Hello Brick & Mortar: Order Up!

If you’re in the mood for a simple nuts & bolts post, here it is: Ordering. Namely, how to get your retailers to do more of it. Assuming you like that sort of thing. ~ Emily of Clementine.


Illustration by Emily McDowell for Oh So Beautiful Paper

Let’s get gushy for a second: I love ordering. I devour your catalogs and squirrel them away. I take you to the beach and pull you out in front of the fire. At my shop, I’ll gladly fawn over issuu when I have 18 other things to do. Ordering is the dinner & dancing of our relationship. It’s where I commit and you send me a beautifully wrapped box. It’s the most fun.

Yet there are enough trips and starts in the ordering process that some orders are never started and others go unfinished. Let’s break it down and see how to get those orders coming in.

When and why do I make orders?

  • I make an opening order when: I fall for your cards & I think they will sell. Often, this is because you reached out personally (and maybe because you kept in touch).
  • I make a re-order when:
    • I run out of a several things that have sold well.
    • A customer requests something that has sold out.
    • A holiday is coming up (maybe).
    • You find a way to entice me.
    • You check in.
    • Your line fits and offers something new to customers.


A display of Birthday cards at Clementine. Color, size, variety. I often order based on how your line would complement my existing lines.


Your Catalog. Your Calling Card: 

The best catalogs (paper or online) have nice, bright photos and clear terms. Retailers are different, so ideally you have a paper and online option. Here are some pros and cons of each option:

  • Paper Catalog:
    • Pros: Well, we all love paper, so there’s that. Flipping, circling, dog-earring. I like them best when they’re mailed to my shop. I like them least when I’m lugging them through Penn Station.
    • Cons: I have to have it with me to order and I still have to write the order down and send it to you. Also, it seems to be standard for catalogs to have terms and prices in the front or back. This means I have to flip back and forth frequently (especially if you have cards, card sets, gift tags, prints….) This takes a while and is the #1 reason it takes forever to fill out an order.

NSS catalogs

Some of the catalogs that traveled home with me from NSS 2013. Pretty, but pretty doesn’t carry itself.

  • Issuu: Most of you use issuu, so I’m assuming most are familiar. I like it. I dont’ love it, but I like it.
    • Pros: It’s online so I can pull it up anytime. Your updates are instant. I don’t have to dig in my files. I can send you a quick order. You can link to it easily in emails to me.
    • Cons: I still have to write/email out my order and it’s harder to “flip” through if the prices/quantity requirements are at the back. Also, sometimes the format gets wonky, especially on an ipad.
  • Online: If you have good photos and an easy website, this is pretty much just a pro except that many (myself included) do love a tangible catalog. That aside, let’s look at several online options:
    • A wholesale site just for retailers. Shopping online is my ideal form and results in my most frequent orders, because it’s quick. Especially, if you have a large line.
    • Etsy Wholesale. Did you know Etsy has a wholesale site? I’m pretty smitten because it’s a one stop shop for me. You have to apply, but I think it’s a great option if you’re not ready to build your own online shop. Also, if you already have an Etsy site, I believe transferring products is pretty easy. (Don’t quote me on that, but I think the fabulous ladies of Etsy will be checking in on this post today, so feel free to ask questions!)
    • Your existing retail site with a wholesale code. If you sell online and haven’t built a wholesale shop, a great in-between step is to simply send your retailers a wholesale code for 50% off. You may still have to work out shipping, that’s ok.

Stop the presses! What haven’t you heard from me?

