Cult Pens 15th Birthday - Interview with Simon and Amanda

A lot has changed in the 15 years Cult Pens has been going, so we thought it was a good time to look back. So it seemed like a good chance to ask the founders, Simon and Amanda, some questions about what 15 years of Cult Pens has been like from their point of view.

Herbie on Dartmoor Italics will be our questions, from a variety of people at Cult Pens, and for my comments (I’m Michael - hi). The rest will be in Simon and Amanda’s words...

How is Herbie enjoying living on Dartmoor?

Amanda: Herbie loves living on Dartmoor and has made lots of new friends since moving here. He definitely misses all his friends in the office when he spends time here though.

Back in the Dartmouth shop, do you remember the first delivery that really excited you?

Simon: All the obscure Pilot Items and Copic.

Amanda: Most of the initial products on the site came from existing suppliers. The first range we branched out on was probably Copic. It took up a lot of space in our tiny shop but it turned out to be a very good decision.

Back of the shop in Dartmouth Who was the first brand/manufacturer you ordered from? Was it for a particular item?

Simon: Pilot was the brand that kick-started the idea. The shop had lots of Pilot already and we went ahead with 100% of Pilot product coverage for the website despite Pilot being sceptical.

Amanda: Not the first, but one of the most memorable was Uni. We didn’t stock it in the shop, but we told them about our website and they were keen to support us from early on. A couple of the management team came to visit us in the Dartmouth shop. There was no room in the shop for a meeting so we hired a meeting room in the local community centre. It suddenly started to feel like Cult Pens could be a business on its own.

Michael and Amanda in the warehouse Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle?

Simon: ?

Amanda: Oh Michael!

Michael: I guess we’ll never know. Me? Bulbasaur.

What’s your favourite mechanical pencil?

Simon: Hard to choose just one. Almost never met a mech pencil I didn’t like. Love the Uni Kuru Toga mechanism and the Cult Pens Double Knock. Soft spot for clutch pencils too, especially the Caran d’Ache Fixpencil 22.

Amanda: Impossible to narrow it down to one. Currently using Uni Kuru Toga, Pentel Twist Erase, Pentel P205, Staedtler Noris 763.

If the ultimate answer is 42, what’s the ultimate question?

What’s yellow and dangerous?

Michael: Shark infested... wait, I’m the one asking the questions here.

Who is your favourite employee?

Simon: Michael for being the first and still the weirdest; Helen for solving my customer service headaches (and many others; everyone else for doing what they do.)

Amanda: Again, impossible to narrow it down to one. Michael and Matt have been with us since year one and we’ve been through a lot together. They’ve stood by us through thick and thin and are two of the most lovely, genuine, kind people you could meet.

Pupper! As well as running the dream Customer Service team, Helen has been a tremendous support to me over the years both in work and personally.

Martin joining made one of the biggest differences to me back in 2012 when I was able to handover a lot of the financial work.

Anna had a similar impact with support on marketing when she joined over five years ago. I always find Louise’s passion and creative talent for calligraphy inspiring.

Nick always makes me smile he never seems phased by even the most bizarre graphics requests.

I’ve always admired Amy’s calmness in Customer Service and Fai’s smiliness never fails to brighten the day.

As everyone knows, I love working with the Ops team. Their passion, commitment and teamwork are second to none. Many have been with us for some time and helped us work through some of our ‘growing pains’ with innovative redesigns of processes. Matt has already had his shout out, but the ones I’ve worked with most are Becky, Mike, Matt-P, Jess and Tammy and I love them all even though they do enjoy bossing me about in the warehouse a little bit too much when I’m down there.

Most memorable product, launch or promotion?

Simon: I most enjoy bringing brands to the UK that had never been here. OHTO and Platinum, both from Japan, were the first of these.

Amanda: Ooh I love a product launch. The regular Lamy races to launch have always given me a buzz. In terms of significant products – the Uni Kuru Toga was a biggie. Pilot Frixion and Stabilo S’move Easy were all big launches too. More recently, we were all excited about the TWSBI GO.

Biggest shock - what product sold much better than expected?

Amanda: One ‘value’ and one luxury:

  • When Nigella Lawson mentioned that she liked a Zebra Jimnie Antique Dark Brown that she thought was ‘chocolatey’, demand went through the roof. Simon and I were on holiday at the time but in regular touch with the office. The team did a brilliant job of handling everything.
  • Graf von Faber Castell Perfect Pencil

Dearly missed - what discontinued product would you most like to see back?

Simon: Lots of Pilot. Birdie Fountain Pen, EasyLead Pencil, Coleto. Pilot Japan overflows with great product that Pilot Europe is frustratingly indifferent to.

Amanda: Nigella’s Zebra Jimnie Antique pen! And the Zebra Penpod. I bought a load before they were discontinued, so have a stash at home.

All in one room How has the business changed over the 15 years?

Simon: When we started the focus was firmly on rollerball pens, gel pens, hard-to-find refills, mech pencils etc. Fountain pens didn’t really feature as we hadn’t had that much experience with them. Now they’re the main part of the business.

Amanda: 15 years ago, Simon and I were doing everything ourselves from a small stationery shop. We’ve experienced phenomenal growth and Cult Pens now has an amazing team of people and stock over 22,000 different products. When we first started the business, we envisaged it would be good way of complementing our income from the shop. We never imagined it could grow as it has.

How have you changed over 15 years?

Simon: Got 15 years older and greyer. All useful information previously lodged in my brain has largely been replaced by stuff about pens.

Amanda: We’ve both learnt a lot. I think it’s given us more confidence. We (and the rest of the team) have worked really hard in the last fifteen years to get the business where it is and we think the hard work has paid off. I also have a lot more grey hair!

Walky ball pub?

Simon: All three in that order.

Amanda: We’ve progressed to : Walky ball pub stick

Michael; tbh, this was intended more as a question for Herbie, but it’s good to know what they think too.

What pen or pencil in your collection is most important to you and why?

Simon: The prototype Cult Pens Mini Fountain Pen. An important coming-of-age milestone for the business.

Amanda: Can never narrow it down to one.

  • Definitely the Cult Pens Mini Fountain Pen.
  • CP diamine inks. Phil and Christine at Diamine are such a joy to work with and the inks were (and continue to be) so well received.
  • I always have a Pilot G-tec-C4 available. I love them and have a real affection for them as they inspired the whole website.
  • Not strictly a pen or pencil, but the Tombow Mono Zero Eraser is one of the best tools for journaling, crosswords and sudoku.
  • My Pilot Decimo. I’ve had it for at least ten years. It writes beautifully and I always love the look of awe when someone sees a retractable fountain pen for the first time.

*The Big One: Black or Blue ink?

Simon: Both, mixed to make blue-black.

Amanda: Black for anything official. Not a fan of blue. Why bother when there are so many others to try? Currently using Diamine Holly from my Diamine Inkvent Calendar and I love it. Delighted they’ve now bought all the inks out in individual colours. I’ve just bought some of the new Lamy Turmaline. I love trying new inks.

11 May 2020


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