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  1. The ‘Write’ Way to Manufacture

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    The Pen Company of America (PCA) is another family-owned firm that’s bullish on domestic manufacturing. The Garwood, NJ, company has been in business since 1928. Today, it mass-produces a wide variety of writing instruments, including pens and industrial markers, in a 50,000-square-foot factory that’s highly automated.

    “We have never manufactured products outside the United States,” claims Colleen Shea, vice president of sales at PCA, who runs the company along with her father and two brothers.


    Automation enables U.S. manufacturers to go head to head with offshore competition. Photo courtesy Pen Company of Americaautomation

    Automation enables U.S. manufacturers to go head to head with offshore competition. Photo courtesy Pen Company of America

    “As a fourth-generation writing instrument manufacturer, we have always worked hard to keep all our production domestic,” explains Shea. “Many of our pens are customized for the promotional industry.

    “In that arena, we are the only manufacturer whose entire line of metal and plastic pens is domestically made,” explains Shea. “While others moved offshore over the last few decades, we have dedicated our time, energy and resources to find creative ways to keep manufacturing in America.”

    The company produces around 30 different styles of pens and markers. In addition, it makes internal metal components for other companies, such as Fisher Space Pen Co., which assembles its specialty products in Boulder City, NV. PCA also molds plastic parts that a medical device firm uses to produce surgical skin markers.

    “The majority of our business involves custom-made pens that are used for promotional purposes,” says Shea. “They contain unique customer names, logos, colors and designs. We supply everyone from large banks to small mom-and-pop coffee shops.

    “We are vertically integrated,” Shea points out. “We do all of our plastic-injection molding in-house, in addition to making the metal writing cartridges. We also do all printing, laser engraving and decorating ourselves. We even make our own springs, and we produce our own heat-transfer film, which is used for decorating pen barrels.”

    PCA operates three assembly lines that mass-produce an average of 30,000 pens a shift or as many as 300,000 units a week.

    “All our metal pens have ‘USA’ embossed in them,” says Shea. “All our plastic pens have ‘USA’ molded into them. Our standard, gift and executive boxes all indicate ‘Made in the USA.’ Even the boxes themselves are made domestically.”

    A typical plastic pen consists of six main components, including the barrel, writing cartridge, a plunger and ratchet mechanism, a spring, a tip and a clip. Metal pens are more complex and contain up to 14 components.

    “All of our production processes are automated, including robots for assembly and pick-and-place applications,” says Shea. “Automation plays an important role in keeping our pricing stable and constant. That’s the only way we can compete with imported products.


    The writing instrument industry is very competitive, because pens are a commodity product,” explains Shea. “We pride ourselves on high quality and fast delivery times.

    “A lot of metal pen companies have moved production offshore, including our biggest competitor,” notes Shea. “Unlike those companies, most of our products are delivered within seven to 10 business days.

    pen production line

    The writing instrument industry is very competitive, because pens are a commodity product. Photo courtesy Pen Company of America

    “Another thing that sets us apart is customer service,” claims Shea. “Many small companies in our industry have been bought up by larger firms that moved customer service offshore. We are more nimble and have a definite advantage in that regard.

    “With domestic production, we can react quickly to customers’ needs,” says Shea. “When a customer needs 100,000 custom pens in a few weeks or a specially molded pen, we have the ability to fulfill these orders much quicker than the imported products. The disruption in the supply chain over the past several years has given us a unique competitive advantage.

    pen production

    To succeed, domestic consumer products manufacturers must excel at customer service, delivery and quality. Photo courtesy Pen Company of America

    “It’s not difficult for us to compete against offshore manufacturers,” adds Shea. “Even if we’re a little more expensive, we excel at customer service, delivery and quality. However, we have to be creative and stay one step ahead in terms of finding ways to improve our costs.

    “Overall, this is a good time to be an American manufacturer, because the COVID pandemic exposed a lot of supply chain gaps and deficiencies,” concludes Shea. “We have seen a resurgence and appreciation for U.S. manufacturing.”

  2. Pen Company of America Expands Garland Writing Instruments Line, Launches USA-Made Recycled Metal Pen

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    It’s the next chapter in a phoenix-rising-from the-ashes story that involves PCA rescuing Garland from closure and revitalizing the nearly century-old company.

    Garland Writing Instruments was closing in on its 100th year in business, but the sad reality was that it didn’t look like the longtime supplier was going to make it.

    Sales challenges spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic had the Rhode Island-based firm on the brink of closure. But then, Pen Company of America (PCA, asi/76811) – a supplier with close to a century’s history of its own – came to the rescue, acquiring Garland Writing Instruments in 2021.

    It was no idle investment.

    PCA announced this week that it has set up Garland’s operations in a new facility described as “state of the art” in Linden, NJ. The operation thereby continues a tradition of domestic production at PCA and Garland, said Colleen Shea, vice president of sales at PCA, which says that its entire line of pens is made in the United States.


    This high-gloss pen with gold accents from PCA’s Garland Recycled Collection is made with recycled aluminum.

    “At a time when some of the biggest names in the world of writing instruments have moved their production out of the USA, and have discontinued their products entirely, it is important for us to continually expand our line to offer our distributors an alternative,” Shea said.

    PCA had originally moved Garland to a location in Garwood, NJ, but then set up shop in the Linden space in preparation for what was described as a large build-out of the brand’s writing instrument product line.

    That expansion has now come to fruition, incorporating new stylus pens, executive brass pens and recycled metal pens that executives believe will be favored by end-clients who desire a sustainability element.

    “We need to be in touch with today’s buyers, and sustainability is definitely on their minds,” said Shea. “Our new recycled Garland metal pen is made from the same post-consumer scrap metal used in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. It offers a stylish, eco-friendly and USA-made option.”

    Shea’s great-grandfather founded PCA as Radiant Pen in 1928; the company manufactured fountain pen tips. In the 1950s, Shea’s grandfather started Rotary Pen, injection-molding plastic components for ballpoint pens.

    Since then, the company has continued to evolve, eventually entering the promo space to sell the pens and markers it was making. These days, it’s helmed by fourth-generation members of the Shea family, including Colleen. The supplier is, as described by Shea, the largest manufacturer of true USA-made ballpoint pens and markers.

    Garland’s history extends back to 1927, when Louis Lanoie founded the firm originally known as Lew Manufacturing Co. At the time, the company manufactured small presses, which led to the design and development of the internal pen mechanism later used by many of the major pen and pencil manufacturers throughout the U.S. and Europe, according to a company history.

    In the 1960s, Lew Manufacturing began making complete pens and pencils and changed its name to Garland Industries.