Pro Tip: Launching your wholesale line at a trade show is not your only option.
In the paper industry, many brands look to the National Stationery Show to serve as their wholesale debut. It’s a great place to meet buyers, get feedback on your products and build relationships with press, reps and other designers.
Many thriving businesses are introducing their product line to buyers outside of shows and doing it successfully. Take E. Frances Paper, for example, one of Paper Camp’s 2013 alums.
After attending Paper Camp that February, owners Ali Flippin, Jenni Laundon and Pippi Roberts knew they weren’t ready for a big launch at the NSS that May. They wanted to spend time further developing their product line, building a marketing strategy and refining their sales tools before they reached out to retailers.
The E. Frances team traveled from their home base of Newport, Rhode Island to New York to scope out the National Stationery Show. They walked the show, took some pictures and made the decision to ease their way into the business.
“We were still figuring it out back then,” says creative director Ali Flippin. “We are grateful now that we didn’t rush it and launch because the NSS is a whole bundle of figuring it out.”
Instead of a big-bang launch at the show, the group focused on perfecting their product and developing business systems as they worked on their mailing list and soft-launching the company.
After Googling and researching stores they thought might be a good fit for their product, the team sent out packages to introduce themselves. They used a tier system, with the biggest packages going to those stores that were the best fit. The gifts included a balloon, samples and more information about E. Frances.
“We wanted to bring on new customers and encourage social shares to introduce our name to retailers. It worked well and we built on that,” says Flippin.
As those new customers came on board, the team was able to develop and refine systems for fulfilling orders. They figured out what size boxes they needed, how to package the product, how much time it takes and what kind of inventory they’d need on hand. They started small, gradually adding handful after handful of new customers.
E. Frances participated in its first NSS in May 2014, and by then, they were ready. The company doubled its wholesale accounts while there, proof that their hard work and preparation had paid off
Today, E. Frances is found in the national chain Paper Source as well as specialty and boutique stores across North America and in Europe, Asia and online.
The Low-Down, from Ali Flippin
“We should have hired a bookkeeper way earlier than we did. I thought we were too small, we couldn’t afford something we could do ourselves, etc. But it changed our business drastically—organizing our books, preparing us for taxes, giving us general advice about organizing our banking. It’s the absolute best money you can spend. You can start off pretty small with a freelance bookkeeper, for only a few hours per month. Running a company, no matter how small, is still running a company, and requires a lot of accounting and organizational skills. If you don’t have these skills, outsource!”
Ali’s Thoughts on Paper Camp
“We could not have done it without Paper Camp. When we started, there wasn’t any information online about starting a paper business. The things I learned from Paper Camp were invaluable, from preparing for the show to standard processes to business standards.”