  • I have to fax something in. (Wait, I’m genuinely curious, do any of you receive orders by fax?) Requiring forms that I have to fill out and send is going to delay my order. Find a way to be flexible in gathering credit card and tax IDs so that all I have to do is hit ‘submit’ or wait for your call.
  • I like you too much. Counterintuitive, I know, but  I have several lines that I liked so much it took forever to complete the order because I was trying to whittle it down. This is why it’s so important to be in contact. Silence does not always mean I’m not interested. Personal contact or an incentive can put you at the top of the stack.
  • Your line is very large. Similarly, if you have 25 pages of product, deciding what to get can take a while.
  • Your photos aren’t great/Your terms aren’t clear. Look at your own website and have a friend critique it too. A tiny, dark or fuzzy photo wont sell itself even if the card is great in person. Similarly, if I can’t find terms or contact info clearly, I may delay.
  • Your order minimums are too high and/or are inflexible. I generally order in 6s (singles) and 3s (packs/prints) even when you don’t require, because your colleagues have conditioned me to do so. Ask around, see what’s standard. But also make sure minimums and terms make sense for your business. If you are ok with orders of any size, say so.
  • I never hear from you. When should you reach out? I covered that topic at length here. In short: ask each retailer what they prefer, and always be in contact a few times a year. If you are always too busy to reach out to your retailers, it might be time to hire a rep.

What makes me order (more frequently)?

  • Flexibility. If you accept orders via web, email and/or over the phone, I’m more likely order. I mean, I’m probably never going to call in an order, but making it clear that you’re flexible sends a message and I’m more likely to email you a quick order because I know you’re open to it.
  • You’re responsive and open to dialogue. This isn’t for everyone, but if you’re open to the idea of turning a card into a print, or altering your existing products, it could lead to a dialogue between us that strengthens our relationship and gives me a new stake in your products. Obviously not all ideas are good ones and retailers should never direct your creativity, but they can offer insights into what might sell that could help your brand grow.


Letter & Lark’s Woodland animals were singles. Colleen responded immediately to retailers’ desire to have them as a set. 


Scout’s Honor Co’s Antlers, was originally a card. I requested it as a print and Annemarie didn’t miss a beat saying yes. Also, take a page from this lady when you’re sending notes to retailers. 

  • Online, online, online. Look, I’m in the process of moving my shop, so I understand the feeling of being (incredibly) overwhelmed. If you don’t have an online wholesale shop, don’t fret. But I do make online orders far more frequently. I like to see the cards together and be able to adjust quantities in a cart. That’s something a paper linesheet can’t do (plus, the math).
  • Good photographs. I understand the ease of drawing your cards, but sketches are often very different from a letterpress card. Whenever possible, take a (nice, well lit) photo and upload at a visible size.
  • Social Media. I’ve been on the fence about how much social media affects my buying, but over the last few months I can say, without a doubt, that I’ve made orders based on sneak peeks or incentives I’ve seen (primarily on instagram, a bit on facebook).


Macon York’s Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Card which I saw on Instagram, had to have, and essentially started the order there.

  • I think you’re fantastic. I know, this is somewhat intangible, but my favorite lesson of the last few years is that I want to have business relationships based on kindness, humor, generosity and a bit of bravery. If you like a retailer’s aesthetic, be in touch. Don’t be turned off if they don’t reply to your intro packet, if they make a first order and then don’t re-order. I’ve built great relationships with people even when their line isn’t right for my shop, I love those conversations and I am always happy to talk about how a line may become right for my shop, or someone else’s. Stay in touch. We’re all busy. If you believe in your product, keep going.

Have another question about orders? Post it below! Also, are you getting excited for the Stationery Show? I am! But if you’re not going, I have a post for that too. Next time…

xo! Emily

  1. Great article, Emily! We receive a surprising number of orders via fax! But thankfully they all route to email :). And, yes, etsy wholesale makes it very easy to upload your products from an existing etsy shop!

  2. Fabulous post, Emily! You offer such wonderful tips here. Thanks for the shout out about Etsy Wholesale as well! You are correct that we are working on a tool that easily allows Etsy Sellers to import items from their Etsy retail shop into their Etsy wholesale linesheet. This tool will be launching in the next couple weeks so stay tuned!

    • Thanks Elana! I have one vendor in particular who had cards that I could barely see on her site but they’re so much more visible on your site. That makes a huge difference in finishing up an order.

  3. It’s kind of like you read my mind, and then wrote a blog post. SO, THANK YOU! It’s incredibly helpful to receive these tips from a store owner. Also — love the idea about offering a 50% discount code to retailers (from an online shop). I’m currently using a pdf catalog but would love to give retailers another option!!

