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Pensharing: Start With Why


A while ago I saw the great TED talk by Simon Sinek “Start With Why” which I found very inspirational and enlightening for lots of reasons. If you haven’t seen it, it’s really worth watching, it’s a great way to spend 18 minutes. [Watch it later though – read this first please!]

I’m not for one second comparing myself to the Wright brothers, Martin Luther King or Steve Jobs. But this talk was in my mind when the pensharing idea came to me.

Because it’s about scratching the itch which never goes away (the never ending pen lust). And it’s about deepening the connections between members of this wonderful community (trusting another member with your pens). It’s about providing a hopefully valuable service for the community I love which has never existed before. (It most certainly is not about the money – the day job takes care of that).

This is what inspired me to build the platform and attend my first pen show as an exhibitor, even though those two things alone have been an almighty struggle – I’m neither a website designer nor a salesman, I’m an accountant! Squeezing it into a demanding day job and the needs of the family has not been easy, especially as I have also tried to keep some spare time for my other passions – the pens themselves, tennis, seeing friends etc.

But I do want to go into a bit more detail about the pros and cons of pensharing, to share my thought process. Let’s start with the pros:

1. You can’t try pens through Instagram

I love Instagram. It has opened my eyes to a wonderful community of people who share the same passion as me and for that I am eternally grateful. It’s the joyous upside of social media. Alas most of my Instagram friends come from all corners of the world so the chances of meeting any of them, and trying out their pens, is pretty much non-existent. So I’m being continually teased with beautiful images of pens I will never be able to try or own.

2. Colossal choice of pens now

The fountain pen market appears to be in good health. There have been a few high profile casualties but manufacturers are bring out what seems to be a record number of regular and limited edition pens so the choice is absolutely staggering – again one could never hope to own all of them (although it appears a few in the community are giving it a good try – you know who you are!)

3. Opportunities to try in real life are [fairly] limited

With the rise of online shopping, there are fewer and fewer bricks and mortar pen shops left. If you happen to live in a big city like London then you do have a pretty good selection. But out in the styx it’s more tricky. I do have a lovely shop the other side of Cambridge (The Writing Desk – great shop!) but it’s still an hour away – not that handy. And there’s a branch of The Pen Shop in Cambridge where I’ve suffered Pretty Woman syndrome a few times – I just wanna go in and try the pens but then they give you That Look…

Pen meets are fabulous. Always such lovely people who extend such a warm welcome to nubes, and of course everyone brings along their pens. But man it’s hard to take it all in! A couple of lines with each pen and then it’s onto the next one. And what about the times you just can’t make it? I’m lucky to only be an hour’s train ride from London, but the UK is a pretty small place – what about places like Canada? With pensharing, you keep the pen for a week, so you have time to savour it, get to know it, review it on YouTube if that’s your thing.

4. Try before you buy

With the demise of bricks and mortar stores described above, and the very briefest of tries at a pen meet or pen show, how do you know if a pen is really for you? When you have all week to try it out with different ink and different paper, you can really make an informed choice. Fairly early on in my Instagram feed I posted a number of pens which I labelled my “duds” – pens which look stunning on social media or a retail website, but if you’ve never tried one, it’s a gamble. My classic example is the Lamy Studio – beautiful design, horrible slippery chrome section. Now I know this doesn’t bother some people, probably because they hold the pen higher up, but for me, it’s unusable (I do of course mention this on the pensharing listing, to inform potential hirers).

5. Avoids the huge collection of pens

The fountain pen hobby is not like the travel hobby or wine hobby where you get to consume the experience and record the experience (ok poeple do build up vast wine cellars but eventually the point is to drink the stuff, right?). If you buy all the pens, you’ll have to store all the pens. Or sell all the pens for a fraction of what you bought them for, which, as a finance guy, kinds breaks my heart (aka wallet). Sure if it’s a sold out limited edish and the eBay price has soared, you might make your money back..

But with pensharing, you don’t have to build that 3rd IKEA display cabinet or convert that chest of drawers to accommodate the burgeoning collection..

6. You can only use one pen at a time

I’ve sometimes bought several pens at a time. And you know what? Most of the time, one of them hardly ever gets used, because I always (either consciously or subconsciously) choose a favourite.

