Hello Brick & Mortar: Trends, Unsolicited Advice and Wild Ideas

Happy New Year! If your December was anything like mine, things got a little foggy. I woke up on New Year’s Day feeling a bit like Snow White after eating that apple. (Probably exactly how she felt, if she still had to finish her year-end accounting.) The point is, December is no time for wild ideas. But now it’s January, and a bit of reckless brainstorming is what launched us into the work we’re in. So, let’s get back at it. – Emily of Clementine


Illustration by Emily McDowell for Oh So Beautiful Paper

I. Trends. Just so we’re on the same page, I am not a trendsetter. I live in Vermont, I just got on board with neon and I am decidedly not a fan of Pantone’s color of the year. That said, I am a creative-envelope pusher, professional brainstormer, and confessional for customer wishes. I also really love watching your lines grow, offering feedback, and cheerleading along the way. I want both of our businesses to grow. Here are a few opportunities that I see:


These message booklets from Side Show Press are fantastic

  • Calling Cards, with a Modern spin. Business cards aren’t obsolete, but I quickly recycle 97% of the ones I get. (Not your cards, they’re too pretty. You are the 3%). A lot of my customers concur – a stack of little, flat notes would be far more useful than business cards. A recent chat with Kimberly confirmed how functional (and fun) a beautiful flat card would be to leave with clients after a meeting, tuck into an online order, or as a sweet hello. You provide a great border and unexpected surprises.
  • More Flat Notes. This is the number one request I get: simple, flat stationery (this time card size, with an envelope). Everyone says they want to send more notes, but they don’t want fuss. Anna Beth told me these are called Buck Slips, which I’d never heard and I like, because I love little turns of phrases from your pocket of the world. Which reminds me…
  • More Colloquialisms. Those little sayings that your grandmother or your longtime neighbor said often make the best cards. Our southern sisters have an edge on this one, but everyone can try! My customers especially like new phrases to express love.
  • Postcard (sets). The folded card is clearly not trending. Building on the “flat notes” request above, postcards are often requested. They’re the quickest hello and the world can read them en route which makes them cheeky and nostalgic. To dip your toes in, I think they’d sell well for: Valentine’s Day, Just Because/Hello, Summer Camp (for parents to give to kids at camp drop-off) and thank yous.
  • Stationery, Plus. I love watching your lines branch out into new territory. If you’re itching for something new, these items are selling well and seem like a natural addition: coasters, wrapping paper, custom rubber stamps, pillows, pencil cases, notepads, temporary tattoos, candles, tea towels, journals, or matchbooks. Megan uses bits and pieces in her flowers and also suggests: more envelope accessories like stickers, stamps and washi tape.


Moglea can neon edge print anything to perfection, on a flat card no less

A final note on trends: Gold foil, neon, triangles, gem stones and foxes? I liken them to bangs: all of the cute girls have them and maybe you should too. But take it from a girl who has two cowlicks and super fine hair, some styles are not for you. Remember, as a buyer, I see a lot of what’s trending, I only need to see more if you do it really well. Otherwise, I want to see the things I haven’t even imagined yet.

II. Unsolicited Advice. My favorite. You don’t have to do any of these things, but I’d be thrilled to see your take on any of them:

