In May last year, we celebrated 10 years of Cult Pens - 10 years since the online shop sprouted in the back room of a small stationery shop in Dartmouth, and took over a corner of the internet. I was sitting in another corner, nearby, with a site called PigPog, which was all about creativity back then, but is now where I share my photography. It's been 10 years since we decided to get together.
Hi. I'm Michael, and I was the first employee at Cult Pens, and I've been here for ten years. It's changed a bit in that time.
My wife and I had been writing reviews of pens and pencils for PigPog, and as the site was reasonably popular at the time, it brought a few new customers to Cult Pens when we linked to them. We were offered a bit of discount, and the occasional freebies, and the relationship built up quite nicely. When they were ready to expand and get a proper office, we moved down to Devon and joined in.
So what was it like in the beginning? Well, when I started, it was a small company, and we had far too much space. I moved to Tiverton where the new office was still being prepared, back at the end of 2006. I delivered a kettle and coffee to the plasterers who were finishing the office, so they'd be done sooner, and we'd have coffee available as soon as we started. A heap of flat-pack furniture arrived, so I built desks to sit at, and chairs to sit on. We had several rooms, but only needed one of them. Our desks, our packing desk, and all the racks for the stock, fitted in the one room quite easily.
As time has gone by, we have gathered more of everything. We filled more rooms with racking, and filled it all. We took over the top floor of the building, more than doubling the space we had, then rapidly filled that too. We moved our 'office' section upstairs, so we have a better view of the squirrel and assorted bird life in the oak tree outside. We took on more people, building up a great team to look after the pens and our customers.
We've replaced the web site with a completely new system, connected to a real stock management back-end system, which means we have a much better idea of what we have, and makes it much easier to know what we need more of!
When I arrived, there were somewhere around 1,000 different products. Now, we have more than 16,000, probably getting close to 17,000 as I write this. We have upgraded from zero spaniels to one, which is a much better number of spaniels to have.
With all that's changed, it doesn't seem like there'd be much that hasn't changed, but the things that have stayed the same are probably more important than those that have changed. The site started because people loved pens, and were excited by pens they couldn't get elsewhere - the pens nobody else stocked. That's still true, and there are always interesting new products to find. We still keep discovering pens and pencils even we didn't know about, and bringing them to our customers.
We still think customer service is hugely important, and it has to involve good product knowledge. A big company can almost entirely automate a system to send you an item from a box somewhere in a warehouse and deliver it to your door, but they can't tell you why the ink in that item can be scratched off glass, or advise you on the reasons liquid ink may suit your writing style better than ballpoint. And they won't be able to give much advice if the lead jams in your pencil, or the ink doesn't flow well from your fountain pen.
So while we may have gone from three people to almost 20, and from 1,000 products to almost 17,000, and have, on occasion, had to send Royal Mail away to get a bigger van to take the day's orders; we still obsess over all these interesting pens and pencils, and we still care about trying to help you find just the right one for you.
And me? Well, I'm still here, and while I don't have a lot to do with individual orders going out these days, I'm kept busy enough with writing and web site stuff, and helping out with the customer service. If you've emailed us questions, you may have had a reply from me. If you've phoned us, it's possible you'll have talked to me. If you've read the descriptions of products on our site, you may have read some I've written. If you follow us on social media, you've probably read my words and seen photos I've taken. And if you've been reading this newsletter, you'll almost certainly have read some articles I've written.
I don't write reviews of pens any more for my own site - there's plenty of pen-related stuff to do here - but I still enjoy my photography, and share that regularly on PigPog. I can also be found on Twitter, Flickr, Instagram (occasionally), and sometimes wandering around Devon, hiding behind a Sony Alpha 7 camera with an old manual-focus lens attached.
30 November 2016