In this Goulet Q&A episode, Brian talks about what he’d buy today if he was starting over in the pen hobby, our team’s favorite stationery and accessories, and his bias in reviewing products as a retailer. Enjoy!

This week:

Pens/Writing

1) chimotofu- Instagram (10:38)

If you had to start your fountain pen collection from scratch, what pen would be your first purchase?

  • 10 years ago there were some of the same pens that are around now
  • Lamy Safari, Platinum Preppy, Kaweco Sport, Pilot Varsity, Pelikan Pelikano, these were some of the go-to starter pens when I started out
  • These are all still good choices, but TWSBI was not in the game at the time and I surely would have be all over that as a newb
  • Noodler’s pens too, flex was completely unattainable when I was a newb, I’d have wanted just to try it
  • Jinhao Sharks, Pilot Metropolitans, Diplomat Magnums, would be some of the first I’d consider in addition to these
  • I would want a variety of nib types, so spare nibs on Lamy or #6 Goulet nibs on a Jinhao would be in consideration
  • Pilot Parallel, Plumix sets, trying to get the stub experience
  • I wouldn’t go super high-end, I’d largely do it exactly how I did before, working my way “up” with a variety of nib types, pen styles
  • We have a Favorite Starter Pens collection that I definitely stand behind today, that truly a great place to start

2) jon.ames76- Instagram (20:52)

Any thoughts on making replacement ebonite feeds and nib housings to swap onto pens?

  • I’ve seen this with Flexible Nib Factory, which is pretty darn cool
  • As an authorized retailer, it’s not something I could offer on a pen without violating the warranty, so it does get a bit tricky for me
  • As an “aftermarket mod”, I think it’s pretty interesting
  • it’s not likely something that we’ll be able to carry, partly for this reason, and partly because I’m not sure about the feasibility or logistics or economics
  • It’s further complicated by the fact there is such an overwhelmingly wide variety of different feed and housing options out there
  • I’m open to it if there’s demand, it makes economic sense, and we could maintain good relations with the manufacturers in consideration, but it’s not likely to happen anytime soon

3) @_BatMN_- Twitter (24:07)

What are some of the Goulet Gang’s favorite writing accessories? Do you find full immersion (use of blotters, pounce, specialty writing desks, etc.) into the experience very common? More a mix of utilitarian and practical accessories?

  • There’s a pretty good mix of what everyone here is into, largely it’s pens, ink, notebooks, and pen cases
  • We have some who are a little more into journaling or desk accessories, but we’re not really off the rails on accessories here
  • Sealing wax is cool, but we’re not really using it around the office much
  • blotters, not really so much, pounce not at all, writing desks, maybe once we carry Galen but no, not currently
  • I don’t know how common it is to go full immersion with all the accessories, it’s more the exception than the rule I would guess
  • It’s probably more of a utilitarian mix of practical things, given what it is we sell and how much of it
  • Our product mix (and thus what our team members get into personally) is mostly a reflection of what our customers have asked for and ultimately purchased, and it’s ever-shaping
  • We’ve expanded into accessories over the years and a lot of them haven’t really stuck, I’m really curious what kind of things everyone watching this is into!

4) Mark H- Facebook (29:16)

If the tipping on every nib is the same and that’s where the rubber meets the road, why are nibs so different in their feedback?

  • saying the tipping is the same is a pretty big generalization, it’s not quite that simple
  • there is a difference between tipping, especially if you talk to nibmeisters who grind them
  • but in principle, yes, I get what you’re saying, tipping is largely the same
  • It’s about like saying that all cars drive the same because they all have more or less the same tires
  • yes, it’s true that this is the part of the nib that touches the page, and with the right work you can make it generally as smooth and wet-flowing on most nibs with the right adjustment
  • of course there are finer aspects of nibs like size, material, design, flexibility, flow, etc that can vary with different nibs
  • a LOT of it has to do with the adjustments made to the nibs, it’s amazing how different a nib can feel with the very subtle differences in smoothing
  • softer nibs will be more forgiving, and act as sort of a “shock absorber” with nibs that have feedback, stiffer nibs you’ll feel more

Paper

5) Roy H- Facebook (34:34)

Sort of business question. Have you/the team considered expanding into stationery items, particularly the more speciality end such as those found in Japan?

