Part 15 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

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I hope you’re still following this journey with me? By all means drop me a line with your thoughts so far to or post comments here on this page.

To be clear this is still a marketing exercise and I would love to get your take on events this far. What did I do right and what did I do wrong in your opinion. How would you have approached this differently?

The stats on the numbers reading my articles are impressive too showing that the articles have been read hundreds of times so far.

So let’s continue where we left off…

So the Dragon Festival was over and Zed .. the manufacturer of the tops sent me pictures to approve.. it was impossible to tell, with the lighting in the images, if they match the sample block or any of the black blocks that I have here.

Despite promising time and again the remainder of the stock would be shipped it was not until 3 days later than originally promised, that there was any movement at all.


You’ll have to wait and see what actually arrives!

As for the boxes May is still promising 50 free boxes to compensate for all the cleaning and damaged goods… As I have still not agreed to this she asks if I will speak with her manager Irene.

Irene was pleasant enough but sadly still played the “we’ve not made much on the order” card and “Will you be placing any future orders with us?”

My response was simple I don’t think it is relevant what future orders I may or may not place. If goods are faulty then you either agree a refund or you offer a credit. I told her that I was happy to receive a credit against a future order…. she needs to apply for that from her boss!

I contacted Stephan in Germany to see if he had received the samples yet.. sadly not … Not only were the German Post Office on strike so the samples were under a mountain of other parcels… sadly his Father died! … oh and his assistant sent money for the samples in Euros rather than pounds in error!

So at this point I had hit a number of hurdles and challenges to get over..

  1. To get samples to Stephan as soon as possible
  2. I needed the black tops to complete the UK distributors order and the corporate order
  3. I could not start another crowd funding project without the black tops

Find out what happens next in Part 16 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

Part 14 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!


So the samples went out to the distributors as I said.

The UK distributor placed his first order, except that I couldn’t send it because I the black tops had still not arrived.

The dutch guy Bart received the samples and wrote back … “Sorry I won’t be selling them because my clients think no one will buy them and they should be given away free to the shop owners”.

The German guy Stephan… well he’s not received them yet. The German Post Office are on strike and the samples are stuck in some remote place under a pile of several million other parcels… so he’s not yet ready to place an order.

The extra pieces I am waiting for along with the black tops (I hope they are black) which should have been sent as promised multiple times from China two days ago … are still in China. Why? Well Zed.. my Chinese contact forgot that the country would be shutting down for three days! It was the annual Dragon Festival. He only just realised. … yeah right!

Meanwhile backers from Kickstarter continue to send in wonderful testimonials … take a look here at and I even received a first order for additional blocks via the website using the special voucher enclosed in the boxes.

So until I receive the remainder of stock … and all is well I can’t send out the distributors orders, finish the corporate clients order and not ready to market the new colour black.

Stay with me to find out what happens next in Part 15 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

Part 13 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

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In my last update I recapped on what I’d done to get this far and shared just some of the response so far.

In this update though I wanted to focus on marketing, the physicology I’ve used so far and the reasons why I did something.

Firstly the only way to run my test was to create a unique niche product. It had to be controlled so that any marketing was not skewed by individuals looking specifically for this product already. This was highly unlikely in the case of The Pen Rest.

The experiment to promote links only to Kickstarter rather than to Indiego, neither of which I had ever promoted on, was to create two similar platforms to test the marketing efforts and to show any skewed results as a result of being in front of a crowd funding audience.

My theory here was that a new unknown product needed to be promoted and that the audience of Indiego were not likely to support the product on its own with no marketing.


I proved this absolutely as the campaigns ran for the same period at the same time. During this period there was not one backer on Indiego compared with Kickstarter proving that the marketing was driving interest to the Kickstarter project.

During the marketing period I promoted the existence of The Pen Rest through the following methods… and in all cases only used links to Kickstarter.

