A family affair: Pen Heaven

A family affair: Pen Heaven

BQ caught up with David Cole, co-founder of Pen Heaven, as part of a series of features looking at the benefits and challenges that running a family business brings...

Founded in 2008 by father and son duo Keith and David Cole, Pen Heaven is a specialist in all things writing, from sought after pens to rich leather journals.

Specialising in classic brands such as Parker and Cross and Lamy, Pen Heaven also caters for collectors and enthusiasts looking for something a little different.

From more unusual and hard-to-find items such as the Japanese hand painted Platinum range, Italian calligraphy sets and the design focused Worther brand, the company has something for all writing connoisseurs

BQ caught up with David to find out more about the business, what inspired them to launch it and to hear about the benefits and challenges operating as a father-and-son partnership brings.


Where are you both from, how old are you and what backgrounds do you have in business?

My father and I are both from North London, I (David Cole) am 39 and have previously worked for leading luxury brands as head of ecommerce including; shoes, furniture, travel. Prior to digital I was an investment banker.

My father, Keith Cole is 70 and prior to starting Pen Heaven, he was managing director of a men’s fashion retail business with 16 stores in UK (mostly in London).


What roles do you both have at the company?

We both work continuously on improving our product offering and are always researching new categories to develop. Most recently, we have enlarged our leather offering which now features not only journals and diaries, but also photo albums, travel accessories and men’s wallets.

We also have our defined roles within the company. I head up all digital marketing and the website user experience, whilst Keith maintains pricing, staffing, logistics, wholesale, Staff management and accounts.


How has the company grown in the last eight years since its launch?

We wouldn’t be anywhere without our loyal customer base - who are extremely satisfied with our service, which means we get a lot of repeat business. Our customer base continues to grow on a daily basis thanks to an increased brand presence online and developing our international business reach.

Expanding our product offering from pens to other products we can personalise has worked incredibly well too. We started off with purely stationery related items, but now have an excellent leather selection covering wallets, travel accessories such as travel and passport holders and luggage tags, and in the last few month Photo Albums. We now consider ourselves a personalised gift company.


What benefits does being a family run business bring?

We aren’t afraid to challenge each other, which means we generally arrive at the best solution for growing the business. There is also the longevity factor -  It’s a legacy that will remain in the family.


Do you both have different skillsets? If so, how do you ensure these are best put to use?

Yes, my (David) background is in digital marketing so makes sense I head up the website. I’m also a bit more technology minded which youth always brings. My father has a wealth of experience in managing a much larger business, and is good at the nitty gritty of business such as strategy, staff motivation, stock management and customer service.


What challenges has operating as a father and son duo brought?

Working as partners, as opposed to the conventions of a father and son relationship.


How did you overcome these?

Good communication is the key. Being open and honest. Mutual respect for each other’s contribution. And leaving all work at the office so that it does not eat into our family time together – this is very important for any working relationship.


Lastly, if you could give three tips to another parent and child duo looking to setup in business, what would they be?

  • Does it make sense to work together i.e. do you bring complementary skills to the table.
  • Discuss both of your expectations from the business in detail beforehand. What areas do you want responsibility for? When does the parent plan on stepping down? What sort of living do you both need? Etc etc
  • Look at your relationship. Working together will test it to the limit.