January 9, 2008

Tips for Stationery Designers

After reading today's decor8 post on stationers looking for booth buddies during National Stationery Show, I thought I'd delve into some of the more business-like aspects of stationery. Specifically, how to market your stationery products to a retailer (be it large or small, I think these are good rules of thumb). I have a lot of experience in this field because I'm the first line of defense when stationery submissions come in. That's right, if you are a stationer looking to work with FineStationery.com, your products come to me. Scary, no?

Here are some tips for budding stationery designers looking to sell their products wholesale. I may add on to this later as I receive submissions and notice things.

#1. Know a little bit about the company you are contacting. I get a number of calls and inquiries from artists looking for someone to manufacture their line. This is not our business model and I think it is pretty evident from our site that we are strictly retail. I feel bad because by the time I'm able to break this news to them, they've spent a good 15 minutes on the phone connecting to my line and giving me their sales pitch. Or they've sent their publicity kits. All of these things take up a considerable amount of their time and, when you run a small business, you should really consider time wasted as money lost. By knowing your audience, you make your pitches more effective in terms of cost and impact.

#2. Start with email. Email is a fast, economic and eco-friendly way to contact anyone. Be sure to attach some images along with your basic information. It is a great way to gage interest in your product and determine if your lead is worth pursuit. If you get a call or reply email, you can dig deeper into your line and your pricing. If email isn't effective then, of course, pick up the phone or send a pamphlet. I just think it's best to start with email because, if the timing isn't right, you haven't wasted more than a few minutes typing and selecting images.

#3. If they seem on the fence, offer to send physical samples. This is a tactile industry. I know samples are really expensive when you are just starting out, but if we like what we see in the email, we want to touch it. We want to see the print quality, the cut, the paper weight, the texture and the way you package your products. So be prepared to send a little paper our way. Many times, the samples are what make (or break) our final choices.

#4. I am going to really regret this but - forget the freebies. Don't get me wrong, receiving the free blank or personalized sets of your newest and greatest is the coolest part of my job, but unless you're fairly certain that the company is interested in your line, you should save your money. One of the worst feelings is getting a free item from a company you know you will not be working with at the moment. It always makes me feel like a jerk for accepting it - no matter how much I like the gift.

#5. Persistence is important, but know when to cut your losses. Again, I respond to EVERYONE who writes (even if it takes me a month to get to it), but I'm aware that not everyone receives that courtesy. As someone who has worked on both the wholesaler and on the retailer ends, I know how much it stinks to send someone your labour of love and receive no comment. If you've sent 4 emails, made 12 follow up phone calls and sent your full info kit and still haven't heard a peep send an email letting them know that you have not heard and will follow up with them in 6 months to a year.

#6. If you're rejected (and if you can handle criticism), use this to your advantage. What didn't they like about your line? Was it the style, the paperweight, the price point, the print quality? Investigating your rejections may yield feedback that you can leverage into building and strengthening your line. Be sure to contact them in about a year to show them new developments in your line. As your line grows and as styles change, you may find that the company that didn't think much of your line the first time may be the ones doing the soliciting.

This is everything I could think of at the top of my head. If anyone has any questions, I'm more than happy to answer them! Post a comment or email me at kdriscoll [at] finestationery.com. I know, for my regular readers, this may not be of any relevance or interest, but it is something I know a lot of budding stationery designers may find helpful. :)