Our Menswear Dialogue Series continues this week with an introduction to handmade pens from Baltz Fine Writing Instruments. A well-dressed man is also a well-appointed one. He should be prepared to sign his name, jot down an important note, or leave a message for the lovely lady at the end of the bar. Why wear a $1000 suit, $400 shoes and carry a $2 Bic. Step up to the plate with a quality pen. We'll be reviewing one of Baltz' pens personally in the coming weeks. In the meantime, get a better pen.
IG - What is your profession/title/trade? How did you get into this industry? What is it about writing instruments keeps you going?
BC -My name is Bart Creasman. I am co-founder of Baltz Fine Writing Instruments. We make hand turned wood writing instruments. Cass originally came to me with the idea almost 3 years ago when he read an article about wood pens in a magazine. We looked to buy our own but found the offerings to be homogeneous and uninspiring. Given that Cass has a pretty strong woodworking background (he was working for his dad's cabinet making business at the time) and that I grew up around the craft, we both decided that we could design and produce a better wood-turned pen than anything that was on the market.
I think the creative aspect and the prospect of growing our brand keeps us going. Seeing a raw piece of wood become a beautiful finished product is always great to see, and coming up with new ideas and designs for products is both challenging and exciting. We really hope to start expanding our product line to include other types of accessories, but we're a little way off from that right now.
IG - Many men neglect the beauty and utility of a quality writing instrument. Tell us what components make a good pen from function to aesthetic. What does a quality pen feel and write like compared to a sub par option?
BC -The most important quality of a good pen is how well it writes. The delivery of the ink should be consistent and smooth. A good pen should have a substantial weight to it; this feature lets you know that the pen is solidly constructed out of high quality materials. The pen should also be balanced and easy to write with even if it is relatively heavy. As far as aesthetic, well, there are so many options for pens that it really depends on the person. From tactical pens to diamond laden ones, there's really something for everyone if you're willing to look around and do a little research.
IG - How does the business of selling pens differ from apparel or footwear? What is your thought process behind your sales presentation and they display of your product? Many consumers and buyers are familiar with trunk shows and trade shows and we've attend many of these in our time but have never seen pens on display. How do you get your product in front of consumers?
BC - Having no experience selling shoes or apparel, I would imagine the biggest difference to be convincing people to buy a nice pen in the first place. Everyone needs shoes and clothes, so I assume the main concern is differentiating their brand from someone else's. Not everyone thinks they need a high end pen, so just letting people know that it is an accessory that can really set them apart is very important.
As for the display and presentation of the product, we just want to do something simple but nice that compliments our pens. Our packaging is custom-designed, but it's nothing too over the top. We want the pen to be the star of the show. Right now we don't attend many shows to get our product out there. We plan to do so in the future, but for now most of our sales come through our website and a couple of local jewelry stores. We certainly plan to expand our retail presence this year, as I think some people really like to touch and feel such an expensive product before purchasing. Plus, they do look better in person.
IG - What is the actual process of making a pen? There is a video on your site, but what else goes into the planning, production and manufacturing of a quality pen? how do the pens you make differ form more popularly know brands such as Cross and Mont Blanc?
BC - We make the wood barrel of the pen ourselves and source the metal hardware pieces. Without going into too much detail, we basically splice two complimentary pieces of exotic wood together, drill a hole lengthwise to accommodate the ink, turn the piece on a lathe to its final shape using various cutting tools, sand the piece to a smooth finish, then we finish the pen with a protective material that also gives the body a nice shine and accentuates the unique features of each type of wood. The metal pieces are custom made by a couple companies in the US. Our suppliers are great, but it can be a challenge dealing with multiple people to get parts made to keep up with inventory. We receive those pieces and polish them to a mirror finish, which is very time consuming due to the hardness of stainless steel. For the Exemplar + line we also hand inlay the 'B' on the tip using 22K gold clay, which is applied in a layer by layer process then fired to solidify the gold. We then assemble everything and package it before sending out the pen.
Our pens are different than a Cross pen, for instance, because they're handmade in the US. I believe Cross mass-produces their pens overseas. Nothing against that, but we're serving two different price points. As for Montblanc, well, they're obviously the most recognizable brand when it comes to pens. Their offerings range from very basic to incredibly unique, and you'll be paying a lot of money either way.
IG - You've been around just over a year now. What are you plans for the future of your business? Is wholesale in your future or do you plan to stay small and independent? whichever your decision, why of you feel its the best move for your brand at this time? what else should we know about you and/or Baltz Pens?
BC -We're pretty happy with how far we've come, but we really want to grow the business over the next few years. We definitely aim to expand our retail presence this year. Hopefully we can develop some new products and become an accessories brand as opposed to a pen company. We're in the process of developing a few new products (pens and otherwise), but we definitely need time and a little more success before we can really start to branch out how we'd like.