  • More Stationery for Guys & Better Father’s Day Cards. You know your heart’s not quite in these, right? If you have an amazing card with a tie/golf club on it, ignore this, but otherwise, get out there and ask guys what they want. Trust me, they want to write quick notes on well designed stationery. Still not feeling it? Think about what makes men in history so compelling: They wrote. Fall back on images of your favorite writers, use that to spark some ideas.
  • Valentines and Thank You Cards, for kids to give. Please don’t leave me alone on Feb 13th at CVS buying Lightning McQueen Valentine cards for my son’s classmates. There must be another option and you can make them.
  • Selection packs. Customers often want thank you and birthday cards in bulk, but they want variety. Do 2 of 4 designs, or 4 of 2. (Caveat: This may be one of those “things people request, I purchase and they never buy.” But I do think it’s a good idea.)
  • More Bibliophile Goods. Bookmarks, book plates, other biblio-inspired goodies? Yes, yes, and yes. Antique book covers, card catalogs and the architecture in athenaeums could inspire a pretty nice series of, say…calling cards.
  • Baby Shower Thank Yous & Forever Stamps. At my baby shower, my friend, Laura, graciously said, “don’t send us thank you cards.” I objected, but after Julian was born I honestly couldn’t remember if I had sent cards. The weight of her gift sank in. Since I’m not in the business of telling people not to send cards, I’d rather make it easy: A set of pre-stamped thank you cards makes the perfect gift and she can hand them to her right-hand woman to address while she’s opening gifts. Ta-da!
  • Think Beyond the Holiday or Sentiment. I can sell love all year, but Valentine’s Day cards only for a few weeks. When you’re designing cards, you don’t have to follow a prescribed calendar or topic heading (at least not for me). I always want: more love cards, uplifting sympathy cards, congratulations for endless occasions and new thank you cards.
  • Prints of your most popular cards. These sell. That’s all. (and you’ve already designed them!)


May Day Studio’s You Are My Sunshine is a lovely card and my best selling broadside print

III. Wild Ideas. Now we’re talking.

  • That Thing You Daydream About. Do it! I was a huge fan of Yellow Owl Workshop’s #getwise2013. It was so unexpected and delightful. I want more of this kind of thing. A lot more. Let’s make 2014 the year people have fun learning the difference between their, there, and they’re.
  • Wallpaper & Fabric from Your Designs. Both of these are niche markets and I probably couldn’t sell them, but boy-o-boy would I love to see them.


Yellow Owl Workshop made me smarter this year

  • Partnerships that lead to products. You have creative, skilled friends: Chefs, bartenders, florists, fabric designers, seamstresses, ceramicists, professors, stand-up comics, day-care teachers. How could you collaborate and produce something? I, for example, would love to see an OSBP illustrated cocktail series made into a set of flat cards – it would be the perfect hostess gift. (Ed Note: Ha! Okay, okay, I’m on it!)

I hope the new year brings you some down time with blank pages and new ink colors. I’d love to hear the wild ideas and trends you’re loving for in 2014…

  1. Love everything about this post, Emily! I had the thought of postcards for a new design last week, but wondered if anyone would want to use them. Thanks for validating my thought, as well as sparking some other ideas.

    Oh, and yay for the little hover notes on the links!

    • Cyn, Thank you! Can’t wait to see your postcards and other sparkings. And ha! Thanks for reading carefully enough to get the hovers. I love that you can do that, it’s like secret messages. xo

  2. I love this post – thank you so much! I knew I was on to something and am now even more excited to debut as NSS!

  3. This is – FANTASTIC! – as a stationery designer I’m always thinking what’s next and this month I am definitely taking the plunge into some new products! I am so excited that what I’m thinking about is being requested by customers!! Love, love, love this post!

  4. Awesome post. Been thinking about introducing bulk packs of cards and postcards and you’ve just confirmed this for me. Top work!

    • Adam, I love hearing this! Thank you. Also, since you’re British and a dude can I also impose upon you to make some classic stationery for men? I feel like you’d do a great job. Thank you!

  5. Wow. Honestly, you are a great writer and thank you so much for your insights that are really unique and compelling. Your column is a great addition to OSBP (and I already love it here!). I sell custom stationery and love seeing and hearing from clients what they are interested in. I completely agree that stationery for men is under-designed (not a word, I know) and that more and more men want to write a quick note to clients. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with us.

    And I agree, you rocked those little hover notes. They are like computer versions of the little notes you’re talking about!

    • Caroline, thank you so so much, your compliment is so appreciated! I adore writing these posts – but admit, I always have several moments of “god, I hope someone finds this helpful…” so all of your feedback is really invaluable to inspire me to do more!

