July 26, 2016 • Sam Ujvary
Simple, Yet Sensational
By Regina Molaro, Special to Stationery Trends
Caroline Weaver has always appreciated the simple pencil, but it wasn’t until she grew up and traveled abroad that she realized there were so many remarkable pencils from companies that were relatively unknown in the U.S. That’s when Weaver decided to debut CW Pencil Enterprise, a pencil shop located in New York City’s artsy Lower East Side neighborhood.
“I always say that I’m a pencil lady first and a businesswoman second,” explained Weaver, who unveiled the colorful, 250-square-foot shop in March 2015.
Since then, it’s garnered lots of press, with coverage in the New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal, Better Homes and Gardens, Travel + Leisure and more.
The inviting shop is stocked with colorful pencils from the U.S., U.K., France, Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Portugal, India and Japan. The ratio of pencils to pencil-related goods is approximately nine to one. The latter category encompasses pencil caps, pencil extenders, pencil displays, sharpeners, erasers and notebooks.
While individual pencils are about $1, CW Pencil Enterprise’s prices span from 25 cents to $500 for hand-crank sharpeners from Spain. With a collection featuring inexpensive items coupled with Manhattan’s exorbitant rents, some probably wonder how this retail concept can work — but it certainly does.
“I wasn’t sure it would work, but I thought if there’s any time to try it’s when I’m young and can take risks. I was lucky to find a space that wasn’t crazy expensive, comparatively, of course,” admitted Weaver.
This proprietress laid the groundwork for her retail enterprise studying art at London’s prestigious Goldsmiths, part of the University of London. She also has experience in retail operations, editorial and fashion.
Putting pencil to paper
Boasting an open space, CW Pencil Enterprise overlooks a park in a buzzing neighborhood boasting a lively vibe. Although it’s in close proximity to the trendy Soho and Tribeca neighborhoods, this little section of Manhattan still has lots of authenticity.
When Weaver opened the shop there was nothing to compare it to, so she couldn’t forecast her customer demographic. The shop attracts a broad clientele, from architects to artists, editors to engineers, students to crossword puzzle enthusiasts.
Designed to feel intimate and friendly, CW Pencil Enterprise’s walls are awash in white and anchored by a black-and-white-checkered floor. A rainbow of colored pencils and notebooks add a jolt of color to the space. Boasting an almost museum-like feel, the walls feature a display illustrating how pencils are made, offset by other paper-related décor.
An engaging test station invites browsers to explore different types of pencils and coordinating accessories. Weaver and her staff encourage shoppers to test the merchandise in a Baron Fig notebook.
“It makes me really happy when the shop is messy. That means that our customers are comfortable in our space. I would never want the space to feel too precious,” observed Weaver.
Top-selling pencil brands include Caran d’Ache, Palomino, Musgrave and Nataraj. The Caran d’Ache wood pencils are made from beech wood from Switzerland’s Jura Mountains. The pencils have a distinctive color, weight and scent. Also popular are Japanese pencils. These feature an advanced graphite technology, so the pencils tend to be darker, smoother and less smudgy.
Many CW Pencil Enterprise brands have rich histories. Founded in 1889, the General Pencil Company in Jersey City, New Jersey, manufactures No. 2 pencils as well as hard-to-find types such as the non-photo blue pencil, a copying pencil and a test-scoring pencil.
Much like the wood shaving that reveals a freshly sharpened pencil, CW Pencil Enterprise has certainly evolved. What began as a one-employee operation — namely, Weaver — now has four other employees. A separate office space even serves as the business’ behind-the-scenes location.
Curating is key, and sourcing is a very personal experience. Pencils are a niche item, so those who know Weaver personally are always eager to share their findings. Beyond referrals, Weaver occasionally jets to trade shows abroad, such as ISOT in Japan and Paperworld in Frankfurt.
When it comes to traditional brick-and-mortars, CW Pencil Enterprise doesn’t have much competition, but there are certainly lots of other brands vying for consumer attention online. One of the shop’s selling points is the fact that there aren’t any stores or sites offering its diversity of brands.
Weaver doesn’t employ much traditional marketing. The shop runs occasional promotions during the winter holidays or on special days, such as National Pencil Day (March 30). On these occasions, Weaver always shares her pencil appreciation on Instagram and via the shop’s newsletter. She credits Instagram for driving customers to the shop.
Once there, they’ll be treated to some very personal touches. Every order is packaged in a yellow envelope and tied with baker’s twine. The packages include hand-written notes. When customers don’t quite know what they’re seeking, several questions are asked and an assortment of pencils is offered to test. A 1960s Kingsley hot foil press can complete custom orders.
Feedback in the form of hand-written letters or notes is the favorite way Weaver receives praise. Lots of mail arrives weekly, most of it notes of personal appreciation from happy customers across the globe. By far, these are the highlights of Weaver’s day.
This entrepreneur isn’t planning on unveiling any other locations for her pencil shop. “I’m not sure that a store this specific could survive in any city aside from New York. I would hate if I grew the business so much that I couldn’t be hands-on all the time,” concluded Weaver.
Although a lot of day-to-day work involves specific customer recommendations, whether over e-mail, on the phone or in the store, one CW Pencil Enterprise mission always remains: to ensure that every customer finds his or her perfect pencil.