Hello Brick & Mortar: How to Get a Shop Owner’s Attention

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

Brick and Mortar: Retail Advice for Stationers via Oh So Beautiful Paper

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!

Brick and Mortar: Retail Advice for Stationers via Oh So Beautiful Paper

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.

OSBPHappyBirthdayCards2 OSBPbaby2

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:

Brick and Mortar: Retail Advice for Stationers via Oh So Beautiful PaperBrick and Mortar: Retail Advice for Stationers via Oh So Beautiful Paper

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!)

Brick and Mortar: Retail Advice for Stationers via Oh So Beautiful PaperBrick and Mortar: Retail Advice for Stationers via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Brick and Mortar: Retail Advice for Stationers via Oh So Beautiful PaperBrick and Mortar: Retail Advice for Stationers via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Perfectly personalized packages (clockwise from top left): Grey Moggie, MogleaInk Meets Paper, An Open Sketchbook

Brick and Mortar: Retail Advice for Stationers via Oh So Beautiful PaperOSBPscoutshonor

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.

  1. Emily,

    This was so incredibly helpful! I’m wondering for a newbie just dipping their toes in the wholesale side of things if there’s a rule of thumb you can suggest for wholesale pricing? Is it a certain percentage below their retail pricing? A percentage above cost?


  2. Emily, congrats on the new column! I’m so excited to continue reading what you have to share and to learn from you both as a maker and as an online shop owner.

  3. Hi Laura — great article and thanks for the shout out for Tradeshow Bootcamp! I just shared your post with our community and look forward to reading your future articles. -Katie

    • Katie – I hear so many great things about Trade Show Camp, and I think it highlights what an amazing community you stationery ladies (and fellas!) have created. There is so much information sharing and genuine happiness for each other’s success, (unfortunately rare in so many industries) and so wonderful to see with you all.

      • Hi Emily — Oh gosh, I’m so sorry Emily, I mistyped the wrong name because I was reading Laura’s comment… I’m blaming baby brain on this one but forgive me for breaking a cardinal rule. Thank you for your kind words about Bootcamp, it is a special community and I’m proud of what we’ve built together.

  4. I love your line about “Call if:” – so true! I enjoy following you on Instagram and agree that it, and other social media, is a great way to take in a shop’s aesthetic.

    I’m curious if you attend the National Stationery Show or other trade shows as a buyer?

    Looking forward to your future columns!

    • Cyn, I do! (sometimes) attend shows. I’d love to do a post on that down the road, and would love to hear any questions you have.

      Thanks for the instagram love! I really really appreciate when stationery artist take the time to decide that my shop is a good fit for their work. I understand the desire to expand a line into new shops, but it’s always obvious to me when someone just went through another vendor’s stockist list and addressed some envelopes “Dear Clementine” is generally a giveaway.

      The thing about calling, is that once I do carry your work, there’s no one else I’d rather hear from! I love taking your calls then, but boy…are those unexpected cold calls awkward.

  5. Wow, GREAT Tipps, thanks so much for this! 🙂

    It is a bit scary knowing that there is just soo much competition out there. And each one of them feels like a needle in a haystack.

    But hopefully these tips will make it easier.

    • Simona, I’m so glad you found this helpful. And yes, it is intimidating! It can be intimidating for me to see other little shops who seem to have everything together. But from my perspective, the more uniquely you your work is, the better. Don’t be afraid to edit out the pieces you no longer like and dive deeper in to the things you love. When you have a line that feels completely like you, it matters less what (and how) other people are doing.

  6. These are ALL so helpful Emily. An adventure to my ol stomping grounds of Middlebury is on my list …SOON! I would love to show you our Colorado Pine Beetle Recipe box sets, not sure if they would work for VT?

    • Denise, put those recipe boxes in your trunk and drive on over! Oh, truthfully, recipe cards can be such a tough thing for a little shop like mine, but I love them so I always have some in stock. I will always, always look at new lines and even if it takes a few reminder emails, I’m happy to tell you what I think and why and where you should go, if not with me. Thank you for reading!

  7. Emily, what a perfect topic to begin with! I’m so excited to see what your next posts may hold!

    And for all you folks out there, this lady has an impeccable eye, an infectious laugh, and darn can she write a straightforward (and beautifully photographed) blog post!

    • Kelly! Heart of my shop, sweetest of commenters. May Day Studio will always be Clementine’s ‘first kiss’ with letterpress. Our interactions have taught me so much about the things I want to talk about here and I will sell your sunshine print forever! xxoo.

  8. Emily–thank you so much for sharing this insight. It can be a daunting adventure on the new-wholesaler side—and to hear your perspective helps shed light on the directions to head!
    Also, thank you so much for including our little packet. We appreciate it!

    • Suzanne! You and Edgar are the perfect example of how to send an intro packet and how to stay perfectly in my social media purview. I can’t wait to meet you all in person someday and love watching your line grow!

  9. Hi, Emily! I love this new series and this post, specifically. I am expanding my letterpress/foil greeting card line now and assumed that I had to attend the NSS in order to get into any retail stores. Do you think most retailers welcome the “mail/e-mail us samples” approach or do they expect their designers to exhibit at NSS? Also, is it too forward to include a line sheet/catalog, or just send a small package of cards to pique interest and then follow up via email? Thanks!

    • Kimberly, thank you & thank you for such great questions!
      First, your line is beautiful, so well tailored and chic. You would design a great intro packet, I’m sure. I bet your line would appeal to some larger shops where the owner (ie, me) is not the buyer, and truthfully, I don’t know the best approach there. I’d start with their website to see if they have a formal submission process, if not, find the name of the buyer (this is one time I would suggest calling and to inquire about their process for submission and the buyer’s contact info). THEN, if you can get an actual name and address a beautiful package, send it. AND don’t be afraid to follow up.

