In this Goulet Q&A episode, Brian talks about pen designer input, if grail pens are worth buying, and free shipping.

This week:

  • Cox Farms- family extreme fun times
  • Nutritionist follow up
  • great Q&A feedback from last week, lots of honesty and engagement, thank you
    • real talk about the Monza
    • Visconti nib suggestions
    • video suggestions like showing my team more, dual cam, guest spots, short pen reviews, etc
  • we’ve hired a couple of new folks! new senior inventory specialist
  • gearing up for holidays, always a busy time
  • incredible Jake Weidmann giveaway! today though Fountain Pen Day (Nov. 3rd)
    • collaboration with Jake and Kenro/Montegrappa, unreal pen and print to give away
    • full rules and details on our blog
    • cool story how it all came together
  • look for some Fountain Pen Day deals from us, sign up for newsletter
  • things coming:


1) Karl K.- Facebook (20:10)

I am constantly amazed at the new fountain pens appearing on the market. Unusual, creative designs, colors and materials. These are works of art. Do you ever talk to the actual designers of these pens? What do they say?

  • yes, sometimes
  • it really depends on the brand, the smaller the brand the more often I may speak with them
  • Brian Gray of Edison, Nathan of Noodler’s, Karas Kustoms, Nock, TWSBI, some Visconti/Aurora, Monteverde, Conklin, Stipula, Robert Oster I or my team does somewhat regularly
  • larger global brands, less likely (Pilot, Lamy, Faber-Castell, Pelikan, etc)
  • often I’ll talk to US distributors, or people involved somewhere in the creation/marketing/distribution of a pen, it’s rarely just one person (unless it’s an LE) in a larger company
  • it’s a fascinating process, and everyone does it a little differently
  • varies a lot by culture and unique approach and history of the individual company
  • designers are often highly romantic about their ideas, and you can tell when there’s a lot of passion and inspiration behind an idea
  • sometimes they are just way over my head, on a whole other level
  • other times, they are very down-to-earth and are looking for a lot of back-and-forth, feedback from what’s resonating with customers, etc
  • as GP has grown, I’ve found myself in a better and better position to give direct feedback, and that’s equally rewarding and scary for me
  • you realize these designers are really out there on a limb, and the stakes are sometimes very high for them, it’s a fascinating place to be

2) Cam B.- Facebook (26:33)

When you upgrade from steel to gold nibs, are nib sizes equivalent? What differences can we expect?

  • gold vs steel comes up a lot, especially for newer pen users who see such a price discrepancy
  • nib sizes honestly don’t have a whole lot to do with the type of nib material used, it can vary quite a bit from model to model
  • some pens (like Edison) use the exact same nib design with both steel and gold nibs
  • other brands have completely different designs with their nibs, like the Pilot Metropolitan and Pilot VP
  • the grind itself will often be somewhat comparable, all else equal, but the softness of the gold nibs usually make them write wetter/broader
  • the generalizations get so broad here that you really have to take each pen on a per-model and per-nib size basis when comparing
  • this was what inspired the Nib Nook at Goulet Pens, so you can directly compare every single nib size offered

3) potterandpens- Instagram (31:32)

Why is it that pens from different companies feel different even though they have been ground the same way by the same nibmeister? Do different companies use different tipping materials which makes a difference in the feel of the nib?

  • different companies do use different tipping materials, yes
  • nibmeisters I’ve talked to talk about how some nibs grind very quickly and easily, others take much longer bc the tipping is so much harder
  • certainly different nibs are ground to different shapes, smoothness, etc
  • softness of the nib can make a difference too
  • there are a number of factors that can come into play, and if you know what it is you’re looking for, an experienced nibmebster can guide you to what it is you’ll like best
  • if you’re there with them at a pen show this is ideal, because you can test real-time
  • share with them what pens you have that you really like the way they write, and they might be able to match/mimic it

4) Souro R.- Facebook (35:35)

Besides plastic and ebonite, can any other material be used for making fountain pen feeds? Can we ever expect something like an all metal nib and feed unit?

  • it used to be basically all ebonite, until plastic came along as a more affordable alternative
  • I have never seen a metal feed for myself
  • certainly other materials could be used, but given the economy of plastic injection-molded feeds I can’t imaging what would be a “better” alternative than ebonite
  • metal would be very costly to machine, and would not work probably as well as either plastic or ebonite, but would probably be feasible
  • has anyone heard of anything else? I’d love to know

5) hrho1501- Instagram (38:38)

You’ve probably been asked this before, but, if you can afford your grail pen but have a small collection, would you get the grail or focus on exploring more diverse, less expensive pens so as to not plateau?

  • this is a really tough question, and surely will all come down to the individual
  • it probably depends a lot on the situation:
    • What kind of collection are you looking to build up?
    • How expensive is your grail pen?
    • If you don’t actually love your grail pen, how easy would it be to sell/recoup that money?
    • Have you had a chance to actually hold/write with your grail pen first?
  • Minimalists will likely want to pare down the collection and go after the grail pen
  • Acquirers (like myself) will want to walk before running, getting less expensive pens first and building up to pricier models
  • I started out with incrementally more costly pens like the Pilot Custom 74 and Lamy 2000, which were a stretch for me at the time and I loved them, still use them regularly
  • I bought my first grail prematurely, and was disappointed because I didn’t have enough experience and bought something I didn’t know enough about (Pelikan m800 with 1.5mm stub)
  • I waited a long time to get a Homo Sapiens and was able to try it first, and I’ve been using it very regularly since
  • I personally like to build up over time, it’s given me a lot to appreciate as I’ve grown into higher end pens, but others may not want to commit nearly as much time, effort, or money into their pens as I have

6) pedrojo30- Instagram (50:13)
Why pens with inner metal parts can’t be converted to eyedropper?

