It often seems like the Internet is dominated by large merchants. However, if you look long enough, you’ll find another phenomenon: The sole proprietor who has managed to carve out his or her niche and not only survive on the Internet, but thrive.
Eleven years ago, Norman Haase, a fountain pen collector, began turning his passion into a business. He sold part-time on eBay for six months and then quit his job as a CIO to take his business, His Nibs, full-time. Today, he continues to offer a great line of fountain pens at attractive prices and he laughs at the irony of spending ten hours a day in front of his computer selling old fashioned pens.
I’ve bought a few pens from Norman over the years, so I already knew that he provides great service, quick responses to email, reasonable shipping options and painless payment via PayPal. But I wanted to know who was buying fountain pens these days and I must admit wondering how someone in the USA is able to compete with the growing number of people selling goods directly from places like China.
According to Norman, a good proportion of his customers work in high tech and enjoy writing with a fountain pen because it is, “…an opportunity to take a break from the constant speed of life and the impingement of technology in everything we do.” He also believes many people find that taking a break from typing and writing more slowly with a fountain pen gives them more time to think and, as a result, their writing is better.
Fountain pens are much more common in China, India, and Asia than in North America, Haase explained. In the Shangahi area, there are hundreds of pen manufacturers, most producing for their own market. These are not pens intended for export. They are designed and produced for domestic use. However, because the Chinese write such intricate characters, they tend to produce good pens with fine nibs.
As a collector, Haase also knew that the nibs of most fountain pens, regardless of where they are manufactured, require adjustment. By inspecting and adjusting every pen he ships, Norman has virtually eliminated returns. Happy customers lead to repeat business.
Perhaps what interested me most as I listened to his story was that I realized he’s succeeding on the Internet for the same reasons sole proprietors thrived before the Internet: He offers a good product, great service, and reasonable prices. And he’s pleasant do to business with.