1. Word of mouth – this is very local, minimal exposure and certainly in a niche field too small an audience. It was never likely to attract backers on its own. In fact when speaking to friends and family I was fascinated by the looks of incredulity of some who thought I clearly lost the plot. Some laughed at me and even made fun of the idea.

None of this was a surprise but this is marketing in the most basic and rawest form. By speaking about the product I was interested to hear and see the feedback. It serves as market research, but equally helps you understand what needs to be said to attract any interest.

2. Facebook – I created my own Pen Rest page and posted images and text about the campaign on Kickstarter.


I was never convinced that this would have the biggest pulling power from a marketing point of view. It was however interesting that some would share almost of loyalty but not one of those that did share … and no criticism here … but it went to show that sharing alone would not convince someone to back the project.

During the campaign I kept posting how much was raised .. how many backers and what percentage over funded I got to.

Facebook from a social media point of view is a great platform, but when you are not topical and too niche you just can’t expect to get any support.

3. Facebook Advertising – you can target very specifically your audience. I set a campaign going focused on people that loved pens, fountain pens, brands of pens and typically over 25 years of age. The adverts were to drive interest to the Kickstarter campaign, but again I was not absolutely convinced that promoting a brand new niche product even to a specific audience would drive enough sales to the campaign to warrant the expense of the adverts. I ran 5 different advert tests to see the click through rates and look at conversions.


The conclusion of this was that the audience were being educated about a new method of displaying pens, something they were not likely to ever consider and whilst traffic did end up at Kickstarter, they had nothing to measure this new product by. It did not exist before so they had no reference point to judge it. Traffic from this source was very small and resulted in only a couple of backers.

4. Email Marketing – This was easy to do as I have a lot of mailing lists that over the years I have built up. However these audiences despite knowing me certainly were not aware of the product or could reasonably expected to associate this new creation with me.


I explained about the idea and showed off images and this was sent to thousands of individuals. The result was a very small number of backers, one or two that I actually know from the past. Supportive purchases, inquisitive and purchases of curiosity in my opinion, but grateful nevertheless.

5. I engaged an international PR consultancy, one which helped write up a press release with their expertise.


They promised that they would send out a Press Release globally and their Ultimate product would get it seen by the likes of the New York Times, The Independent, Global news channels, etc and that their stats would show exactly what was seen.

Frankly this was the biggest flop of all .. the Press release looked good, but it ended up only on USA Television and Radio websites for brief moments.


677 view were by search engine crawlers… robots.

Not a single backer came from this source and no traffic was seen from this source.

But then when you consider the PR here was a non story … a UK guy invented somewhere to put your pen… sounds like an April Fool story!

PR works best where the news is incredulous, massive success, terrible disasters etc. This really did not surprise me but the test proved that this means of marketing produced nothing despite an international audience of journalists.

6. Twitter – I kept up regular tweets during the campaign … but I was always thinking that when I see tweets they are there and gone so quickly that despite encouraging a following of almost 1000 and many retweets I really expected very little. I focused on pen collectors and writers predominately.


The result was as expected a lot of followers, retweets and a little increase in traffic to see what the campaign was about.

7. I contacted hundreds of Creators on Kickstarter and offered to do cross promotions with their backers .. I got a very warm reception from many of them .. in almost all cases they helped promote to existing backers The Pen Rest… but incredibly I received only a couple of backers from this source.


My conclusion of this audience was that they would look but backing was a different issue.. I had a theory but something that I was yet to prove.

8. I joined the Backers Club – This is a site that allows only people who have backed multiple Kickstarter projects to join. The catch is though that you have to offer them something as an incentive to back your project.


From Backers Club perspective this is self promoting … you have to include Backers Club in the project .. members then see rather than backing the Kickstarter direct they go to Backers Club and get a better deal.

I did get about a dozen backers from this source, but this was in part because they got a better deal than going direct… overall it was aimed at individuals that back a lot of projects .. and trust me when I say a lot… these are Kickstarter addicts. You can check out the backers profile buying history. They appear to enjoy the excitement of being part of the momentum behind a campaign and possible success story.

