Golden Age Of Pens

Q&A With Brad Turner Of The Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association

Counselor speaks with Brad Turner of the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association to find out about the market's outlook, challenges and opportunities.

Brad Turner In the age of electronic communication, when we keep each other informed through e-mails and texts and tweets and Facebook posts, Brad Turner believes it's a renaissance of sorts for the old-school writing instrument.

"We've come so far with inks and manufacturing technologies of pens, that the user experience is just so much better than it has ever been," says Turner, who is the vice president of the trade group Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, as well as vice president and deputy general counsel for Newell Rubbermaid, the parent company of Top 40 supplier Sanford Business-to-Business (asi/84833). "Writing has a place today, and people are increasingly finding new applications for pens and writing instruments. It's an exciting time for the market."

In a wide-ranging interview, Turner spoke to Counselor about the legal and regulatory environment that's impacting the writing instrument market, as well as the outlook that his company and association have for pens and writing instruments. "There have been a lot of challenges in the industry over the last few years," Turner says. "But consumers are willing to pay for performance from the products they purchase, and writing instruments are providing that."

Counselor: What are the biggest trends that are impacting the writing instruments market today?
Brad Turner: I think the biggest changes have been in the construction of ballpoint pens. The basic ballpoint is so much better than it used to be, and consumers are really reacting to it. There are just more specialized and distinct offerings for customers, and that has really moved the market.

Counselor: How have ballpoints changed to meet demands?
Turner: Companies are offering more of what we call writing systems now. There is an assortment of technologies that are new to the market that have paved the way for this. There are new types of inks, porous points, and marker and pen combos. The pen is so much more useful these days, and not just the utilitarian item that it used to be.

Counselor: How about dual-function writing instruments?
Turner: That's an area that has been growing quickly for the market, and it's again due to the expansion of technology and the ability we have to manufacture products differently today than we used to be able to do. We can make pens that do so much more for consumers than they're used to. That's an exciting sales proposition for the writing instrument industry.

Counselor: How is today's legal and regulatory environment impacting the writing instrument market?
Turner: Well, the Sea is definitely changing. To say we're impacted by new rules and regulations would be an understatement.

Counselor: What does WIMA have its eyes on in the regulatory world?
Turner: There's a tug of war between global themes and local rules. We're manufacturing products globally for the most part, but regulations can differ by country and even state to state here in the U.S. There are green chemical rules being debated in California, the REACH initiative in Europe, school supply regulations in Brazil, and the CPSIA law in the U.S. It's a lot to keep track of for writing instrument manufacturers.

Counselor: How has this environment changed?
Turner: There are so many more regulations to understand and navigate than there were even just a few years ago. There used to be a short list of regulations. Now you have to increase the reporting of the chemicals that go into manufacturing a pen and the makeup of the various inks that are inside pens. The regulation is increasing, and the testing that is necessary to meet those regulations has increased dramatically, as well. Testing is a big part of what we do now.

Counselor: Does all of that add a lot of extra cost to the supply chain?
Turner: No doubt, there are more costs that manufacturers incur today that they didn't once have. But as an industry, we're dealing with it. We know it's necessary, so we've made it a big part of our operations, regardless of the costs. Thanks to lower-cost manufacturing, we've been able to offset much of the testing costs so we haven't had to pass the costs on to consumers. We're committed to providing safe and compliant products.

Counselor: Why have regulations on writing instrument manufacturing increased?
Turner: Two factors, I think. One is chemical regulation, which is mostly being driven by the increased focus on the environment. That's really driven a lot more requirements for scrutinizing how products are manufactured.

Counselor: And, the second factor?
Turner: The regulation of children's products. They've always been highly scrutinized, as they should be, but the requirements of testing and compliance that have been in place since the CPSIA was passed in 2008 are extensive. And, that's just the U.S. Other countries have school supply regulations that have to be met, as well. There's a more intense focus on the heavy metals and lead content that are in writing instruments today. Manufacturers and sellers of pens have to be aware of the regulations.

Counselor: What do you think the economic outlook is for the pen market in the next year or so?
Turner: We see a lot of opportunity right now. Writing instruments have really evolved and offer users a much better experience than they used to. Electronic communication isn't going away, of course, but there's a solid place for writing instruments and that opportunity is growing.

Counselor: Where do you think those opportunities are?
Turner: Emerging markets are growing globally for pens and writing instruments. Population and usage rates are growing in many countries, and demand and spending power for writing instruments globally will grow accordingly. There's a lot of opportunity for U.S. firms to capitalize on that global growth.

Counselor: Has the economy over the last few years impacted the writing instruments market?
Turner: Macroeconomics certainly play a role. When the job market is shrinking in the U.S., it definitely has an effect on writing instruments sales. On the other hand, job creation over the past year or so has helped the market.

Counselor: What advice would you give to sellers of writing instruments today?
Turner: Focus on the user experience because it's really positive right now. That's where the success is. Also, the multifunctionality of pens is important today. They're extremely useful and play a big role in people's lives. I think if sellers focus on the value of pens, they'll be successful. – E-Mail: acohen@asicentral.com. Twitter: @ASI_AndyCohen