An Interview with Pear Tree Pens Ryan Roossinck
After almost 12 months of ordering inks and pens from Pear Tree Pens, I realised that I was loyal to them not only because of the samples they offered (pictured left) but because of the personal service I received, despite that it was an online shop and so part of the interwebs what is destroying the customer experience, don’cha know? I started to wonder how the business worked and how Ryan Roossinck, who provided that great service, got into it, then I got it into my head to do a proper blog post about it – with interview questions and everything. Ryan agreed and we had a chat via email and Ryan generously answered the questions I sent him. Unfortunately, I received the answers in November, last year, during NaNoWriMo and then I went into a bit of a malaise, but now that my brain is working, again, it’s time to post it. I hope you find it interesting and that Ryan forgives me for the tardiness of the post!
An Interview with Ryan Roossinck, of The Pear Tree Pen Company
Q. Why is the business named "Pear Tree Pens" (I've always wondered)?
A: James' last name is Partridge...i.e., "...and a Partridge in a Pear Tree..." He's a creative guy like that. It's one of the reasons that I was attracted to working with him.
Q. How many people work at (or with) Pear Tree Pens?
A: James is part-time (executive leadership, some customer service - mainly around watches and such, and he handles some of the vendor relationships too), I'm the General Manager (i.e., I'm in charge of nearly every aspect of the store, from web work to customer service, order fulfilment to ink sampling, shipping...the whole works). My wife helps out once in a while, too. Mainly though, this is a hobby business that James started about 5 years ago, and I climbed aboard about a year ago (almost exactly a year ago, actually).
Q: Is there a PTP office or is it less centralized? Where do you put together the samples?
A: There WAS a Pear Tree retail shop at one point, back when the store was located in Ann Arbor, MI. As of about this time last year, though, that all went away when Kara and I went out there one weekend with a pickup truck and a rented U-Haul trailer and emptied the store. We brought it back to West Des Moines, IA (roughly 8 hours away) and set up shop in our basement. Samples are put together next to the refrigerator...the same place that we fill orders!
Q: How long has PTP been offering samples? Was it in response to requests from customers or a PTP initiative?
A:The sampler idea was actually the genesis of the business. James had been on a search for the perfect blue ink for quite a while, and had amassed a relatively large stash of blue inks that he really didn't care for, and only a couple that he did. After seeing the clutter in his office once, his wife mentioned that it's too bad that there wasn't a way to get samples of ink before plunking down the coin on the whole bottle...and it snowballed from there!
Q: How many samples do you put together per month?
A:As of today, we've filled 782 samplers this year, so that equates to somewhere between 75-80 samplers per month. There's some ebb and flow to it, but 75-80 is a safe estimate.
Q. Are you the only person that fills the samples?
A: For the most part, yes. Once in a while, Kara will grab a syringe and some empty bottles and sample out a bottle or two, but for the most part, it's all me. It's tedious work. but it's somewhat of a labour of love. We know that there are a lot of pen users who are searching for the perfect (fill in the blank) ink and that our samples are a big help to them.
Q. What are the most popularly requested ink samples (if it's now Edelstein, what was it before lol)?
A: Most of them are Noodler's, with a smattering of other ones thrown in, too. Baystate Blue, Heart of Darkness, Zhivago, Squeteague, Dragon's Napalm, Navajo Turquoise, and Bulletproof Black are all pretty heavily sampled. We also get a lot of requests for both flavors of Aurora, Visconti Blue, Visconti Burgundy, J Herbin Eclat de Saphir, Perle Noire, Cafe des Iles, Lie de The, R&K Alt-Goldgrun, Caran d'Ache Saffron, Blue Skies, Private Reserve Avacado, and R&K's Scabiosa...that probably rounds out our Top 20. There's a lot of ebb and flow there, too; if there's a really positive review of something on one of the blogs or FPN or Twitter, we'll see a corresponding spike in samples that go out the door. Likewise, we'll also see sales dry up if there's ever a bad review.
Q: Have you noticed any particular ink which is often sampled but rarely gets a follow up full bottle purchase?
A: Flavors of orange inks get sampled fairly frequently, but we don't blow orange inks out the door afterwards. I think there's a novelty involved with some shades of ink (Noodler's Whiteness of the Whale, Blue Ghost, yellow and orange inks, and there are probably others) where people think, "Man, I wonder what white (or yellow, or orange, etc.) ink looks like?" Those types of inks get sampled, but they don't always end up getting purchased afterwards like the staple blacks, blues, greens, purples, etc. We see a bit of an uptick with oranges, a few yellows, and reds in the autumn because it corresponds to the color of the changing leaves. We see the same thing with greens in the spring.
Q. Is there an ink which almost always gets a follow up purchase?
A: Aurora Blue & Aurora Black usually have a good shot at follow-up purchases (and with good reason, too - they're great inks). Baystate Blue and Heart of Darkness also get a lot of follow-up purchases. It's a weird month if I don't ship at least a bottle or two of Baystate Blue per week.
Q: Are there any colour shades that many people seem to hunt a while for - like my hunt for the perfect soft pink?
A: Everyone is looking for the elusive "perfect blue" and quite a few customers are looking for the right shades of brown, pink, burgundy/dark red, and green. Lots of people are on the hunt for the perfect purple, too.