      Also, since your line is for custom products (and for anyone out there making custom stationery):, I would add for you that people really want to have custom stationery with their name on it: pads of paper, blank notes, calling cards. This isn’t something I can carry, but it is in demand! I think if you had several templates that people could put their name into, it would be a big success. Thank you! Emily

  6. Emily, thank you, thank you, thank you for another awesome post! As a letterpress printer who’s been working hard to pull together a new line, these all confirmed my “do people really want to see that?” thoughts. This series has become my go-to for retail related advice. 🙂

    • Erika, I’m so happy, thank you! I’m excited to see where you go. I see you’re in Providence, one of my favorite places (college years and my dad’s family is from there) I visited Colleen at AS220 a few years ago, what a great space to be in!

  7. This post made me make a little “hmpf” sound. The slightly high pitched “ah-ha” variety not a sulky one.

    Some of my ideas confirmed and a few new ones sparked. I’m looking forward to an exciting year (my girl starts nursery in September, check me out no longer working the grave-yard shift and getting to work at 9am instead of 9pm!) and have lots of ideas already that now have a few new friends nestling in my brain – thanks.

    • Nicole, thank you for the sound clarification, I’m so happy! Daycare was such a gamechanger for me too – I had my son at the shop until he was about 10 months old. I loved having him so close, but it was great to have some new time too. Your line is fantastic, I’m excited to see what your (slightly more rested) mama brain imagines. Love those botanical note sets especially! xo

  8. Thank you so much for this post. As a budding letterpress printer who is just getting ready to unleash all my creative brainchildren into the world in 2014, this THIS THIS is the one thing I should be reading.

    I have taken notes accordingly.


  9. Emily, thank you for another amazing post! I’ll be making my debut at NSS this year with a brand new line of paper goods (venturing outside the world of wedding invitations for the first time) and I must say, your posts have been so insightful, inspiring and entertaining! Can’t wait for the next one!

  10. What a great post + start to 2014 Emily! Well, I am not really into trends but can speak about my bangs, 1 cowlick + super fine limp hair LOL!!! Anyway … I am a queen of “flat” note cards and wonder what you think of doing sets that already have a stamp (US) on them? Too costly for wholesale, etc.??? Tail wags

    • Denise, I really like the idea – I was originally thinking about this in the post, but thought limiting it to new mamas made sense to start (because everyone gets that they’re sleep deprived and the stamp saves a step). Truthfully, I think prestamping all with a forever stamp is such a fun idea. I wonder if it would be a value add that sells to customers – I’d like to think so, but there’s no real precedent for it. I think practically, this would be a direct cost addition (ie, without a wholesale mark up), you’d just pass on the actual cost to retailers and we’d pass that cost on, with no additional mark up to the customer – so those sets would only be the cost of the stamps more than non stamped sets. Does that make sense?

  11. Excellent observations and advice yet again, Ms. Blistein! As a rep, I can echo that I am also hearing requests for postcard sets (bday, thank you and love), the perpetual request for masculine card options and there is no doubt that love cards reign and don’t need to say ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ to be a hit. I will be anxiously awaiting your next installment! xo

    • Fantastic! I’m so happy to hear your concurring, Carina! Truthfully, as I’m writing, I do wonder if what I see here translates.

      Also, I feel like there’s a collaborative post in our future, yes? If people are still reading these comments, maybe they can comment on how they’d like to see a Retailer & Rep co-write/co-advise…(you guys, comment here!)

  12. Emily, I literally opened up a word doc. and started cutting and pasting into sections on where I could improve, where i’ve been lagging and where I could go.
    THANK YOU. I often am completely unsure of whether what i’m doing is perfectly standard or no one has the nerve to tell me that i’m in the back of the line. It’s a learning curve, but these posts help so. incredibly. much.
    Again, thank you and i’ll absolutely be following along.

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