April 13, 2024


Think Differently

Atlas Stationers in Chicago’s Loop pivots to offering expensive pens

“Five many years in the past our organization in business office products and solutions was nevertheless very good, but we seriously weren’t expanding and our margins had been obtaining squeezed,” Don Schmidt claims. “It was difficult moving further than what I had put in my entire lifetime accomplishing. But my sons marketed me on this modify. I was prepared to let them make their possess mark on the organization and take this leap of religion.” 

Early very last yr, Atlas offered off its professional account enterprise to Runco Business office Solutions in Elk Grove Village and turned 100% concentrated on pens, wonderful paper and inks. The alter demanded a significant expenditure in countless numbers of pens alongside some 650 inks. It’s doing work: Annual income has jumped from below $4 million, with 10 staff, pre-pandemic to a projected $5 million this yr. There are 15 personnel now in the 3,700-square-foot shop at 227 W. Lake St.

“When COVID strike in 2020, our workplace supply company went to zero overnight as enterprises all over the Loop shut down,” Brian Schmidt states. “At to start with we imagined probably we could offer place of work supplies and pens collectively in the retail outlet, but then it grew to become very clear that to expand we essential to really commit and remain centered on just one issue.”

Atlas owns a earth-class website with a strong e-commerce ingredient, and in the past yr the retail outlet has gotten a lot more than 40 million visits to its TikTok web page. Five years ago, an typical sale in the retailer was beneath $30, according to Don Schmidt. That regular now surpasses $100, spread amongst collectors, office staff, holidaymakers and present purchasers. 

The enterprise was established by Don’s grandfather Aloysius Schmidt, a son of German immigrants. He was a previous shoe salesman who began selling office provides in a nearby place just before Entire world War II. Don’s father, Joseph, took over as owner in 1968, and Don succeeded him in 1999.

By way of most of the past half of the 20th century, Atlas competed versus this sort of neighborhood workplace-supply stalwarts as Horder, L&M, Utility Supply and Stevens Maloney. Practically all of people providers are long gone now, with a couple convey branches of the huge superstores these as Staples still left as the only survivors. 

Through all this contraction, consumers seemingly have not misplaced their taste for creating on paper, while the business is challenged. “The trouble is that many young folks today do not write much cursive,” states Charles Gasparon, an Atlas salesman who worked at Century Pens for yrs ahead of it closed. “Even so, they have an curiosity in taking up this kind of artwork as calligraphy producing,” he says.

Century didn’t survive, he provides, since its organization was centered much too considerably on the Chicago market. “Century never ever had a excellent internet site,” he states. “Here at Atlas, I’m surprised to see the orders flowing in from Bangor, Maine to San Diego and all factors involving. This has become a countrywide organization.” Seventy per cent of revenues now occur from on the internet income. 

Nicky Pessaroff, editor of Houston-centered Pen Entire world journal, states that pen retailing was in marked decline 20 years back. But not long ago pen retailers have shown a little renaissance. “Young persons are starving for something tangible,” he suggests. “Writing with a pen is a response in opposition to our digitized life today.”

As for the $10,800 Montegrappa pen designed in Italy on Atlas’ web site, Pessaroff argues there’s a market place for these luxurious. “People are keen to invest $10,000 and extra for a wonderful check out. So why not a pen?”