Hello Brick & Mortar: Great Relationships Part I

Last time, we talked about how to approach little brick & mortar shops. Now we get to talk about maintaining that relationship. Spoiler alert: Starting now, I love to take your calls! – Emily of Clementine


Illustration by Emily McDowell for Oh So Beautiful Paper

1. 3-2-1 Contact! 

So, we’ve clicked. I liked your goods. You sent your first order. Now what? Well, let’s take a cue from the great 80s theme song on 3-2-1-Contact: Contact is the secret; is the moment when everything happens! Contact is the answer; is the reason that everything happens! 

Why am I giving you an earworm for the rest of the day? Because it’s a great mantra for maintaining retail relationships and I think a few of you need that. How do I know? Because, the comments and emails I got after my first post made it clear that: 1. You all are super lovely and amazing. 2. You are afraid you’re bothering me.


One of my many beloved refurbished typewriters at Clementine

2. Are you bothering me?

Probably not. Remember: Your goal is to get me to re-order. I am pretty darn busy over here and I have a lot of stationery, so if your cards sell out, I may not notice for a bit. When you’re in contact, I order more frequently and I feel cared for, which makes me order more frequently.

Are you bothering other shop owners? I’m speaking for myself in this column, but I imagine my preferences are similar to other small brick & mortars. The best way to find out, of course, is to become psychic ask. How? Here’s one way:

We’re at the National Stationery Show or a Craft Fair, you’ve just finished writing up my order, you turn to me and say: “I’m so thrilled to be in your shop and wondered what your preferences are for re-orders and contact.”  You only need the basics: 1. Do I have a buying schedule? 2. Do I prefer emails/calls? Bonus points: is there anything that my current vendors do that I particularly like?

We’re both busy, we’ll both forget to return emails, but this little exchange tells me that maintaining a good relationship matters, and that gesture will go a long way.

3. What if you forgot to ask these things when we first met?

Of course you forgot, those lights at NSS are really bright and you didn’t sleep for the week prior. You can ask these things at any time, and this kind of attentiveness goes a long way whenever you ask.

When else should you be in touch? Great question. Have you seen this chart? The moral of that chart is: don’t wear tights and pretend they’re pants. The moral of this post is: wondering if you’re bothering me is not going to make me re-order. With that in mind, here is my basic list of when and how to contact small retailers:

Send a group email whenever:

  • Your line has new catalog additions.
  • You have seasonal deadlines.
  • You have free freight or other sales and promotions.
  • Your line gets great press.
  • Remember: always include a link to your online shop and all social media handles.

Note: I suggest investing time in mailchimp or another email system. Create a stockist or “potential stockist” category and email all of us in one swoop. (Just beware of the new gmail system that throws these emails into the ‘promotions’ tab. That may be why you’re not hearing back from us.)

Send a personal email whenever:

  • It’s been 2-3 months since my last order (this is a quick “Just checking in to see if you need anything…” email).
  • I said I was going to send an order but you haven’t heard from me.
  • You’re having a problem that delays my order.*
  • My net 30 has passed. In small shops, we often literally do it all. Don’t be afraid to send an emails that reminds me that I forgot to pay you. It will also remind me that I may need to re-order
  • You want to brainstorm. People love being asked their opinion. Retailers are people! I love what you do and really enjoy talking about new ideas/colors/products, even if I don’t carry your line.  I am emailing presently with the lovely Brannon about an unsolicited idea that I gave her which she is generously entertaining.
  • Bonus points: at New Year, send me stats on what I ordered last year and offer an incentive to make a large January order that mirrors last year’s favorites. (I have money in January, so come and get it!)

Note: I want to stress the importance of the third point.* Tell me when you are having problems that create unusual delays. It’s natural to go silent and hope problems resolve themselves. Resist that temptation. Send a quick note letting me know what the problem is. If the problem is personal, I totally get that and you can be vague, but I need the end game: is my product coming and when? Most of the time I’m not in a rush, but if I am, I need to make other arrangements. If it’s more than a little blip, consider a small gesture: cover the shipping or include extra product. A little offer goes a long way. I have had very few bad interactions with vendors (and none with stationery folks), but I am currently embroiled in one that stems from pretty significant mis/non-communication on their part. I’m floored by how unprofessional their communication strategy is, and the worst part is that a few personal emails along the way would have gone a long way toward preserving the relationship.

Give me a call if: 

  • I said I wanted to fill out an order over the phone.
  • You want to chat/brainstorm (and you emailed first to see if I’m free).
  • You have a quick question/need clarification on my order/need my credit card number, etc. and I’m not responding via email.

Note: I still wouldn’t suggest “just calling” to check in about re-ordering. Retail shops get so many cold-calls, we’re on high alert to be annoyed when the phone rings. But if we are emailing and you say “can I call you?” I will say: YES!

