Indie Corner: Pen Heaven

David Cole from Pen Heaven speaks to Retail Gazette on trading amid the pandemic, the importance of good customer service and why independent retailers are still a vital part of the retail sector - especially now.

David Cole from Pen Heaven speaks to Retail Gazette on trading amid the pandemic, the importance of good customer service and why independent businesses are so still a vital part of the retail sector, especially now.
“Good customer service can sometimes be the only thing that makes your company stand out."

Pen Heaven, the retailer which specialises in a range of pens and leather journals came to life in 2006 from wholesale business Coles Pens.

“We wanted a consumer facing arm to support the products we sold,” Pen Heaven director David Cole told Retail Gazette.

“We were ahead of the curve as back then there were very few big players online, and with the web exploding we saw huge potential for growth in an otherwise untapped market.

“Stationery was and still is a dream product to sell online as it is standardised and easy to post.”

So what makes Pen Heaven different from the influx of stationery retailers currently on the market?

“We position ourselves in the premium stationery market where there is less competition and by executing in-house personalisation,” Cole explained.

“We can offer consumers something they can’t necessarily get elsewhere.

“We also pride ourselves on our customer service – you can still call one of our team who will happily offer support and guidance over the phone.”

Pictured: David Cole.

Cole added that his independent retail business aims to challenge competition from marketplace retailers such as Amazon by offering a high level of expertise and advice to customers over the phone.

“We are extremely efficient in our handling and it is something we get excellent feedback for,” he said.

“The personalisation service we also provide is another key selling point when competing with large marketplaces, as many simply can’t do it.

“Being a niche brand, our website is tailored specifically for the stationery market, covering all the idiosyncrasies of a writing instrument – you can browse by type, range or colour.”

Cole explained why stellar customer service was so important to him and the team at Pen Haven.

“It’s vital that we offer first-class customer service,” he said.

“We all know bad service travels fast, and with many independent review platforms out there, along with social media, the word gets out even faster.

“Thankfully, we have a team of specialists who are able to offer a quick response when dealing with our customers, most of the time over the telephone, as we believe people still like to speak directly with the company they are choosing to buy from.

“Good customer service can sometimes be the only thing that makes your company stand out, especially in the saturated online retail arena, so we pride ourselves on the service we provide.”

Despite the ongoing Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the retail industry, trading at Pen Heaven has remained consistent. There are three sectors that are big markets for the retailer: corporate, wholesale and business-to-consumer.

“While our corporate clients and wholesale have been down, thanks to many direct consumers making the switch to buy online, we have seen an increase in this market, with sales trending upwards on last year,” Cole explained.

As smaller businesses continue to struggle amid a second lockdown, Cole said independent retailers were more important that ever.

“They bring variety and expertise in specific areas that might otherwise be lost if it was just left to the big players in retail,” he added.

“The specialist knowledge, alongside the personal service, and unique offering is the raison d’etre of an independent business.

“Many times it all gets lost when a business gets too big, sadly.”

The biggest challenge Pen Heaven has faced over the years has been finding the right partners to work with in the technology field.

“As our business is 100 per cent based on the strength of our IT systems, it is vital that we work with the right team,” Cole said.

“After all, it doesn’t matter how amazing your products are, or how brilliant your customer service is if the system is not working correctly.

“It can be a big limitation, so is something we take very seriously.”

While challenges are unavoidable, Cole said Pen Haven has enjoyed many highlights over the years.

“Moving to our larger office space was definitely a highlight, as it not only showed how far we had come, but also allowed us to see how much we can still achieve through expansion,” he said.

“Becoming a platinum trusted merchant of Feefo was also incredibly memorable as it is reflective of our excellent customer service and our sales.

“Finally, seeing our company hit the top spot for specific search terms on Google, such as Fountain Pen and Rollerball Pen was extremely exciting as it showed what we are doing is being recognised.”

Offering advice to those looking to start their own business, Cole said: “Identify your area of expertise, something you are super passionate about and have great knowledge in.”

“Even if it is a niche market, you can still see great returns thanks to the international reach you can achieve online.”

Are you an independent or small retailer? Do you have an interesting story to tell? We’d love to hear from you! Email [email protected] with details about your business, with “Indie Corner” in the subject headline.

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