begun taking precautionary steps. The most effective one being, to be light on stocks. We had reduced stocks drastically, which helped us to conserve cash (which got burnt during the lockdown by paying up rentals and salaries and basic infrastructure costs) but nonetheless, we are a happier lot now and much less stressed about Covid.
We are high on energy now and its business as usual at Makoba.
Inked happiness: Will the post pandemic “new normal” witness a gradual shift towards the web – with only the more expensive writing instruments being sold through the physical stores? What are your views on this so-called “shift”, about the market in general and about Makoba in particular?
Sripal Jain, Makoba: Business was always there on the web. But Covid has pushed an entire generation to get and shop online, which has created a sudden spark in our industry. No doubt the number of pieces of pens we sold online has surpassed the pre-Covid normal, but I see the routine buyers walking back to stores to experience a pen before buying one. This time the consumers have evolved along with the markets and many new pen connoisseurs have found us online from across India. We do get routine calls about products and the callers are always trying to ascertain how genuine we are. We have always provided enough social proof that we are here firm on this soil and in this business for good and no pandemic will shake us from our roots which have led to many new, satisfied customers. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the pen connoisseurs who have trusted us, believed in us and placed orders for premium pens by merely talking to us over the phone. The support from the pen fraternity has also helped us tide over the rough patch and in ensuring that we safely make it to the other side.
Inked happiness: From your vantage position, do you see a general uptrend in the way people, especially youngsters are approaching fountain pens? If yes, what reasons would you ascribe to such a trend?
Sripal Jain, Makoba: Definitely there has been a shift in liking for Fountain pens among youngsters. I would attribute the uptrend to all the pen specialists who have used this time to showcase their skills and products through various social media platforms. There are people like Vishal Singhi who promotes use of fountain pens for art and doodling. Even your blog for instance has been a great contributor for content and knowledge on the world of pens. Fountain Pen Association of India has played a role by showcasing one on one interviews with Industry veterans, which have all contributed to strengthening the upsurge.
During the pandemic, the interactions between the users and the sellers has reached its peak and I am sure we all will see the benefit of this for decades to come.
Inked happiness: What are your views about India made fountain pens? How do standard Indian fountain pens compere with most of the imported brands that Makoba stocks? What should be done to ensure that Indian brands reach their rightful place in the sun?
Sripal Jain, Makoba: Indian pen making Industry has been around for almost 7 decades now and for most of the time it has been stagnant without much innovation in products or manufacturing technology. I believe the Indian fountain pen industry is witnessing the growth like that of a bamboo tree, which grows patiently underground for the longest time to build stronger roots and suddenly spurts up from nowhere.
Many Indian fountain pen brands like Ranga, Lotus, Constellation, ASA have adopted modern technologies and use of imported key parts like the nib and the convertors. Unlike their predecessors which were always messy to use and maintain, use of imported key elements have taken our Indian hand turned fountain pens on the international stage. There are many brands which I may have missed mentioning, please forgive me for that.
At Makoba we have made Indian fountain pens a niche category and provide every pen connoisseur an experience of using Indian fountain pens and showcasing our Indian craftsmanship. Indian hand turned fountain pens like Ranga, Lotus have found prominent shelf space at our stores and in our hearts.
Indian pens have quite some distance to travel before competing with International brands, especially in the areas of fine finishes and R&D in design, mass production and marketing. One theory can be that Indian fountain pens have their own space in the world markets, but not limiting to that belief, I believe the journey is at its last leg and now it is turn of the Indian fountain pen user to recognize good Indian fountain pens and support them and push them and motivate them to take the next leap.
Inked happiness: Where do you see Makoba a few years down the line? Are there plans to introduce your own branded products to shore up the bottom line? Will you consider pursuing a geographical growth path by opening more brick and mortar presence? Perhaps target the Tier II cities?
Sripal Jain, Makoba: At the current situation we are in, the pandemic has taught us that geographies are no barrier to selling a premium fountain pen. We don’t have any plans of adding more stores till we settle down with our third store which is in Ahmedabad. We are in a phase where it is wait and watch approach to any major expansion plan. We are strongly committed to our three stores and to ensuring 150% satisfaction to our clients.
Inked happiness: What are you doing to create the market – specially to spread awareness about writing among the youngsters in general and about using fountain pens, not merely as collectors or hobbyists, but as writers in particular?
Sripal Jain, Makoba: This is an eye opener question as its never rewarding in terms of ROI when we try to create advertising or marketing activities to attract youngsters to experience a fountain pen.
We have now settled to a simpler form. Inspire the parents, and encourage them to let their children experience fountain pens.
Inked happiness: Anything that you would like to communicate to our readers.
Sripal Jain, Makoba: Like the soul is to the body, the fountain pen is to writing. It is a sacred form that helps in the manifestation of knowledge. I will therefore request all parents to encourage their children to use fountain pens.
For More information: https://makoba.com/