OSBPSHCOkillingitpackaging OSBPIronCurtain

Ever so fun to unwrap: Orders in from Iron Curtain Press and Scout’s Honor Co

Follow us on social media if:

  • It adds to your day and doesn’t become a burden. A well timed comment or an ongoing conversation on instagrampinterestfacebook or twitter builds our relationship and creates easy, more frequent contact. We all have our favorites. I’m kind of a terrible twitterer. I love instagram. I love seeing what you’re working on via social media and responding right there.
  • It makes you happy. Social media can reinforce the worst high school feelings: Followers, inside conversations, the feeling that you have to be there showing something amazing. These are tiny worlds. Use them for good and enjoy them. Do the ones you enjoy, don’t feel compelled to do any, but know that it’s a great way to be in touch which makes your other contact (email, calls, in person hellos) even more welcome.

Send a personal note:

  • With every order. (I mean, only if you know someone who makes nice cards.)
  • Just because! Carina sent me a just because letter after my thanksgiving post. We have never met and it basically made me cry. In a good way. Isn’t that what we all want? 
  • Bonus points: Make your look orders lovely. Use Angela’s ribbon. It’s just the best.
  • Bonus points: Include 1-4 cards that I’ve never ordered before. 
  • On my birthday. Kidding, that’s totally not necessary (it’s February 23).


Letter & Lark and Shanna Murray orders are always an utter treat to unwrap

Personalizing is where we, as small business owners, have so much power over the big-box operations. And personalizing, ultimately is about making contact. When in doubt, be in touch when it feels right, these ideas are ideas, not guidelines. There’s very little wrong you can do. I love my stationery vendors especially, because you wrap my orders like gifts, with a sweet note and goodies. This is the way I want Clementine to run, with small touches that make an indelible mark. Surrounding myself with vendors like you, who share this view makes it palatable to send in my law school loan check each month. I love what I do now (and I’m really glad I’m not practicing law). Everything I did before brought me to this point and I’m so thrilled to be sharing in this world with you. In other words; you’re not bothering me. So, you know, let’s make contact!

OSBPclementinewall OSBPclementineordersoutgoing

My ever changing collection of your notes at Clementine, an outgoing package from Clementine

All photos: Emily Blistein via Instagram

  1. This is so great! I always feel like I’m bugging retailers. And it’s brilliant advice just to ask at NSS about follow up. I definitely need to start doing that. THANK YOU for the series! xx – shayna

  2. This information is INCREDIBLY valuable!! I’ve definitely felt like I didn’t want to bother retailers… when it’s entirely possible they were just too busy to reorder.

    Really appreciate your thoughtful advice!!

    • Katie,
      Possible, and highly probable. I was just thinking today that, once I know a vendor pretty well, I would welcome them calling to say: it’s time to re-order, let’s make it happen!
      Your cards are wonderful, by the way!

  3. Thanks so much for your two blog posts Emily! Bookmarked! I am a total newbie with dreams of a stationery line- what does a catalogue for stationery look like? Almost like a lookbook for a fashion line? I loved your advice about having the pricing right there next to the product. Thank you!!

    • Julie – Thanks! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the posts. Catalogs….they all look different! And many just use issuu (an online catalog). I hope to do a piece in the future about making ordering easier so I’ll tale more about it then. In the mean time I’d bet Katie from Trade Show Bootcamp might have resources: http://www.tradeshowcamp.com/

  4. I have loved reading your two blog posts Emily. Thank you for your insights! Here’s a question. What does a stationery catalogue look like? Like a fashion lookbook? I have dreams of a stationery line. Loved your advice about having the pricing right there next to the product. Thank you!

  5. Everyone, thank you for all of the comment and social love! I would totally welcome any thorny questions you have or thoughts from your end on what’s made contact easier/harder! xo

  6. Emily–you knocked it out of the park again! What a great reminder for us (ahem) less-than-together stationers to make time to talk with our shops!

    • Thanks Kelly! I frequently feel less-than-together, but I love how building a strong relationship helps us ease up on anxiety within ourselves when something hits a snag. Also, you can do math in your head, which is a skill set I will never have!

  7. Emily,

    Best post yet! It’s always so nice to hear insight from store owners, it’s a true paranoia that we’re bugging you if we are asking too many questions or being in touch too often. This is such great advice and reinforces how thoughtfully our independent retailers are curating and maintaining their own brands. very excited with this series, good job to you and nole & teams putting it together.

    cheers, jen

  8. Emily – Best post yet! It’s always so nice to hear insight from store owners, it’s a true paranoia that we’re bugging you if we are asking too many questions or being in touch too often. This is such great advice and reinforces how thoughtfully our independent retailers are curating and maintaining their own brands. very excited with this series, good job to you and nole & teams putting it together. cheers, jen

    • Thanks Jen! I would be curious to know what other retailers feel, but the vast majority of us went into this for the same reasons you started your businesses and the more camaraderie we have the more we all enjoy our work!

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