      Re: linesheets/catalogs. If you’re sending cards, definitely send the whole package. I admit, I throw linesheets away. I do all of my ordering online or via email. But I’m sure other people actually use them. Also, I do need to see the prices, (for those of you reading this far: I LOVE when you list your prices next to the item in the catalog! I hate flipping back and forth constantly to make an order).

      Benefits of delaying NSS until you have a few wholesale lines under your belt: 1. you’re already comfortable interacting with wholesale buyers, which makes NSS much less intimidating. 2. you save a bagillion dollars, which you can invest in beautiful introduction packets and you save an insane amount of work and time, which you can use to really research and pick stores that would be a great fit for you.

      That said, I think you’d do really well at NSS. My only advice there is to walk the show before you go (plan to do this for 2014!) there is a lot of beautiful gold foiled cards at NSS (which I love), so I think the biggest thing to look at is booth design and how to draw buyers in. Also, seriously consider signing up for Trade Show Camp http://www.tradeshowcamp.com/. I have never been, but from what I see and hear, it’s immensely helpful to do before NSS, if only to make a great community of connections, (and also to learn how to hang lights and not let walls fall on people.)

      Perhaps I should have saved that novel for another post….

      • Emily,

        Thank you so much for your very detailed answer. I never expected you to look at my shop, but I really appreciate your kind words. Us designers need all of the support we can get when we attempt to jump into this crowded space without knowing where we’ll land! I have walked the NSS three times and plan to do so again in 2014. Thanks again for your honest feedback and detailed notes.


        • Oh, if you’ve walked it 3 times then you’re ready! Definitely spend a little time researching some shops to reach out to now (whether or not you do NSS). NSS is a sea of amazing stationery, but it can be really overwhelming to buyers, seeing something familiar can be great. Please come back to this post and ask any questions you want (I get an email when questions come in). I think answering them here will be easier than doing it privately over email since I imagine many of you have similar questions. You’ll do great when you make the jump, just make sure you’re production is in order to fulfill orders! xx!

  10. Emily, I cannot thank you enough for this information. The hardest part for us, when it comes to approaching stores, is feeling like Suzy the Spammer. Even though, I try to be as personal and friendly as possible, I always have this voice over my shoulder saying, “you’re just bugging people, leave them alone.” Your information is so helpful coming from the retailer’s standpoint. It’s helpful to know that, even though shop owners are busy, they’re also looking forward to new products.
    My only question is: Once the store owner has already made their initial purchase, how do you remind them to order more? If it has been a while since a store has made an order, those little voices of mine tend to creep back up about being a pest, but I’ll be honest, I would really like to see some re-stocking orders. Any advice would be great! Best, Alia

    • Alia, Thank you! This is a great question – I’d like to do a post soon about how to build and maintain a great wholesale relationship (send along questions related to this!). But to answer you:

      Follow up can be tricky and dependent on a retailer’s personality. That said, I don’t think one follow up is ever badgering. In fact, if I never hear from a vendor again, it makes me wonder if they care to continue on with me. A good first follow up is to tell them how thrilled you are that they’re carrying your work and do they need restocking on anything. If you still haven’t heard back after one or two emails, I think it’s fine to be very open and say “I’d love to know how you prefer to be contacted to make it easy for you to re-order when you’re ready.”

      I HIGHLY encourage vendors to contact me if it’s been a while. My biggest bit of guilt is the number of times some have to do so before I finally send and order. I always appreciate another nudge. I have so many cards in the shop, I’m always low on something (but, I have so many cards, that I rarely need to re-order urgently), so a email can make that happen. This might also be a good time to offer an incentive, like free shipping, for a limited time. For follow up orders, this will often.

      Also, your shop is so great! The pinecone, feather and lobster cards are my quick faves! I would think you’d do really well in New England and the Pacific NW shops!

  11. Thanks so much for sharing your advice and wisdom – the information is so helpful and the photos so inspirational. I’ll definitely be looking forward to your future posts!

  12. I loved reading this (and re-reading this). We are a new letterpress business trying to make the learning curve short. (I did have a retail business at one time, and we have three very experienced designers so we aren’t coming at this blind.)

    I was glad to see what you had to say about the NSS as well. We are trying to decide if we should go this year or wait until 2015. It is such a big investment. Thanks also for all the responses in the comments. Again, they are very helpful. I especially appreciate the references/links given.

    Thanks again, I truly appreciate your efforts and look forward to more of your articles.

    • Thanks Kim! I look forward to your questions! (feel free to leave questions here between posts and I’ll come back to reply.)

      It sounds like you have a great head start. I think the NSS decision is a tough one and has so many variables for each stationery line. Cost is obviously huge. I also think it’s hard when you start feeling like “everyone” is going. A lot of people are, but everyone isn’t and I got some great submissions from companies who said “we’re not going! but look at our line anyway.” Ultimately, it’s the strength of the line that compels me. And all the better if I’m impressed before I get to a show!

  13. Thank you, thank you, Emily! I’m really looking forward to more posts in this series while I prepare for my (long debated) NSS debut next year. This information is truly invaluable and it’s refreshing to hear a shop owner’s point of view.

    • Lisa, thank you! I look forward to your questions. Your line is wonderful – such a smart mix of modern and antique. And congratulations on making the NSS decision! I think your art prints would really appeal to some non-traditional outlets too, like restaurants and kitchen stores too.

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