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By Shane Dale, October 2011, Counselor

Writing instruments have multiple application with just about every type of client. There’s the pencil to welcome kids for the new school year. And, of course, there’s the ever-present pen handed out at trade show booths in every market possible. Plus, let us not forget the highlighters and markers that so many recruiters on college campuses use to entice new job candidates after they graduate. Regardless of the market you’re trying to sell to, however, Josh Strosser, business development representative for Polyconcept North America, says there’s one key thing for resellers to remember when pushing pens. “What it all boils down to is that no matter how advanced we get with our mobile technology, people still need to write things down, and therefore, they

need something to write with,” he says. “Pens are a perfect vehicle, not only as everyday tools, but they also can do everything from conveying a thank-you message, telling a story, providing information, and most importantly, making people
remember.” With that in mind, Counselor spoke to suppliers of pens and resellers who sell them to find out what the best markets are to target for writing instruments. While pens could certainly be sold to clients ranging from architecture to zoos and beauty salons to youth sports organisations, here’s a guide to four top industries for pens that are always ready to be tapped. For each market, and an example of how industry companies have sold clients within that market on specific instruments.

Use this guide as you’re planning your company’s sales and marketing strategies around writing instruments in the coming year.


Why: All one needs to do is remember his or her last stay at a hotel to understand why selling pens to hotels makes sense. “Every room you stay in has at least one pen. Front desks have pens. They are everywhere, and they order them by the tens of thousands,” Strosser says. How: Even though every hotel utilises promotional pens, Strosser says it’s up to the distributor to explain to hotel staff exactly how and why these pens add value, other than being handy for guests who want to jot down notes. “I stay in hotels enough to know I never keep the hotel pen

unless it is something I would personally use,” he says, “but there is no greater tool than a pen with all of your info on it. The hotel customers that I advise to use pens as business cards never go back. Their customer bases increase dramatically. Even if you get one or two new customers a month over a year, it helps.” For instance: “We did a series of spec samples and virtuals for a customer who was upset about losing a big order for the meeting planners at a hotel,” Strosser says. “He had always used the same pens for the front desk and in-room areas. By going back to some proven winners that we used before as self-promos here, we got the decision-makers to stray from the norm of the stick-type pen to a slightly more expensive click pen that quickly became a favourite.”


By explaining and proving the added value of these promotional and slightly higher-end pens, Strosser was able to earn a sale – and more importantly, encourage the hotel staff to change up their pen offerings. “Now, they order them pretty often – maybe a couple thousand a quarter – and they have become more open to different styles instead of using the same ones all the time,” he says. “These guys have repeat meetings, so it makes it interesting for the attendees to see a different writing instrument every time they come.”

Insurance and Real Estate

Why: “Insurance and real estate agents utilise writing instruments just like they would a business card,” says David Fiderer, director of marketing for Prime Line. “They put something useful immediately into the hands of perspective customers. The very same device could be used to close a sale. They also leave pens in a cup at open house sign-in tables for potential buyers to take.” Insurance and real estate agents love leaving their “business cards” everywhere they go, according to Fiderer. “You often see branded pens for real estate agents left in banks and insurance agents’

branded pens left in auto dealerships,” he says. “Agents in these industries are always making connections with local businesses and pens are one of the ways to be remembered.” How: In this market, resellers need to account for price needs, as many of the buyers are working off of their own marketing budgets, which tend to be limited. Fiderer says this particular clientele wants to have its cake and eat it, too. “Price point is extremely important to these buyers, but they also want comfort, quality and functionality,” he says. “Real estate agents may be required to purchase their own promotional items and pay for them themselves.” That’s why it’s especially beneficial for resellers to deal with the best and most well respected pen suppliers that can sell the highest-quality pens at the lowest price when trying to make a sale in this market. For example, “We offer quality plastic click action pens as low as $0.29 in a myriad of colours to complement their logo or event,” Fiderer says. For buyers in this market, resellers need to spend time sourcing quality pens at a lower price point. It would also

