In this Goulet Q&A episode, Brian talks all about GPC to celebrate our 9th anniversary!

This week:

1) efromejia- Instagram (11:56)

How many different models of pens you offered when you started and how many now?

  • originally is was my handmade ones, but they were really just leftover from my penmaking days
  • really, it was 0, for the first whole year
  • now? 147 fountain pen models as of the recording of this video

2) cesaregao- Instagram (13:16)

How do you feel when you have to exchange pens?

  • it’s always a little disappointing, because I want everyone to have a great experience right off the bat
  • it’s retail, returns are a fact of life
  • you’re buying physical pens through a website, it’s tough to convey everything like you can in person
  • even in person, there would be returns
  • we try to make it easy, focus on education and troubleshooting, but ultimately we view it as an opportunity
  • it’s redemption, we’re helping someone learn more about their writing style, the brands they’re picking, or what might work better for them

3) arasbilgen- Instagram (15:26)

What was the toughest business lesson you learned along the way?

  • people can’t read my mind
  • My leadership style has been to lead by example, but often it requires my being more explicit than just doing it and hoping it rubs off on others
  • I’m more driven, more risk-taking, more stress-eating than most, which is why I am where I am
  • not everyone wants that, so just me doing what I do isn’t enough to help others along, I have to consciously share my thoughts, vision, and process, and pull others along with me rather than just forage a path through the jungle and hope others follow
  • I have to look around and make sure I have everyone with me

4) Bobby J- Facebook (17:40)

Why don’t you do pen shows?

  • I’ve gone to more pen shows, I did 3 this year, and loved it for the social aspect of it and being part of the community
  • I worked 1 show, DC in 2010, and it about killed me
  • it just wasn’t for me, took too much out of me and was a huge distraction from running Goulet Pens as you see it today
  • Young kids, travel is really hard
  • Rachel has travel anxiety, so her traveling is hard and it’s taxing for me to be away
  • I literally just made this connection though, working shows brings me back to the early days of the business when we were not successful, so I really just don’t have great memories from it!
  • I was never sure of myself or what I was doing when working craft shows, but I feel so much more sure of videos like these and what we do in this building is right, so that’s where I want to spend my time
  • it just all kind of sums up into not making a whole ton of sense for us to do it, as much as we’d love to
  • it’s not off the table forever, but it’s going to be challenging for us to to it regularly

5) Blakemore C.- Facebook (21:58)

How do you determine what reviewers to work with? What are determining factors for what pens, inks, etc. get sent out for review? What would cause you to end a relationship with a reviewer?

  • we honestly haven’t worked with all that many, and a lot of that just has to do with logistics, it’s a lot of time and coordination
  • it’s largely been a matter of serendipity so far, when  we’re able to swing it and it makes sense for us and the reviewer
  • Ending a relationship? We haven’t had anything blow up in our face, but usually if someone stops being active in the community, starts getting really controversial, is really tough to work with (doesn’t communicate well), takes stuff but either takes forever or doesn’t actually review it, that kinda thing
  • we may look to expand this very strategically in the future, yet to be seen

6) dmm0629- Instagram (26:00)

What would be the pros and cons of having a public store area to your location?

  • Pros: get to see pen people! Buy stuff in person, huge win for some customers, could carry Montblanc, maybe other brands who require a physical location
  • Cons: managing inventory on location and on the web, significant cost of setting up a physical storefront and ongoing expenses, staffing for physical interaction, possible shrinkage (theft)
  • Not something we have in the plans in the foreseeable future, unfortunately

7) roshclicks- Instagram (28:31)

Do you think your company has caused to increase the market size for fountain pens?

  • I don’t know for certain, there’s not good data out there specifically around the fountain pen market
  • I definitely don’t have the ego to say that we have
  • We’ve sought to bring new fountain pen users into the community, hence the huge focus on videos and education-based content
  • we could just be riding a wave of people moving to online, there have been a lot of B&M stores that have closed down in our 9 years here, could just be a larger trend and we’re sitting in the right place
  • I take nothing for granted, and we’ll do everything we can to do what we feel will help increase the market

8) clbdroid- Instagram  (31:03)

Was there a point where you and Rachel thought of packing it in and getting “typical” jobs?

  • Rachel has a successful career before this business, that’s what helped us get it off the ground
  • She could get a job working for someone else tomorrow, easily
  • I would be completely unmanageable, and have absolutely zero desire in my life to work for someone else
  • I gauge my own happiness and success based on the fact I don’t work for someone else, but that’s just me and I’ve ALWAYS felt that way
  • Honestly we just feel like we’re called to be doing what we’re doing, and can’t envision anything else that’d be better for us, so it’s not even something we think about!

9) arasbilgen- Instagram (33:25)

What is the advice you wish you had when you started?

  • spend the time up front to define and clarify your why, your mission, vision, purpose, values, and use that to guide who you hire and how you set up your business
  • self-awareness is everything, and living true to your values is the only way to last long-term
  • I did this, but didn’t have it defined so went through some pain early on when people couldn’t just read my mind
  • We didn’t define it here until we had 20 people, about 5 years in, and that would have been better to clarify before the first hire

10) mikemitchell357- Instagram (36:12)

I understand it’s probably a long way off but I frequently have this question about family owned companies. What is planned for Goulet Pens after Brian and Rachel? I know you have kids but you seem like the type of people that will support them if they choose to go another way too, is there an alternate plan?

