It was just eight months ago that Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization to several pneumonia cases of unknown cause in Wuhan City, Hubei province, China. To most of us, I’m sure it feels like much longer due to the global saga that has since ensued. We are now all too familiar with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Not since the H1N1 influenza outbreak of 1918 have we seen a pandemic with such far reaching ramifications for everyday life. Countries across the world have taken unique and unprecedented measures to try and stop the spread of the virus. These have varied in severity by location and have met with mixed degrees of success. Actions universally agreed upon to be effective have included social distancing, mask wearing, and hand hygiene. Germany’s government and healthcare system were well positioned to tackle the challenges posed by the virus at the outset but that is not to say they have had it easy. With the fourth largest economy in the world and approximately 11% of its gross domestic product spent on health care, Germany ranks among the top five countries in the European Union for the number of nurses and physicians per 1,000 people. Germany recorded its first case of COVID-19 on January 27, 2020 in Bavaria. By February 27, the total number of cases had climbed to 26. Towards the end of February mass gatherings and travel were increasingly restricted. In mid-March schools started to close and by March 22, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the federal states and national government had jointly decided to implement a “contact ban.” This served to limit public gatherings to two people, required a physical distance of at least 5 feet, and closed many businesses. Today, Germany has reported approximately 224,000 cases and just over 9,000 deaths, a sad reminder of just how infectious and deadly this virus is. The necessary restrictions outlined above along with others have resulted in the pandemic taking a heavy toll on the operations of most businesses, Pelikan’s included. Read on to learn of the disruption that has been caused thus far and what it means for the company’s fine writing instruments division for the remainder of 2020 and beyond.
If you were unaware, Pelikan’s fine writing instruments are made entirely in Germany at their plant in Vöhrum. That said, the factory’s ability to manufacture pens and inks is dependent on a steady supply of certain parts and other raw materials from third parties located both inside and outside of the country. The global supply chain has been heavily affected by the isolation measures in terms of production as well as transport. The international air and sea traffic upon which so much of our global infrastructure relies has been disrupted. Not only did this prevent Pelikan from receiving the materials necessary to continue manufacturing, it also threw into disarray the company’s ability to deliver its finished goods to their distribution partners. Consequently, a back log of orders has ensued with many vendors having exhausted much of their stock in the intervening months. In order to understand where Pelikan was with all of this, I reached out to Jens Meyer, Pelikan’s Global Marketing Manager for Fine Writing Instruments. Jens has worked with the company for 20 years now, starting out in international sales and winding his way through several positions within the organization until arriving at his current post. He related to me that “…we are working with highest priority to catch up with the pending orders. I think it will take until Q4 before we will be able to solve all problems.” He also conceded that, for some selected products, it might take a little bit longer to end the backlog with Pelikan’s standard assortment.
Of course, all of this begs the question as to where new product releases stand. Many people budget and save throughout the year in the off chance that the next new pen due out would be a must have for the flock. This year has already felt a bit light in terms of new product announcements. So far, we have had the M200 Pastel-Green, Edelstein Moonstone, M1000 Raden Green Ray, and the M1000 Maki-e Kingfisher. Both the M200 and Edelstein ink were announced in the last quarter of 2019. When queried on this topic, Jen’s replied “Regarding our new product releases, we had to postpone some of our projects from first half of the year to the second half of the year because of the pandemic. But there will definitely be more product releases again in Q3 and Q4.” Many are eagerly anticipating news of a Moonstone inspired pen to match the 2020 Ink of the Year, something that we have seen materialize annually dating back to 2015’s M205 Amethyst. Hopefully that and several other exciting releases are in store for the last half of the year bringing a bit of joy to an otherwise dour 2020 that has seen pen shows and meet-ups cancelled across the globe. If there are any lessons to be taken away from the company’s 182 years in business, it’s that Pelikan is resilient. If you think of all the storms weathered in that time, the current pandemic is just one more and this too shall pass. While we await the next big announcement out of Hannover, I would encourage everyone to ink up their favorite pen and use some of the time spent social distancing to write a letter to a friend or family member. Feelings of isolation and disconnectedness abound, and the mental health of many individuals will languish as a result. A thoughtful handwritten note or letter may be just what someone needs in these challenging times.