    • Katie, thank you! And I love love your items, looking forward to seeing them in person sometime soon! This post took a while to write because I’ve had so many questions about orders so I wanted to try to collect all of the thoughts I had. I would definitely try to find an online option for orders. The 50% off code actually came about in a conversation between me and Annemarie of Scout’s Honor Co and it’s made my orders to her so much easier. She just refunds any out of whack shipping or tax costs (since we’re in the same state, it charges me tax, which shouldn’t happen since I’m a wholesale buyer).

    • Emily! I am wondering if you have any suggestions on what sources I should check for “tote bags”? I admire the ones you use and am wanting to Letterpress print on some new items. Thanks …. and I look forward to reading your Blog on your NYNOW experience!

    • Emily, you all are *almost* making me want to start faxing. If only I owned one. And you do bring up a great point – these are all my preferences, and I’m sure many other retailers have exactly the opposite view (and may be up in arms if you ever stop accepting faxes). That’s why I’d err on the side of several options and/or just gauging what your particular retailers want.

  4. Congrats on your shop move/expansion Emily! You start off with a great line …
    assuming you like that sort of thing!! Your post is so very valuable in many ways,
    I just like the way you present things. You mention about a line being too large, any thoughts on a small business not having “enough” products? Happy Spring.

    • Thank you Denise! I do think that having too small a line can be a problem too, but I’m reluctant to throw out a # of products that is too small. This is an area where it’s really good to be in contact with your retailers (or potential retailers) I’ve had to say to a few vendors that I really like a few things, but not enough to make an order, they almost all offer to waive the minimum (which is so smart to get me in the door). And that way, hopefully I’ll grow with you.

  5. The 50% off coupon is a great idea! Thanks for sharing that. I’ve been meaning to add a wholesale component to my site but I keep putting it off – this is a fantastic quick temporary fix. I’ll have to sort out the shipping from Canada but I’m definitely going to look into it. Now I’m hanging on the edge of my seat for your advice to companies not doing the Stationery show. 🙂

    • Xenia, I’m so glad! It is a bandaid fix, but from my perspective, it works pretty well! And I’d far rather have you spend time/energy/money on products than on a frustrating re-design. That said, when you’re ready a fully functional wholesale page is great too!

  6. Emily – Great post! As someone who does my primary business wholesaling to shops, this post is so helpful. And what great timing, not an hour after I read it this morning, a shop contacted me with an order because she had seen my work on Instagram! I too love Etsy Wholesale, and can’t wait to see more improvements! Best of luck with the move, things look like they are progressing nicely. Thanks!

    • Samantha, hooray! I really love seeing new goods from my current and potential vendors. Instagram is also so good for giving me a peek into your work process which just endears each vendor to me.

  7. Emily,
    Thank you so much for the helpful insights, and suggestions! We are just barely branching out into the wholesale world (making our debut this May at NSS), and I feel like when it comes to approaching stores, there is still so much I just don’t know. Your series has been so helpful in clearing up some of these “unknowns”, and I look forward to future posts!

  8. Another GREAT post!! Half of my orders tend to come via fax (I get an email with a PDF of the fax attached…I don’t have an old-school machine!) and half from email, usually just a listing of item numbers that they wish to order. I hope to launch a wholesale portal on my site within this year. The 50% off code is a really great idea . One issue that arises for me with that is many of my designs are offered to retailers well in advance of the general public (especially something like Christmas) so I’m hesitant to put those products up for sale live in the shop where everyone, general public and retailers alike, can access them. Have you encountered something like this where some but not all of the products you want are available in the online store, especially if it’s something seasonal?

  9. Emily,
    This was such a helpful post. I’ve just started offering wholesale and I always have questions about contacting retailers and how to handle it all. These are great insights that let me know that not hearing back doesn’t mean you’re not interested. I had a retailer contact me and after several attempts at reaching out with no response I gave up, only to have her place a large order a year later out of the blue! Lots to learn!

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