Q: How important do you think ink bottles are to people's purchases? Have you noticed a drop in Private Reserve sales since they changed their bottles?
A:For some customers, the bottle really means a lot; from a practical perspective, I can understand exactly why, too. Even if the bottle looks elegant and/or cool, it still has to be functional. What good is a bottle if you can't access the ink easily? As far as the new Private Reserve bottles are concerned, I can't really comment on that because we're still fairly well-stocked on the old-style bottles (and we've got a TON of empties that we're still selling). We've got an order of the newer bottles on the way, though, so time will tell.
Q: How long have you been at PTP and how did you come to work for them?
A: I was a customer first. I bought my first Lamy 2000 from James back in 2007, and because I was asking for something particular about the 2000 I wanted (a dry-ish writer - as a lefty overwriter, wet nibs don't generally work well for me), I called James prior to the purchase, and we became fast friends. We traded business ideas back and forth, and I really liked what he was doing with his company. The fresh stream of ideas that we traded back and forth was really exciting to me. I finally got the chance to meet him face to face during the summer of 2009, and at that point, we got to discussing the possibilities. A few months later, I ended up coming aboard as the general manager, and I think it's been pretty successful since then. The Pear Tree Pen Company is a brand that we're both very passionate about, and we're always looking forward to bringing new and interesting products to the market, and providing the best customer service in the industry. I'm sure that there are improvements that we can make, but overall, I think we're both pretty happy with the way that things have gone, and we're looking forward to a big 2011!
Q: What is your history with ink and fountain pens? When and how did the passion start?
A: My exposure to fountain pens started when I was a freshman in high school. I was at our public library, and stumbled upon a sterling silver Parker 75 (the Cisele pattern). I turned it in to their lost and found, and they told me that if no one had come back to claim it within two weeks, I could keep it! Nobody claimed it, so it became mine. I used it off and on because I thought that it was unique, but shortly after the school year started, it vanished (I wish that I knew what happened to that pen...I'd give anything to have it back). A couple of years later, I discovered Levenger and ordered a rOtring 600 and a Waterman Maestro. They were great pens (I kind of wish that I could have that 600 back, to be honest). During college, I didn't really do much with pens, but in 2004, I stumbled upon a pen shop in Kansas City and fell in love with a bright orange Safari and bought it. That was what hooked me on fountain pens. A year or two later, I found the Fountain Pen Network, and it went steadily downhill from there! :-) Initially, the passion was because fountain pens were something unique, but after using them for a while, I realized that my penmanship was getting better as well as my thought patterns (I used to hand-write a lot of ideas when writing proposals for a consulting firm that I worked for). After that realization (and discovering vintage pens and how well they wrote after restoration), I was hooked.
Q: Would you name your four favourite inks that are currently available for sample at PTP?
A: My favorites, in no particular order, are as follows. Visconti Blue, J. Herbin Orange Indien, Pelikan Royal Blue, and J. Herbin's Vert Empire. Honestly, though, I've probably got a dozen favorites that we've got in stock right now.
Q: Would you name your favourite inks of all time (as many as you like!)
A: Being a lefty overwriter makes me a fan of the more traditional/European-style inks; if it's too saturated, I'll end up wearing it on my hand. My favorites are Diamine Royal Blue, J. Herbin's Orange Indien, Pelikan Brilliant Brown, Montblanc's now-defunct British Racing Green (in my opinion, they made a big mistake in dropping this one from their lineup), R&K's Alt-Goldgrun, R&K's Scabiosa, Diamine Umber, J. Herbin Vert Empire, Waterman Florida Blue, Waterman Havana Brown, J. Herbin's Lierre Sauvage, Noodler's Heart of Darkness (which, in my opinion, is the best black on the market), Noodler's Ottoman Azure, Visconti Bordeaux (the old-skool version), Visconti Burgundy (the current-production stuff), and Montblanc Toffee Brown (this is a relatively recent addition to their lineup, and it's great stuff). The list changes depending on the time of year (in the summers, I stick with more traditional stuff because it's more resistant to the effects of humidity), as well as the mood I'm in...so don't take this as the definitive list!
Q: Which are your favourite ink bottles?
A: This is a more succinct list . :-) For overall utility, my favorite bottle is the one that Lamy uses. It allows you to get every last drop of ink out of the bottle without too much trouble, and the inclusion of the waxpaper-backed "toilet paper" to clean up the nib is a great bonus. Other favorites include the bottles from Sailor, Caran d'Ache (who DOESN'T love these bottles?), Visconti's glass V-bottles (again, who doesn't love these bottles?), Montblanc's boot-shaped bottle (both the old and the new are great designs), and the old-skool Sheaffer's bottles with the built-in inkwell. The new Pelikan Edelstein bottles are pretty stellar, too!
Thank you to Ryan for answering my questions so fully. I hope you enjoyed finding out a little more about Ryan and the ebb and flow of people’s interests in ink. I personally LOVE that autumn leaf colours spike a little in Autumn and that people get frisky with spring greens in Spring!
You can find Ryan’s profile on the Fountain Pen Network as rroossinck and mine as Danisidhe. If you’re just finding out about the Fountain Pen Network from this post, FPN is a fountain pen enthusiast community with a blog and forums in which we share information – I’d suggest that if you’ve made it this far through this post then you’d probably enjoy it.