9. Google Adwords – granted this was a limited campaign but focused on driving traffic to Kickstarter. The results though were not impressive at all … I had a steady stream of visitors to the Kickstarter campaign but no backers.


10. Ebay – I created a load of listings free on eBay showing the Pen Rest for different makes of pens and telling people to visit the Kickstarter campaign.


In fact I had around 50 views .. but sadly not one backer from eBay referrals.

So you might ask “David how on earth then did you succeed in raising 74 backers, raising over £4000 and achieving backing for almost 250 Pen Rests … a feat where so many campaigns fail…?”

Well I had always had a theory… and what you read above was to prove that the traffic and source to buyers is not always from these obvious media sources.

Watch out for Part 14 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months! where you’ll see what happens with the distributors, if the Chinese keep their promise to send me the missing stock and the black tops and see more feedback as more people receive the Pen Rest.

You’ll have to stay with me if you want to find out what my theory was and how I proved it … you might be surprised.

Part 12 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

So a quick recap here…

This started out as a marketing exercise and test.

I sketched an idea, created clay models, had 3D CAD drawings made and then invested in prototypes.

I took photos, launched it on Kickstarter and Indiego promoting like crazy to get traffic to Kickstarter.

Then I had the blocks and tops manufactured along with boxes in China and shipped out all the Kickstarter orders.

We’ll come back to the distributors later … but for now take a look at what people are saying..

They arrived the other day but I waited until today to open the box since today is my husband’s birthday and the whole reason for the order. He loves them! He took each one out and unwrapped it as though it were a train set, lol. It was very well packed; there seemed to be very little shifting of the boxes. We liked the black tissue paper, which added a little special something. And we both love the boxes themselves! They are much nicer than I imagined they would be. … Besides fountain pens, my husband also likes boxes, so this was an added bonus. The pen rests themselves are very attractive and glide together very well ..
Thank you for all your hard work in bringing your great idea to fruition!! Congratulations! – Jane USA

I am extremely happy with the packaging, the look and feel of the packaging with the magnetic latch, and of course, the pen rest themselves are just wonderful! I especially love the brass ones. I guess the others are aluminium …. All in all, you should be very proud of yourself as you do have a winner. – Steven USA

Just got it today! I really like the packaging, it looks very sharp. The Pen Rest is heavier than I expected, and I like the feel of the smooth curved surfaces.

When I am able to do a more thorough review I’ll send a link. But so far my first impressions are all positive! – Elizabeth USA

Just pulled it out of the mail box. Looks amazing – Matthew UK

I received my three Pen Rest blocks and cap today and I am very pleased.

The blocks and cap are of excellent quality and the finish is perfect. As the attached pictures show, the packaging was good and the blocks arrived without any problems or damage in shipping.

I would also like to compliment you on the manner in which you conducted your Kickstarter campaign. You provided frequent and informative updates including interesting options along the way.

Great product and great service. Thank you!

Mark Lonergan

Tickled pink with my pen rest. It is beautifully made and looks rather stylish on my desk. I went for two storeys and can now find more than one pen when the phone rings . . . it came nicely packaged and is a pleasure to own.
P. J. Turner, Pontefract

Well, I received my PenRest order this morning.
WOW this item is better than expected.
GREAT look and GREAT feel.
My pen has never looked better.
Thank you
David & Team – Sally UK

Gift boxes

The Pen Rest

I stopped buying expensive stationery for now, but there is still some stuff coming in that I ordered in the past. One of these arrived this weekend: The Pen Rest.

The Pen Rest blocks

I backed The Pen Rest on Kickstarter and chose the rewards for two pen rests and a top. I think the price has changed since I backed this Kickstarter, but I got the price that was valid when I backed the project. I chose the silver blocks, but they are also available in gold.

My impressions

My first impressions: Great! The packaging is really nice and the pen rests came in gift boxes with the lid held in place by a magnet.

