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Fashion trends bolster writing instrument sales.

Fashion trends bolster writing instrument sales

CDR Roundup - Sales of writing instruments remain stable, despite a softback-to-school season, as bright colors and eye-catching designs have helped maintain sales of pens, which represent the No. 1 segment in this product category.

Most retailers report that the recent B-T-S selling season proved to be somewhat flat. For example, a spokesman for Arbor Drugs says, "Sales were good, but we had expected to do better."

Similarly, Kim Milburn, sundries manager for 117-store Big V Pharmacies (based in Ontario, Canada), reports that, while overall B-T-S sales were up, profits were down because a lot of product moved at reduced prices. Big V attributes the situation to increased competition.

Nevertheless, the fashion trend has helped writing instrument sales: dollar volume in chain drug stores has risen 7% year to date, according to Towne-Oller & Associates.

This growth is not surprising for what had last year been a $240.5 million category. Writing instrument sales accounted for 12.7% of the overall chain drug stationery business in 1990, having climbed 16% over 1989's results.

In regard to what's selling best, Milburn says, "If it's fashionable or wild in design, it seems that every child wants one."

Arbor buyer Art Schrade concurs, saying that fashion is still king.

Fashion figures heavily into manufacturers' plans. Gillette Co.'s Papermate division, for instance, is revising packaging for its line to reflect the bright, upbeat mood that the consumers want.

One line that both Milburn and Schrade say did well this year was Bic Corp.'s "Wavelengths," consisting of pens decorated in bright, contrasting colors, and designs, which are available in black, blue and other colored ink. Many earlier products had decorated barrels - but only standard ink. "Wavelengths is a winner," says Schrade. "Bic waited and did it right."

Companies, understanding that innovation in both design and functions is keeping the category hopping, have developed new products that they hope to be next year's Wavelengths. Gillette, for example, has 30 new SKUs ready for the 1992 B-T-S season, while Zebra Pen Corp. has introduced a line of writing instruments packaged in easy to see blister cards so consumers can view the different barrel colors of each product.

Scripto-Tokai Inc. also has several new items in the batter's box, some of which are being presented to key accounts this month. Among the new entries are: disposable, retractable, ball-point pens with red "minipens" at one end; erasable pens in bright colors; and mechanical pencils with such features as extra-long erasers and rubber comfort grips.

Meanwhile, Binney & Smith Inc. is offering new products in its Crayola and Magic Marker lines. The company is releasing Crayola Crazy Tips washable markers, which have special nibs that make multiple lines - and Changeables, which can change colors.

According to Milburn, the patent on A.T. Cross Co.'s pen twist mechanism is about to expire. Because of this, he expects low-price versions of such pens to be manufactured and marketed by other companies.

Ball-point pens, mechanical pencils and markers were the top three segments by dollar volume for manufacturers of writing implements during 1990, says the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association. These products accounted for 38%, 16% and 15.5% of overall category sales, respectively.

A standard way for retailers to sell pens, especially during the back-to-school season, is in multiples. Ten-packs are very popular with consumers, though more retailers are testing eight-packs in an attempt to offer customers better prices.

Big V, however, has tried a different tack: it has bought pens in huge quantities and then sold them individually for as little as 9 or 10 cents apiece. This has resulted in sales that were better than those for prepackaged items. "You would see some customers buying pens by the handful," comments Milburn. "And people ended up buying more than they would have if they had purchased bulk packages."

The company, which has used this tactic for the last several years, didn't do it this year so as not to wear out the idea.

Ties in scholarships

In addition to their standard advertising during the B-T-S season, manufacturers and retailers are tying the season in with chances to win scholarships.

Scripto has an instant-win game on tap for the 1992 B-T-S season. The grand prize is $10,000 toward school; second prize is a computer. Numerous other prizes, as well as cents-off coupons, are part of the deal as well.

Arbor used the same idea this year. It is great for community relations and draws many people hoping to take the bite out of the high cost of education.

Table : Manufacturer market share by product type - 1990
Category              Share
Ball-point            38.0%
Mechanical pencils    16.0%
Markers               15.0%
Roller pens           13.5%
Porous pens           12.5%
Fountain pens          4.5%
Total                100.0%

Source: Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association.
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Publication:Chain Drug Review
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Nov 18, 1991
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