Hello Brick & Mortar: How a Retailer Preps For NSS

The 2014 National Stationery Show is a few days away. If you’re exhibiting at the show, your crates are on their way and so are you (hooray!). Last week, we talked about how to catch a retailer’s eye. This week I thought I’d give you a little peek into how I prep for NSS. So far it involves a lot of ‘getting excited’ and very little ‘buying of train tickets.’ รขโ‚ฌโ€œ Emily of Clementine


Illustration by Emily McDowell for Oh So Beautiful Paper

How a Retailer Preps for the National Stationery Show via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Step 1: Delight in your mailers. The weeks leading up to NSS are similar to what I imagine it would feel like to be a girl in a Louisa May Alcott novel with her dance card filled up. Which is to say: very attended to and very good. (Thank you!)

How a Retailer Preps for the National Stationery Show via Oh So Beautiful Paper How a Retailer Preps for the National Stationery Show via Oh So Beautiful PaperHow a Retailer Preps for the National Stationery Show via Oh So Beautiful Paper How a Retailer Preps for the National Stationery Show via Oh So Beautiful Paper

The mailers this year have been exceptional; color, creativity and the sweetest personal notes!  After the show, mail can be a little bit bleak. (In other words, not a terrible time to follow up with a little note to keep you in our hearts/minds.)

Step 2: Map it out. I mean this literally. I’m a very visual person and find it helpful to create an actual map of my route. This year I had help from my wonderful intern who put the mailers in order by booth number. We then talked through each vendor, creating categories of: current vendor, prospective vendors, vendors I definitely want to make an order with, and people I want to make sure to say hello to (nb: this has a lot to do with personal notes…). After that, I create a veritable yellow brick road of mailers. This gives me a visual road map that I can rely on when the lights of the show start to blur.

How a Retailer Preps for the National Stationery Show via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Mapping it out on Instagram. Am I standing on a chair or floating? You decide.

This mapping helps me prep for how I will spend my 2-3 days at the show. I will plan to break my days down into two categories: First, I make orders with my existing lines that need re-stocking. Though I’m very excited to add new lines, my current vendors have my loyalty. Second, as I walk, I take notes on (and photos of) lines that I’ve had my eye on and new lines that catch my attention. I want to take in as much as possible and note why I’d be adding these lines – do they offer something new? A product or category I don’t currently sell? Or am I just plain smitten with them? This is often a big, big list. So I take this list back to the hotel. The biggest question I ask myself is: do I REALLY love it.  In the moment, in a booth, with a wonderful vendor it can be incredibly tempting to just make order after order. For this reason, I try to wait at least a day to mull over my options and make orders with new lines on my second or third day.

Step 3: Never Stop Looking. I’m constantly on the hunt for stationery. My walking list will continue to grow up until I step foot in the Javitz. I have vendors in the back of my mind who didn’t send mailers, mailers that didn’t catch my eye at first blush, and vendors who come out of nowhere at the last minute. To incorporate them into my larger walking list, I rely on:

  • Pinterest. I keep a Pinterest board for stationery throughout the year. I pin new lines as I fall for them and revisit the board a few times a year (most notably on the train on the way to the show.)
  • Instagram. Instagram is a daily hangout and in the weeks leading up to the show I frequently jump over to the #nss2014 and #stationeryshow hashtags* to see what you’re creating. I love discovering new lines and catching sneak peeks of your preparations. Also, I think it’s a great leveling-of-the-playing-fields for getting all stationery lines in front of retailers’ eyes. (*I know we discussed hashtags last time, and I’m with the camp who just feels that #nss has too many non-stationery related happenings.)
  • Blogs. I check in on Nole and Carina’s NSS sneak peeks and to scroll back through their prior year posts to see how lines have evolved. I also frequently find myself in new places from their blogs and then back on Pinterest pinning what I love. I love the Etsy blog for giving me background on vendors. And Emily McDowell had a great post this week for fellow vendors. I agree with everything she said. And, I would only add that even if your walls fall down, phenomenal cards on the floor are better then half-assed cards on a beautiful wall.
  • You! I rely on my current vendors to tip me off to new members of the stationery community. I also appreciate all of the pre-show emails that are coming in to remind me of you!

How a Retailer Preps for the National Stationery Show via Oh So Beautiful Paper

A snapshot of my Stationery Board on Pinterest. Everchanging.

Step 4: Construct a plan for orders. This is the part where I have to quit daydreaming and start doing the hard work. I should take a moment to say that I don’t run a stationery store. Clementine is a lifestyle and home decor store. That said, I have happily let stationery grow like ivy into every nook of the shop. I have grown my stationery lines from 2 to 30+ over three years and though I plan to expand, I can’t expand infinitely. (This year I plan to add 3 lines, maybe 5. Ok 8 max.) So I make my walking list and walk the show with these this refrain: Will my customers love it? Is it in my budget? Does it offer something new to Clementine? And, do I really, really love it? 

Step 5. Walk it. I love almost every aspect of vendor interaction at the show: Visits with lines who I’ve carried since the beginning, hellos with vendors I adore from afar, and rounding the corner to be totally struck with a new line that rocks my world. I love that some booths are stunning theater-like sets and others are minimalist and let the cards speak for themselves. I’m not looking for one thing, I’m just looking to be delighted in roughly 2000 different ways. And I’m pretty confident that will happen.

How a Retailer Preps for the National Stationery Show via Oh So Beautiful Paper

 A section of Clementine’s current stationery offerings. I’m so excited to see what it looks like a year from now!

See you at the show!

Photo Credits: Bottom image by Jessica Anderson Photography. All other images via my Instagram.

  1. Hi Emily, I love all of your guest posts, but this one made me so happy! I love your excitement for the show and I’m not going to lie – our mailer was in your mapped out photo and I might have squealed a little when I saw it.
    I’m so looking forward to meeting you when you stop by booth #1450 – F as in Frank Paper Goods. See you soon!

  2. Love the post ๐Ÿ˜€ Be sure to check out our booth 1559… we’re making our NSS debut and our America debut at the show. If you love contemporary illustration, you’ll love our products ๐Ÿ™‚

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