  • running a family business was part of the reason we wanted to do all this in the first place
  • we thought it’d stay small, just the two of us in our house, really
  • that’s what my parents had, and I wanted that for our kids as a lifestyle
  • as for what my kids do, it’s yet to be seen
  • I want them to have options, to raise them to be good humans, be empathetic
  • I have zero ego tied up in what they grow up to do or accomplish, including work in this business
  • I’d be thrilled if it worked out where they wanted to join here long-term, but it won’t be forced
  • I’m working to raise up other leaders, and I will have a succession plan in place whether that involves my kids working in the business or not, so I won’t have that dependency on them

11) kzender- Instagram (41:27)

What is your proudest moment at the Goulet Pen Company?

  • So many! Our team rating us 3rd best place to work in our city was pretty amazing
  • Moving into this space
  • taking it all the way back though, it was when Rachel and I drew our first paycheck
  • I’d worked as a hobby and tried to find the right business model for over 3 years, without ever paying myself
  • Once we both dove in full time, took the risk, saw the vision and were able to pay ourselves for our own work, we knew it was real, and I was not just a dreamer
  • we’ve had some amazing experiences since then, but nothing that was as personally validating as that

12) @monoolho- Twitter (45:55)

Brian: describe the feelings you got in every big change you faced (Selling pens, moving to other locations, etc.). And I mean the collective you, the family, the team, AND you personally.

  • We’ve faced some real doozies over the years
  • Me working in the business full time, Rachel quitting her job, first hire, moving our business out of the house, moving websites, moving buildings, putting our kids in daycare, etc
  • My favorite saying: “Change is scary at the beginning, messy in the middle, and beautiful in the end”
  • that pretty much sums it all up! No matter where you are, when you’re faced with a choice that has any degree of uncertainty you will always feel this fear
  • it’s not that these feelings ever go away, but you just decide to lean into them, and overcome that fear rather than let it dictate your decisions

13) gillian.barr- Instagram (50:49)

Do employees get a discount? And are employee purchases embargoed or rationed on some way on super-high-demand items?

  • in short, yes, I want our team to be as in love with our products as possible
  • they get free ink samples, and a significant discount and periodic free stuff
  • if there is super hot limited stuff, we’ll give it second thoughts
  • a lot of our team understand that if stuff is limited, so they won’t want to take away from customers!
  • but it’s actually pretty rare that we’re in that boat, so we just play it by ear

14) gillian.barr- Instagram (52:53)

How do you determine which items w/in a line to stock and how do you determine how much inventory? Sometimes I’m slow to decide to pull the trigger on something expensive, and while I’d like to get it from you, you’re sold out, but other online vendors aren’t, so I go w them. :-(

  • this is an ever-moving target!
  • we look at historical data, especially within a brand
  • we have to use our instincts too, so really it’s an educated guess
  • when it comes to stock issues, we spend a lot of time trying to address those, but it’s very challenging
  • we completely understand when you buy elsewhere, and we totally get it
  • you can always reach out to us and ask us about specific products, when we’ll get them in, we’ll give our best estimate
  • sometimes, especially with high-end stuff, it’s out of our hands but we’ll try!

15) Stuart J- Facebook (56:52)

As your company has grown and flourished, have your values had to change to fit with that growth compared to when you started? Has anything stayed the same?

  • as we’ve grown we’ve had to change a lot, in terms of our org structure, meeting rhythms, communication, etc
  • values though are something that should remand constant, and ours have since we established them in 2014
  • we basically have lived them out from the beginning but we defined them in 2014
  • we hire by them, make culture and product decisions by them, they’re the filter by which we make all decisions so they are the steadfast pillars that remain constant throughout our company
  • it’s not to say they couldn’t ever change, but it would be equivalent to rebuilding a building’s foundation, it would be very disruptive and take a lot of time and consideration to do
  • that would be the case for us because they are that deeply rooted into what we do, they are not platitudes

16) thegizmohound- Instagram (1:01:57)

You have done an awesome job growing a company for ten years. What does the next ten years look like?

  • it’s funny whenever I get asked this question because it’s basically impossible to know what 10 years from now will look like
  • 10 years ago I would have said I would be a pen craftsman selling to retailers managing other craftsmen making wooden pens
  • 10 years ago Instagram and Pinterest didn’t exist, Facebook didn’t have business pages or private groups, YouTube had a 10-minute time limit on its videos, and I’d never used a fountain pen in my life
  • so I can’t really answer this question with certainty, but what I can say is that it’s more about the journey than the destination
  • 10 years from now my son will be graduating high school, and my daughter will be driving
  • I love what I do and have no plans to stop
  • I am motivated by the challenges of growth, and feel that I have a unique gift and passion for building this business and raising up others in leadership (as hard as that is)
  • I want to continue to grow, make my own  little dent in the pen universe, and get deeper into the product development, branding, and community aspect of the pen world
  • I can see us having more exclusive and branded products, and leading the industry in customer service, marketing, and fulfillment operations
  • I am concerned about the state of handwriting over the next 10 years, and it fades away from the memory even of teachers in the schooling system
  • I don’t know if we’ll be the ones to try to lead that charge, or if there will be a resurgence in that but it’s on my mind
  • the fact I don’t know what 10 years from now looks like is actually a good thing, because whatever I could dream up now is probably more limited and less exciting than what will actually develop, so I will take things a year at a time and look back 10 years from now in amazement!

QOTW: What advice would you give yourself if you were just starting out your career or schooling, knowing what you know now? (1:09:08)

Writing Prompt: Write where you imagine yourself to be in 10 years. (1:09:29)

Write On,
Brian Goulet