The blocks and the top look even nicer than I imagined. The two blocks have a perfect friction fit when you slot them together. The top is a bit loose though. I might put some blue tack in to provide some better hold. The blocks came with a non slip mat, too, but in my opinion it doesn’t look great and is a bit too thick. (EDITORS NOTE: The mat was for smartphones to sit on the Pen Rest in landscape without slipping)

Altogether a great way of storing pencils and pens. I hope they will be available for many years to come in case I want to add to my existing pen rests.

So as people start to receive their Pen Rest so the marketing machine continues to drive more interest.

I’ve not yet sent out the first order to the UK distributor as I don’t yet have all the tops!

Find out more next week when I expect to receive the missing stock, the new black tops and hopefully the samples have arrived in Europe.

Look out for Part 13 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

Part 11 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

I knew exactly what I had ordered. I even had the quotation from China, but when I finally got round to count the stock I found that despite them telling me that they gave me a few extras… they did but of one colour!

Anyway my contact in China, his name is ‘Zed’ by the way…(‘Don’ left!) … told me he had more stock to send me. Nice to know.

We discussed the issue with the bluey black tops that needed to be remade. He promised me that he would ship them… express .. about 12 days from now..

Then there was the matter of the blocks which arrived dented and damaged… now what really gets me here is that they are sent damaged stock knowing that I would see them. Nevertheless we negotiated as Zed told me he was under terrible pressure .. his boss was very cross with him over this order… (Why oh why I felt guilty I have no idea!)

Anyway I agreed to order more tops at a very reduced price to compensate for damages and this seemed to sort the problem.

Meanwhile I now received my first order from my UK distributor… except that I was short of Gold Tops and the Black ones were being redone!

So I assembled in a large box, what I could of this sizeable order he had just placed and decided to just ring him and tell him the truth that his stock would be delayed.. to which he said he was fine.

I just hope those tops are black!

I then contacted my two contacts in Germany and Netherlands to advise that I was sticking samples in the post and that I would send an invoice across.

The invoice I raised needed to be credited and re raised without VAT as both the agents pointed out that no VAT should be charged as long as their VAT number appeared on the invoice.

Today I also contacted May .. my Chinese contact who made the boxes covered in polystyrene bits!

I have decided to investigate Plan B… to get delivered assembled boxes … no way do I want to assemble the boxes myself.. never again!

In talking to May I was struggling …. How difficult is it for someone to understand that you were not happy about the first order of boxes sent! Despite me telling her that I spent hours cleaning them and many were damaged and unusable… she said “How about when you place your next order we’ll send you an extra 20 boxes … free!”

Find out what happens next in Part 12 – From Sketch to International Distribution .. in 5 Months!

Part 10 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!


All the stock that I was to need, was pretty much assembled ready for picking by now, so by the Thursday morning, two days after the blocks arrived I was ready to assemble the orders from the Crowd Funding on Kickstarter.

There is nothing worse than telling someone that you have posted something only to find that it has not yet shipped. So I decided that I would ship all the orders first before I would tell anyone.

I had previously ordered postal boxes of varying sizes and had document pouches too for the outsides of the boxes.

I had prepared in advance the mail merge for all the orders too so that the address labels were all printed up with a nice letter. Assembly meant picking each order, checking it and then sealing it.

It took 2 days! Two days to get all the orders to the post office.

On one such occasion faced with a massive queue behind the local two person counter of the post office, I suggested that as I had more boxes to get from my car, perhaps the nice lady behind the counter would like to serve the other customers whilst I got more boxes. She said that was fine.

When I return loaded up with boxes, I started to receive a lot of verbal abuse in particular from a guy broader than a combine harvester and taller than double decker bus covered in tattoos, wearing shorts and waiting to collect his giro!

It was easier to apologise as the assistant behind the counter decided that she would wait until I returned rather than me have to go to the back of the queue! 🙁

Anyway after three visits to the post office over two days all the orders to the backers of Kickstarter were dispatched.

Some of the orders were so heavy that a friend obliged and sent them via his courier account.

