Recently, an FPN member asked whether there were fake or replica Lamy Safari fountain pens. In reply, another FPN member who also belongs to our club (and who shall remain anonymous (except to say that he takes great pictures)) replied, “Never heard of a fake Safari. Why would anyone create a counterfeit of a $25 pen? Sure, some of the limited edition colors can go for more than that but where’s the profit?”
Well, there as it turns out, there is a “fake” Safari – the Hero 359 fountain pen made by the Shanghai Hero Pen Company (Hero Pen). Hero Pen was founded in 1931 as the Huafu Pen Factory and was renamed in 1966 to its current name. The company has manufactured a number of relatively inexpensive brands of fountain pens including Hero, Wing Sung, and Xinhua, just to name a few. Like many Chinese companies, it has copied or cloned the design of Western fountain pens, e.g., the Hero 100 is similar to the Parker 51 and of course, the Hero 359 is clearly modelled after the Lamy Safari.
Why would or how could a company profit by cloning another pen that costs approx. $25-30? Well, readers with a business background might recognize the source of Hero Pen’s competitive advantage as cost leadership, i.e., winning market share by appealing to cost-conscious or price-sensitive customers. Cost leadership is achieved by having the lowest prices in the target market segment, or at least the lowest price to value ratio (price compared to what customers receive). If a company is to be profitable, with a high return on investment while offering the lowest price, the company must be able to operate at a lower cost than its competitors.
A manufacturer like Hero Pen must produce high volumes of output such that fixed costs are spread over a larger number of units, resulting in a lower unit cost. Mass production becomes both a strategy and an end in itself. Higher levels of output both require and result in high market share, and create an entry barrier to potential competitors, who may be unable to achieve the scale necessary to match the firms low costs and prices.
According to the Shanghai Daily, the Lamy Safari is very popular in China but is too pricey for many local customers. Thus, acting like a good capitalist, Hero decided to produce the pen because it received many requests and saw the market demand. While Lamy is quite aware of the Hero 359, Hero is of the view that the exterior design patent right of Lamy’s Safari series are protected for only 10 years in China and has expired.
So much for the business lecture, how does the Hero 359 compare to the Lamy Safari? First, the Hero comes in a reusable plastic case along with a converter and a package of cartridges. The Safari generally comes in a cardboard box with 1 cartridge – and the converter is extra, adding anywhere from $5-10!
The 359 comes in 5 “Summer” colours – Black, Apple Green, Yellow, Royal Blue and Purple, as can be seen in the large picture at the top of this post.
The two pens are basically the same size, length, and weight; however, the parts are not interchangeable between them, e.g., you can’t swap caps.
There are a number of design differences – the Hero flower symbol replaces the familiar X at the top of the Safari cap, the clips on the 359s are all stainless steel vs. coloured clips on certain Safaris, and the 359 is almost entirely round but for one flat section while the Safari has two flat and two round sections.
Our examination of a number of Hero 359s, it is clear that the manufacturing quality is inferior to the Safari but it is debatable whether most users would notice or even care?
Finally, the initial impressions of our members were that they were very pleased with the writing performance of the 359; in fact, most were surprised at the quality of the writing experience relative to the cost of the pen. Is it a Safari – no. Nevertheless, the Hero 359 is perfect if you need to save a bit of money, want a pen for your children to practice with or for use in situations where the pen might get broken or lost.
P.S. As as been pointed out in the Comments below from several readers, Hero now seems to be offering a similar roller ball pen and also a fountain pen and roller ball pen kit that consists of a fountain pen and a roller ball pen section that is interchangeable with the fountain pen section. This development is not terribly surprising. From a cosmetic perspective, the 359 roller ball has an ink window in its barrel, just like the fountain pen - the Safari fountain pen has an ink window but the roller ball does not.
It has also been noted that international size cartridges do not fit the Hero 359; however, the 359 does appear to accept Parker and Aurora cartridges. On the other hand, the cartridges that come with the 359 do not work with Parker pens.
P.S.S. I had forgot to mention the translation of the label on the Hero 359 fountain pen case which is “Here’s the label translated in full. There are six lines of text, from top to bottom:
Hero [logo] HERO
Telephone number to call: 021-62499300/4008881861
or send text message 700 to 12113
Peel off the veneer, differentiate genuine from counterfeit (emphasis added)
Shanghai Hero Fountain Pen Factory Lishui Co., Ltd.
How ironic - Hero wants you to check the pen carefully to ensure that it is not a counterfeit!!