  • this sort of falls into the same category as accessories, not to repeat myself too much!
  • it all starts with demand, if there’s enough interest centralized in particular accessories, of course we’ll pursue them
  • the really difficult place we end up in has to do with getting good information about what the products are (with language barriers and a general lack of information available), and lack of established supply chain
  • in general, buying stationery from Japan is difficult to do without a distribution channel for it, as there are a lot cultural, language, currency conversion, and shipping logistics to work out for individual retailers, and quantities required are often quite large though we don’t really know the demand or even the details of some of the products
  • this is honestly a place that we’re okay not leading the charge, and there’s room in there for other retailers like Jetpens or others to really run with this and lead the way
  • specialty stationery isn’t really what drives us, it’s not what we have a lot of people asking us about, and it’s just not what we’re most passionate about so it doesn’t get the attention it would need for us to really do it well and we’re okay with that

Business

6) @mudit_sood- Twitter (42:42)

How does Brian manage to be a retailer and still able to comment on and compare products through his videos? Shouldn’t a retailer be neutral in order to establish good relations with brands & distributors for longevity of business?

  • this is a great question, and one I love talking about
  • I have great responsibility as a reviewer, people will perhaps spend their hard-earned money, perhaps at my store, based on what I say!
  • anyone, retailer or not, will feel the weight of this influence, just ask any reviewer with a sizable viewership
  • the main theme of my answer here is underscored by the notion that power/influence/money/fame/authority doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are
  • Zig Ziglar- “You can have anything in life you want if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.”
  • to me it’s not about trying to eliminate bias, as this isn’t a medical clinical trial process here!
  • there’s a notion that some people have that someone reviewing a product they bought themselves will be more “pure” and unbiased…and that may be, but I really don’t think that’s a given, nor does that change about a person when they start receiving free products for review or even getting paid
  • I think that bias is inevitable and present with every reviewer, and a good reviewer will recognize and disclose their own bias and be honest about how that influences their views especially because fountain pens are so personal and subjective
  • There are several relationships here at play with all video reviews like you see here:
    • 1) the reviewer– there’s time, money, effort involved on their part, with some payoff of payment, prestige, good vibes, friendships, etc
    • 2) the sponsor- this could be the reviewer buying their own stuff, getting supplied from a retailer or manufacturer, etc
    • 3) the manufacturer- could be a sponsor, or a step removed, but ultimately they own the brand that’s being promoted
    • 4) the audience- you all, the ones watching and providing your attention and voting with your dollars
    • 5) the platform- YouTube in this case, but whatever the distribution channel for whatever message there is
  • all of these relationships come into play, and there are different goals, biases, demands, etc coming from all of these that a reviewer has to factor in when reviewing a product
  • I personally think I have a huge benefit as a retailer and reviewer in that I have direct contacts up the distribution chain so I can get verified and detailed answers about products and how they’re made, which I wouldn’t have if not in the industry
  • where I walk a line is in between you (the community) and the manufacturer/distributors…there’s a great deal of trust that has to happen both ways
  • you have to trust me, that I’m being honest and genuine in what I say (which I always try to be)
  • the manufacturers trust that I’m going to be honest but also respectful, doing legit research and thorough testing before speaking negatively publicly for one of their products, and not just railing them on something on a whim out of a matter of personal preference
  • this makes for more work for me, but actually makes me both a better reviewer and better retailer, since I have accountability on both sides!
  • There’s a reason why “Trust Is Our Currency” is a core value at Goulet Pens, and we use that term around here A LOT
  • This goes for you, for our team, and our suppliers, and honesty, candor, respect and tact all need to be a part of the equation
  • To summarize, it seems complicated but it’s really quite simple: build trust and operate from a place of strong character and that will guide you well in the zillions of little decisions along the way

QOTW: What YouTube (or non-video) reviewers do you respect the most for how they navigate bias and why? (01:08:01)

Write On,
Brian Goulet