“I brought people, not products.”
Aurora is a brand that only landed on my radar within the past year or two. That it was founded in Italy nearly 100 years ago is a testament to the brand and the three generations of family that have run it. So, why have I just discovered them, and their wonderful pens, only recently?
I had the chance to sit down with Linda Di Fonzo, Export Manager for Aurora Pens, at the 2017 Los Angeles Pen Show to discuss this topic, their famous nibs, why they don’t make orange ink, and more.
The core philosophy of Aurora lies in the quote above. If I got nothing else from our talk, I understood that Aurora puts people ahead of products. That explains why the company has stayed in the family. Why employees have decades of experience on the factory floor. Why they have worked with distributors like Kenro for 25 years, and over 40 in the case of their Japanese partner. And why Linda chose to bring the people who best represent Aurora to the United States, as opposed to simply a product lineup show and tell.
Don’t let that fool you though. Linda is very proud of the products Aurora makes. Extremely proud. In fact, she was flying out of Los Angeles that afternoon to Dubai to hand deliver a pen worth well over one million dollars. She had it in LA and offered to show it to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I did see pictures on her phone though, and wow.
While none of us will ever own a million dollar pen, I bring this up because Linda made the point of telling me that regardless of price, $25 or $250,000, all of the pens are made by the same people in the same factory with the same care. Even the jewelers placing the precious stones on pens being delivered to royal families are under the same roof. From A to Z, Aurora does all of the work.
This roof also houses one of the finest nib manufacturing lines on the planet. There are 17 different styles of nibs in production, each handled with the same care as the next. Traveling with the Aurora team on this trip was their Nibmeister Filippo Loghero. He works daily on their nib production process, and gave many of us at the show a manufacturing lesson on how many steps are required to make a single nib. I think it is fair to say we all walked away impressed.
Filippo was charged recently with the creation of Aurora’s new Flex Nib. According to Linda, the company attempted this once in 1970, but the market did not understand it at the time. Recent work with a frequent Aurora calligrapher and collaborator gave them the idea to try again, and after six months of design and testing, the Aurora 88 Flex will launch this year in eight barrel colors, limited to 188 pens per color.
The new Flex nib is getting all the press right now, and rightfully so, but a change Aurora made in early 2016 is how we got here today. In previous years, the US market for Aurora lagged behind Europe and Asia. Linda set out to change this, and because of the familial relationship the company has with Kenro, they were able to work together to come up with a plan to inject new blood into the brand.
At its core, the plan called for a price adjustment in the mid-range of their offerings. 30% lower in some cases, and in primary catalog items like the Optima. This positioned Aurora in a price bracket in the US where they were able to better match up with their competitors. It also allowed consumers like myself to get their first taste of this historic brand in a more cost-effective manner.
The plan worked, as Aurora experienced a 60% year over year increase in the US market alone. And they have Linda Di Fonzo to thank for that. She travels the world listening to what the market wants, and customizes a plan to make Aurora successful. Aurora doesn’t just make pens. They understand the value and benefits of writing, and want to share that love as far and wide as possible.
I wanted to have a little fun with Linda as we wrapped up our chat, so I asked her a question that many people are curious about, including myself. Why doesn’t Aurora make ink colors besides Black and Blue (and now Blue Black?) “The people want purple and pink and orange and green!” I pleaded with her. She just laughed and laughed, but gave a great answer, and one I certainly can’t argue with.
Aurora only manufacturers ink they guarantee will work with their pens, and they don’t take this lightly. They have to ensure this across their product lineup, and will not introduce an ink unless they have complete faith in it. It’s hard to argue with that philosophy, but she did let her guard down a bit right at the end of our talk: “It’s coming. It’s coming.”
We are going to hold you to that Linda!
My thanks go out to Linda Di Fonzo and Filippo Loghero of Aurora Pens for taking time out of their busy schedule to sit down with me. And of course big thanks to Kenro Industries for setting all of this up. Linda wanted to make sure that if you ever make it to Italy, Aurora is open to visits, and has built one of the finest fountain pen museums in the world.
I’ll start planning my trip now.
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