  • in the short term, you totally could as long as the body is solid, so it’s temping to want to do it
  • you could do it for a while without a problem
  • the problem with most metal pens is their internal components are metals that oxidize, like brass or aluminum
  • they’ll pit, corrode, rust, and oxidize inside
  • it’ll degrade the metal, and contaminate the ink as you’re using it, potentially clogging the pen
  • it will prematurely degrade the integrity of the metal and take years off the life of the pen


7) evelyne.demers- Instagram (56:02)

Will you have a free shipping promotion anytime soon?

  • this has been a hotly debated topic at Goulet Pens recently, and we’re talking about it more seriously than ever before
  • we do have flat shipping rates once you hit Priority Mail with USPS…you may not realize that
  • “there is no such thing as free shipping” – Economics 101
  • In order to ship for free, that money has to come from somewhere…higher product price, less service, less generous returns or replacement policy, less education/engagement, less care in packaging, etc
  • the retail business is not a high-margin business, we do okay but we’re not Scrooge McDuck swimming around in our gold vault
  • we can’t just outright absorb the entire cost of our shipping, we’d go out of business in very short order
  • we’d have to have an order minimum, ideally one that would incentivize those placing smaller, more labor-intensive orders to save up and place larger ones
  • that or we’d need to attract new customers/orders that we’d be losing otherwise
  • we’re in the process of trying to figure out how we’d make that happen without sacrificing too much else, and it’s just not crystal clear to us how to make it work elegantly
  • we have a rule here, “if it isn’t a clear yes, it’s a no”, and it isn’t a clear yes for us right now
  • we’re not naive that most of e-commerce does free shipping, and we’re kind of a holdout, even among the pen retailers
  • very few people view shipping as a value-add, and each year that passes we’re feeling more and more pressure to give away something that has a very real cost in our business
  • this is a tough thing for us here, and we’re making sure we’re being very thoughtful about it before acting on it
  • Seth Godin- “the problem with a race to the bottom is you just might win”
  • I’ve personally ALWAYS sought out to take the approach of adding value rather than discounting cost
  • the ROI on a blanket “free shipping over X dollars” isn’t so obvious to us at the moment, but we are considering it and exploring other more nuanced incentives for free shipping
  • I would really, really love to hear your feedback on this

8) Jeffrey S.- YouTube (1:00:56)

Why did you at Goulet pens decide to only sell fountain pens when all other retailers sell all types of pens? Is that a downside for Goulet since your losing that business to the competition?

  • back when I was making pens under the Goulet Pens brand, it was only rollerballs!
  • I’d always been interested in achieving an enhanced writing experience, as I’ve always been very tactile
  • when I was making pens from kits, I’d replace the stock refill with Parker gel refills or Schmidt 888 ceramic tip gel refills
  • these w ere the best writing pens I knew at the time
  • once I used a fountain pen for the first time, it was really a “where have you been all my life” moment!
  • once I discovered fountain pens, the way they wrote, and the community of people into them, it was clear this was very much a “conversion” type experience for me
  • my big epiphany was that fountain pens were going to become obsolete and die off unless there was a way to educate the next generation of pen fans, and I saw a way that I could help with that
  • I tried making both, but the community just wasn’t there with rollerballs
  • fountain pens just enamored me, and that became my sole focus
  • around 5 years later (in 2014) we all started talking as a team about strategically expanding into rollerballs, in the models of pens we already carried like Pilot Metropolitans, Lamy Safari and Al-Star, and even Pilot G2
  • they started out slow, and got slower
  • by that point, it was evident that with the approach we’d taken for being “all in” on fountain pens had taken root, and that’s really what we were known for
  • we didn’t get too deep into rollerballs before realizing we would suffer more from indigestion than starvation, so we decided to focus and double-down on fountain pens
  • we actually changed our mission statement from “writing enthusiasts” to “fountain pen enthusiasts”, to make sure we held ourselves accountable to that focus
  • it makes things so much easier for us sometimes, it really does!
  • there are very distinct silos in different writing instrument enthusiast communities, and it’s really tough to be excellent in several of them
  • fountain pens, rollerballs, pencils, calligraphy, they’re all very distinct in their own communities and we see so much more potential for us if we focus on fountain pens
  • we may end up leaving some money on the table in the short term, but in the longer term, we feel we will have greater impact by keeping our focus
  • this could change over time, I want to leave myself open to going where we feel called in the future, but we see so much more work to be done where we are
  • we aim to be the #1 fountain pen resource online, and our 100% focus is required in order to achieve that


QOTW: How do you feel about free shipping? Not just in philosophical terms, but what is it you’re actually doing when you buy online? Does shipping really make or break it for you? Do you do the math on the total order cost when you shop or does shipping cost just irk you no matter what? (1:13:35)

Write On,
Brian Goulet