Herald Super Kid this week is John Cramer, who started his own handmade pen business at age 17, to put himself through college. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Lake Stevens High senior has an entrepreneurial mind

John Cramer crafts and sells designer pens to help pay for college

LAKE STEVENS — John Cramer Jr. has a lot going on.

He’s a Running Start student at Everett Community College and a senior at Lake Stevens High School. He’s a Taekwondo black belt. He’s been playing violin for 14 years.

This year, Cramer, 17, launched a business, Stylo Ink, where he handcrafts pens and sells them for $40 and up to fund his way through college.

Question: How do you make the pens?

Answer: I use tools to carve off each one of them individually. I get them in blocks, different wood ones and acrylic ones. Then I have to drill them, and I have to cut them with a bandsaw. Then I glue the tubes in. I square off the excess with sandpaper that attaches to my lathe. That spins. The lathe turns it really fast, and I have to individually shave off each one. It used to take me a lot longer. Now it takes me about an hour or so, depending on the wood. The process can take a long time, but it’s something I enjoy doing. So I decided to turn it into a business.

Q: Your wood shop is in Everett?

A: That’s where my dad lives. My dad showed me how to do it about three years ago.

Q: How did you get started selling them?

A: One day I was going to Washington, D.C., with my cousins for vacation, and I didn’t have any spending money. So I decided to take seven of the pens I made for myself, because I only use one, and I thought I’d go door-to-door. I sold all of them within two hours, and had all of the spending money I needed. I thought this would be a great way to save money for college.

Q: So when did you launch the business?

A: I got my UBI code and the LLC in March. They’re really expensive, like $200. And I’m still a high school student. My dad helped me to fund my website, and my mom helped me with a couple of other things as well. I didn’t start selling my first pens until June. It took a while to get my site up and running, and getting all the pens and inventory made.

Q: Do you go door-to-door?

A: Yeah, I’ve been primarily selling business-to-business. I ask for the manager or owner, and they have contacts from other businesses around that they recommend me to. So I go there and tell them who sent me, and they buy a pen as well.

Q: What kind of businesses?

A: Almost everything. I’ve been noticing insurance agencies really are interested in them. I sold a lot to Farmers Insurance, State Farm Insurance, and a bunch of other insurance agencies. My grandpa (Richard H. Bennett) was a lawyer, and he told me, ‘Lawyers, we love our pens.’ So I start by telling about grandpa, and lead into telling about my business. My biggest trouble is selling online. I’ve had no organic sales online. It’s all person-to-person, me carrying these two heavy boxes, walking around in a hot suit and dying in the sun. But it’s been working. I just hit over 100 orders.

Q: You’re a student, too. Where do you go to school?

A: Lake Stevens High School. I’m going into my senior year. But I only take one class there, and then I take 15 credits total at the community college. So I’m going for my business associate’s at the same time I get my high school diploma.

Q: And from there, what do you hope to do?

A: Transfer to a four-year university. I’m not exactly sure which one yet, because I just found out the direct transfers agreement for Everett Community is only valid in Washington state. I’m trying to see if I want to stay in Washington, or work with another college out of state, to see if I can start as a junior, rather than a freshman.

Find out more about John’s business at stylo-ink.com.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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