Ed Note: You guys, I could not be more excited to introduce this new column! Each month, Emily Blistein – owner of the amazing gift, baby, vintage, home decor, and stationery shop Clementine in Middlebury, Vermont – will be stopping by to share wisdom from the retail perspective. We have lots planned for this column, from gift pairings to retail trends and everything in between. But the best part? Emily is willing to answer questions! So read through her first post below, then leave your questions for Emily in the comment section! –Nole
As a grown-up, mail is not always fun. You, Dear Stationery Artists and Lovers of Letterpress, make mail-time like Valentine’s Day in elementary school. I adore you for it. When I opened Clementine three years ago I had two stationery lines, now I have nearly two dozen. Customers fawn over the card selection so much that stationery has become the heart of my shop. I love watching it grow and dream of days spent drinking coffee and making orders. In reality, my to-do list is often longer by the end of the day. Things get lost in the shuffle. Here is my best advice for growing your wholesale line by grabbing the eye of busy shop-owners. – Emily of Clementine
1. Do you like-like me?
You may have a well-organized list of potential shops to contact or you just blog-hopped your way to a new shop. This whole thing is a bit like dating. It can be really exciting and slightly awkward. At the core we’re both asking: are we good for each other (even if it’s just seasonal)?
This is a good stage to do a bit of friendly social media stalking. You might find a window to connect that traditional introductions don’t allow. Just refrain from making your first hello a post on Instagram that says: “love your shop, would love to show you my line!”
If you like a shop, you can learn a lot about what we like in a quick website, blog and social media search. If you like what you see, then by all means, say hello!
2. Would you maybe want to get some coffee sometime?
You want to introduce your line but do you email, call, send a packet, or stop in? No matter the method, make your first hello quick and memorable.
If you’re stuck, follow this: Use my first name, say how you found me and what you like about my shop. Tell me a few sentences about you. Make a date to follow up. Say a gracious good-bye. Decorate a nice envelope. Remember to actually follow up when you say you will. (I prefer email).
- Introduce yourself by post mail if: You really like my shop, think your cards would be a perfect fit and you can afford it.
- Introduce yourself by email if: You’re more comfortable over email and it’s easier to get out the door.
- Call if: You want to make me flustered and awkward. Your currency is visual; I want to see it first.
- Visit if: You’re in the area. I love in person visits. I do not love unannounced visits to talk about your line, which you happen to have in your car.
3. Be memorable and follow up:
I don’t have to tell you how to make it personal. This is where you excel, but here are a few things that often make a difference to me:
Showstoppers: A day of mail just before the 2013 National Stationery Show / The recent introduction package from E. Frances
- Your envelope is the first thing I see. You are in a sea of incredible envelope addressers. Stand out in a vibrant way that fits your aesthetic.
- Let your work do the talking. Include 2-4 images (by email) or 4-5 cards (by post) of your best work. You don’t have to tell me why your cards would be perfect in my shop; I’ll take care of that.
- Use my first name and make it personal. Shop owners take pride in curating their lines, personalizing your introduction shows that you understand that. (Do beware of ‘cut and paste.’)
- Offer to send samples. This will make me look at your line, and it gives you an obvious reason to follow-up. I don’t suggest that all vendors send samples, but cards can look very different in person.
- Consider offering an incentive, like free shipping. This won’t make me order, but may sway me to increase my order and take chances.
- Sometimes you catch me at the right moment and I reply immediately. Be prepared with immediate follow up and clear (hopefully flexible) instructions for how to place an order.
- Use your connections. I adore and trust my current vendors and friends. If you know them and they tell me to look at you, I will. You are in the best, most supportive and collegiate industry around, use it!
- Timing. Remember Thanksgiving through Christmas is crazy for retail shops. Consider following the National Stationery Show timeframe even if you’re not going. I keep a folder of NSS cards and April is when I’m most tuned in to new lines. January is also great, things slow down and I’m ready to think about Valentine’s Day. (I love to think about Valentine’s Day)
4. It’s not you, it’s my toddler. Silence does not mean I’m not interested. I know you put a lot of effort in to your submissions. I try to reply to all of the (thoughtful) submissions I get. But I wrangle a two-year-old, so my days are long, and my “I have to email that person back” list is longer. Don’t be afraid to send a follow up note. I have a huge stack of orders waiting to be written. Often a well-timed email about new items or a special makes an order happen.
5. Don’t be shy. If you like a shop, stay on our radar. I’ve brought on many lines months or years after the first introduction. Social media can be a great way to build a connection. If you mail an introduction packet, remember to include your social media handles. I get a lot of submissions that are fantastic, but aren’t quite right for the shop. I will happily tweet/instagram a quick photo of a great package. (And don’t be afraid to follow up!)
A family of favorites at Clementine and Scout’s Honor Co’s little nook.
I love growing the family of print at Clementine. Your ideas and experiments make this possible and I’m constantly grateful (and pretty darned impressed).
Each little shop is unique, but I hope these are some helpful bits to expand your wholesale business. If you have specific questions, ask away! That’s where the fun happens, and maybe where future posts are born. I can’t wait to hear from you. xx Emily
Photo & Instagram credits: Emily Blistein, Clementine.