And the same goes for all my collection really. I will occasionally do a “shoot out” between different pens but my usual habit is to take a couple to work, choose one, and use that for the day.

And that’s why most of my pens are listed on pensharing – because honestly, it doesn’t bother me if one/two/a few of my 40 or so pens are out on hire – I have plenty of others to choose from!

OK so there’s the advantages. But we must discuss the most common fears and misconceptions:

1. Loss / damage / theft 

This is generally everyone’s first question: What happens if the person hiring my pen loses it or damages it or steals it?

(a) Loss in the post

Terms and conditions stipulate that the pen must be sent with tracked delivery and insured up to the value of the pen. So if it goes astray in the post (a) there can be no accusation of theft and (b) there will be compensation up to the amount stated.

But how many items have you posted which have ever got lost? At 47 years old, I cannot remember a single time, either tracked or not. With the massive rise in online sales, has something you ordered ever not been delivered? It’s never happened to me. And when I return something to a store with a returns label or handwritten, it’s always made it back, and I always got my refund.

(b) Damage

Accidents happen. I get it. That’s why the insurance industry exists. But last time I looked, the insurance industry was extremely profitable, because of course the insurers take more in premiums than they pay out in claims.

This was also a very common question at the London Pen Show – what happens if the hirer damages my pen? In response, I always asked the person how many pens they had ever damaged? The answer was always none (ok one person did admit to one). And when I asked if they would be even more careful with someone else’s pen, they replied – of course!

Let’s also dispel the myth of “if someone else writes with my pen it will change the nib”. COME ON PEOPLE!! If this was true, pen meets would not exist and retailers/pen show sellers would not let you try before you buy.

(c) Theft

Pensharing has a review system for both hirers and owners to give feedback to one another so you will know who is trustworthy. (I’m currently on 100% positive feedback. Just saying).

If the pen doesn’t come back (and it’s not been lost in transit), then the hirer is responsible for the replacement value of the pen, which is clearly stated in the T&Cs. The hirer’s card can be charged accordingly.

However this is a niche community and unlikely to attract criminals posing as penthusiasts…

(d) Limited edition / vintage / sentimentally valuable pens

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post that my Montegrappa Miya is not available for hire. They’re no longer made but you can still pick them up on eBay. However because of the huge sentimental value of the pen, I just won’t hire it out in case of loss or damage or theft. I would be devastated if anything happened to it.

I highlighted above that I think those risks are pretty small, and I love taking it along to pen meets for people to try out in person.

I’m completely happy to hire out all my other pens, inclusing all other Montegrappas and vintage pens. They could be replaced if push came to shove.

My guess is that this applies to a lot of people’s collections – they have a few pens to which they are very attached either sentimentally, or because they are super limited edition, or very high value. My advice is not to hire out those pens. But everything else should be fine.

2. Cost of hire   

This is I suppose the eternal question: why rent when you can buy?

I started out using standard hire prices for different pen price bands: Under £100, £100 to £250 etc. But I realised this was giving a fairly distorted prices for pens which were just under or just over a particular band.

So now I’ve just priced all my pens at around 5% of their replacement value (which may be either retail price or a quick look at eBay). Again some have been rounded up or rounded down but I think this gives enough of an incentive to both owner and hirer to enter into the transaction.

Owners are ultimately free to charge whatever they like for a hire and I’m sure that once several of the same pen appear on the site, that a natural price level will occur.

3. Cost of postage

In these days of free delivery it seems counter intuitive to pay for postage however you’re paying for your “free” delivery either through your amazon prime subscription or it’s built into the product price.

With pensharing, the hirer has to pay the postage both ways (again stated in the T&Cs). It’s essential to post the pens tracked and insured otherwise owners and hirers could end up in a nasty dispute about whether or not the pen arrived, and in the unlikely event that it didn’t, it allows the owner to claim for the replacement cost.

UK second class tracked postage with an insurance value of up to £50 is actually very reasonable at £4.50 and first class tracked postage with an insurance value up to £2000 is actually only £3 more.

It’s worth it for the peace of mind for both owner and hirer.

So that’s the end – if you do have any questions about the pensharing service, please do not hesitate to ask!

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