Next I contacted the UK distributor … you have to pick up the phone… to build the relationship and ensure that your new marketing channel is as comfortable with you as you are with him. He said he would confirm over the weekend his complete order and transfer money.

Next I needed to address the matter of stock. As I said the boxes all arrived with no indication as to what was in them let alone any quantities. So having packed and shipped a large amount of stock I was able to easily stock take.

Find out how I get on with the count in Part 11 of From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

Part 9 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!


Now let me make it quite clear, I’m not trying to be a hero or superman here, but after working around 12 hours on the day the blocks arrived I was totally aching all over and exhausted.

Building up the box content was challenging and I appreciated the brief periods of help from family to friends.

I started early the following day. I was expecting the tops to arrive.

Around mid morning they arrived.

There were three boxes. Silver, Gold and Black tops.

I immediately checked the quality of the tops. The silver and gold were no problem… but the black top was a big problem.

The black tops are not black.. they are more like a blue black! That in itself would not be a problem but they don’t match the black blocks.

To be fair when I spoke to my contact in China and showed them photos they accepted responsibility immediately.

Problem here was that they said it would be too much to take them back … rather that they just remake them and asked that i use their account to send back a black block so that they could match the colour.

The black blocks were of two shades, but they clearly didn’t match the tops so this would mean delays. (The right hand swatch is the colour of the top).

So after sending the single block back the day was spent assembling the small top box, adding a small foil dot to the box to indicate the contents colour, wrapping each individual top in black tissue paper and placing in the box.

At this point it was impossible to count the stock delivered as everything was just thrown into boxes.

More on this in my next instalment – Part 10 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!

Part 8 – From Sketch to International Distribution… in 5 months!

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The individual boxes had to be hoovered and assembled.. around 800 of them initially and as I said this was a lot of time and effort more so than I had considered initially … so if there is a next time I will implement plan B!

As promised the following week the blocks arrived, but that is actually only part of the story.

China told me that they were shipped on the Tuesday and gave me a tracking number. On Wednesday the online tracking told me it had still not been picked up, Thursday was the same… so I chased China to ask why?

It would appear that once they had the tracking number, there appeared to be no urgency to call the carrier to collect! Basically they gave me a number to imply everything was shipped. Glad I chased.

On the Friday I could see movement on the tracking, with delivery due on the following Tuesday with me.

Saturday I get a call from the carrier. “Could I have your EORi number please?”

I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, so they sent me a form that I had to complete and required to provide the EORI number to them. They agreed they would release the goods on this occasion as I willingly paid the VAT on the shipment there and then, but they told me that I had to provide them with this EORI number within 25 days or future shipments would not be allowed in.

On Sunday I get another call to say the goods are now held in customs at Stanstead Airport and would not be released until I provided the EORI number!

After a number of calls they again agreed the goods would be released.

There were 15 parcels shipped from China … 14 arrived mid morning.

Again after a number of calls They traced the 15th package which turned up an hour later at my door from another depot.

So here I am with 15 boxes that weigh around 20Kg each… with nothing to indicate what’s in each box!

The tops were due to arrive the day after and so I again tracked and ensured that I would receive them on time… more on this later.

So the work began opening and unpacking each box. My goal was to check and wrap each block in a sheet of black tissue paper.

Now fortunately I had done a lot of pre thinking and planning with the packaging. I had purchased from the internet 2 large packs of black tissue paper and asked a local printer to chop them into four.

I had purchased gold, silver and black dots for the boxes to indicate on each box what was in each box and I had non slip material that I spent hours cutting into little slips to cover the blocks shelf.

So each gift box was stuffed with a single sheet of black tissue paper … this would give the blocks a cushion and cover the bottom of the box. Then I dropped in the box, a single non slip mat for the blocks shelf, carefully rolled and folded another sheet of black tissue paper around the block and placed this in the box. Finally I placed a small marketing slip which the local printer did for me on top of the box.

Find out what happens next after I pack the stock in Part 9 – From Sketch to International Distribution… in 5 months!

