I was eagerly awaiting Dr. Jonathon Deans post on the brand analysis of Lamy. Lamy for all my readers not from Germany or not crazy about fountain pens is one of the biggest and most well-known fountain pen brands and hails from Germany, along with its big competitor Pelikan.
Dr. Deans is an economist and despite me not caring about economy too much, I very much enjoy reading his posts which teach concepts of economy with fountain pens as an example. A very niche blog, but I learned quite a lot and his posts sound very logical and convincing, so I would recommend giving his blog a try even if you think “bah, boring”.
Pen Economics has some preferences of course, as we all do. He enjoys Montblanc pens and seems to dislike Lamy, like for example the otherwise very popular Lamy 2000, which amusingly I like for many of the reasons he does not. Each to his own.
So I was quite happy to see that the post on Lamy is something I largely agree on: yes, Lamy is really good in producing at scale and terrible at premium products. This is exemplified by the popularity of the Safari: you can buy it everywhere, be it your newspaper store around the corner, bookstores, airports. It was my first pen I got in second grade (and if you didn’t get a Safari you got a Lamy abc, that’s another sale for Lamy). I really liked the Safari back then and I also like my Lamy 2000. But their other premium pens? I am completely at a loss why these exist. They bring nothing new to the table besides some gimmicky design, coupled with the alright-for-a-cheap-pen Safari nibs and are sold for higher prices. I don’t think many retailers usually even bother stocking much of them.
Premium-wise Lamy is pretty much dead in the water. This is unlike Pelikan, who apart from their commodity segment also offer a number of premium pens that people want to buy.
But I disagree on the cheap segment. So far, Lamy does not have anything to fear from the Pilot Metropolitan (or it’s european variant, the MR) or TWSBI Eco in its home market, Germany. The Safari averages 15€ on Amazon, whereas the Eco is roughly 40€. Not even comparable. The Pilot MR is available for roughly 18€, but there is only the medium nib (at least it does take standard cartridges because Pilot cartridges are unobtainium in Germany), compared to the at least 4 nib widths of the Lamy. Also, I have not once seen it in store, so it certainly takes a far more dedicated buyer to search on Amazon for this particular pen and buy it without trying first.
A friend of mine is a big fan of Metropolitans, she ended up importing them with the fine nib from the US, along with converters from Japan. I think they ended up costing more money and effort than simple getting a Lamy from a store.
Now you could argue Germany is not a big market, but I would disagree. In primary school every student used to have a compulsory fountain pen to learn to write (not sure if that still is the case), so roughly everybody in Germany (80 million people) is at least familiar with the product. Two of the big fountain pen brands are from Germany. I would assume that the situation in Japan is similar with Pilot, Platinum and Sailor. Compare it to the US where fountain pens seem like a niche hobby with a lot of sales going through online retailers like Goulet Pens.
So is Lamy losing sales to the Eco? Definitely! Does it make a big impact on their bottom line? Unlikely, unless their competitors massively ramp up their offline retail presence. TWSBI does not seem to have the resources and Pilot, who has a decent retail presence with their other products, seems not to care to compete with Pelican or Lamy in the fountain pen segment. Their main competitor is… Online who offers cheap cartridge pens with a staggering variety of a models, going all in into the commodity market.