be beneficial to show clients options in a good-better-best format so they can see precisely what they’ll get at different price points and can evaluate the differences for themselves. For Instance: One of Fiderer’s national insurance clients needed 50 000 plastic pens (two colours in two locations) to hand out at employment fairs. “The pen needed to include the brand logo, tagline and website address for submitting a resumé,” he says. After he pitched three low-end pens at various price points (from $0.59 to $1.29), including a pen/highlighter combination, the client decided upon Prime Line’s Zing Pen – partly because it was the least expensive ($0.59), but more importantly, because of its comfort grip and the way the artwork was clearly presented on the pen. “The pen is offered in the colours they wanted. We split the 50 000-unit order between the blue and green, “Fiderer says. “The pens shipped to a fulfilment house, which in turn drop-shipped the pens to the various recruiting events.”

Banks & Financial

Why: “Pens are good for this market because they are traffic generators,” says Rick French, regional sales manager for Polyconcept North America. “Retail banking decisions are often made on the fly, and since people will use the pens in public, the brand is getting repeat impressions and driving impulse decisions. There’s also a tradition of inexpensive, functional giveaways in the financial industry, and in that was, low-to-medium-end pens make more sense than any other item, says Bill Mahre, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier ADG Promotional Products. “The banks, the financials, the Merril Lynches of the world – they want to use them as giveaways for their clients,” he says. How: Teresa Moisant, owner of Moisant Promotional Products, has had success in selling pens to financial institutions, especially credit unions, by reminding them that it’s always important to have a pen available to customers upon arrival. “These pens are always put out on the counter for customers to use,” she says.


“If the customer chooses to take the pen along with them, it is quickly replaced. If customers host educational or community events, the pens are then set out and visible to attendees.” Moisant has successfully demonstrated the usefulness of branded pens to a marketing director at one of the credit unions she services. “Previously, the credit union relied on direct mail for exposure. With the increase in the cost of direct mail, they say the pens are doing the job and costing them less,” she says. “They view this repetitive exposure as a real positive for building the credit union brand.” For Instance: Promotional pens also come in handy for sales reps within the financial industry, which is why Mahre provided 200 laser engraved, personalised metal pens to go along with branded business planners for each sales rep of a financial planning client earlier this year. “We put five lines of personalised copy on there,” he says, noting that ADG’s distributor partner ultimately sold the pens for about $1.50 each. “We printed them individually – the name, the company, their phone number, fax number and email address. And they used those as prospecting tools in the marketplace.”

Schools & Universities

Why: “Education is in vogue,” says Yvette Widicombe, vice president at Jack Nadel International. “Not going to college after high school is not an option. Education is big business.” Writing instruments and learning institutions are a perfect match, according to French. “The pen is a natural fit with education, and its use is necessary,” he says. Also, every school has a sense of pride. Students and faculty really want to let people know about their school. Call it spirit if you’d like.” Pencils might also be a consideration in this market, particularly due to budget concerns among public schools. “If a large group is being asked to fill out forms, it is less expensive to distribute a pencil than a pen,” Moisant says. How: Offer low-end, plastic pens for school recruiting efforts, gel pens for students, metal pens for faculty and staff, and high-end, brand-name metal pens for guests, donors and other VIPs at universities or private educational institutions, French says.

For K-12 schools, where pencils may be a promotional option, Moisant says it’s still important to keep quality in mind.“When they purchase a pencil, they want it to sharpen cleanly,” she says. “If they are purchasing a mechanical pencil, they don’t want the lead to break easily.” For instance: There are certain times that high-end pens are called for within the educational system, especially in universities. “A very large state university recently hosted top engineers from around the world to help develop a programme for exploring development in plastics,” French says. “Each was given a personalised pen with the university insignia on it to sign the proclamation that was hung in the lobby of the science department.” The pens were the perfect way to help the university remind its coveted guests of the special occasion. “It was an honour to be part of the programme, and its guests now have bragging rights,” French says.