Part 7 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 months!



Oh yes… the boxes arrived!

Totally covered in static bits of polystyrene!

I was furious! The packing of the boxes was so poor! I would have to hoover 1000 boxes before they could be assembled.

The small boxes however were fine.

I contacted May in China and complained … to be fair when I explained the issue she apologised and admitted it was their fault… and went on to tell me that the person that did the packing had been fired!

Talking of fire… I complained too that bits of the polystyrene was sticking to the glue on the tape that held the boxes together when assembling them…

This is what May suggested…

May : and I have an idea
David: ok?
May: maybe we use a fire, quickly pass by the box edges which has polystyrene bits, then the polystyrene may disapear, you know the polystyrene will melt when the temperature is high

David: Are you serious!

Anyway the boxes are are coming along slowly… The biggest issue actually is that I had no idea how time consuming it was to assemble 1000 boxes and of course this is before I start packing the orders and shipping out.

The blocks have not yet arrived and I was assured the tops will be with me a week later.

Until next time… Catch up in Part 8 and see how I get on.

Part 6 – From Sketch to International Distribution … in 5 Months!


So I had an order placed for 1000 Pen Rest and order for just 250.

Clearly there was work to do!

The first part of my plan was to manufacture part of the order in Black. I had previously only promoted silver and gold. My thinking here was that if I had black that I would relaunch it on Kickstarter as “The Pen Rest – back in black”. If I could sell a similar number as before then this would clear half the stock.

I contacted many independant pen shops and sent out price lists too and then one of the shops I called said … you need to contact Michael .. he’s the major distributor and will contact all the shops… So I did!

Michaels company is a major distributor to the trade with reps on the road visiting the independent shops.

On speaking to him.. he advised that the distributor needed a margin and so did the trade… and significant ones at that.

This was all new to me but Michael advised that the retail price must be set to allow for these margins if I wanted anyone to consider taking it.

I had nothing to lose by appointing him and so promptly agreed. In return he placed a first order for 100 Pen Rest. I now had a UK distributor.


Michael then put me in touch with contacts in Europe.

After a week, I was contacted by Stephan.. he loved the product. He was also a major distributor to 2400 independent shops. He also wanted to place an order, but subject to seeing samples. His first order would be based on a minimum of 100 Pen Rest.

Stephan though had a condition with the deal. The deal must be that he had exclusivity covering Germany, Switzerland and Austria…. after a discussion I agreed. We agreed too that we would review the progress of his orders, but that it would be for a minimum of 12 months.

So I now had backing for 450 Pen Rest.

Talking to a client of mine about the Pen Rest and someone that had backed it, he suddenly said I’ll take 300 with my corporate logo on the blocks!

Incredible! I now had orders for 750 and was yet to promote them on Kickstarter again.

I was contacted by Bart another distributor! He represented the Netherlands. He again wanted samples before placing the order.

Now here lay a new dilemma.

Here I was getting distributors for a product which I new would never sell millions. It was niche and would be a slow mover. I was certainly encouraged by the reactions I was getting, but also new that until it was in the shops it would not move…. and even then there were no guarantees…. but what if the distributors wanted more stock?

So this was my next worry.

I needed to place minimum orders of 1000 units at a time and clearly didn’t want to be sitting on that amount of stock with cash tied up.

I had also had some great news too regarding my costs. I discovered that the packaging and the Pen Rests were not in fact subject to duty… thus saving me 6% on the costs. It was not a lot but allowed me to keep the ratio price as low as I could whilst making a very very small margin on distributor and trade sales, myself.

Now there were other issues that needed to be addressed such as the boxes to ship out the orders, the internal packaging and coloured dots to identify the contents of the boxes. All of this was ordered in readiness for the initial stock.

Things were working out quite well now; I had kept the backers informed of progress which they clearly liked; stock was on schedule and I was assured that the boxes would be with me by the 1st June…. we’ll have to wait and see.

Find out how I get on in Part 7 of From Sketch to International Distribution… in 5 months!