line sheet guide

The Complete Beginner’s Guide To Line Sheets

The straight answers you've been searching for.

Written by Clare

Hello! Here’s what you need to know.

There’s no such thing as a silly question. Not at Indie Retail Academy, anyway.

To build a thriving business from selling your work to shops, you have to learn how to think like a retailer. That’s not always easy, so questions are always welcome here.

In this guide, we’re going to look at five common line sheet conundrums which often trip up artists who are new to wholesale.

And I’m going to give you a straight answer to each one.

Before we dive in, please take a moment to look at this example of a line sheet. Yours may not end up looking exactly like it, but there should be some kind of family resemblance.

So shall we get started?

“What’s the difference between a line sheet and a catalogue?”

Your line sheet tells a retailer HOW to buy your stuff. Your catalogue tells them WHY THEY SHOULD.

Okay. If you want to sell your work to a store, two things must happen.

First, you have to convince the retailer that they’d be better off giving you money than not giving you money. They have to feel that stocking your work is a sound investment of their hard-earned cash, and that they’ll see a return on that investment when their customers buy it.

[Read: How to create a line sheet that makes selling easy]
Second, the retailer needs to know how to get the lovely thing you make onto their shelves. They need to understand the mechanics of the transaction – how much your products cost, your minimum order,  any minimum quantities and so on.

You have to equip them with all the details they need to make a decision.

A line sheet is very good at the second part. It sucks at the first.

Take a look at my example again. All the items are laid out in a clear, logical way. Information about price and quantity is provided. The minimum order, carriage paid level and contact details are on the page. All the details a retailer could ask for are right there.

But there’s no information at all about why this shopkeeper should stock your work. Who is your product for? How are customers going to use or enjoy it? How is it made? Why should the retailer trust you with their money? 

Your line sheet has nothing to say on the subject.

That’s because it’s only designed to cover the how part. If a retailer wants to know how to stock your stuff, it’s got all the answers.

When a retailer wants to know why, it’s up to your catalogue to communicate those reasons.

That’s where you show your work in action through lifestyle photos. It’s where you explain the process of making your lovely thing. It’s where you display your credentials as a supplier so retailers start to feel like you’re safe and reliable.

So your line sheet is a bit like the credits at the end of a movie – it’s as brief as possible and conveys only facts.

Your catalogue is the movie itself – it tells the retailer a captivating story about the lovely thing you make. 

When you get it right, both sections work together to make the retailer feel like placing an order is a total no-brainer.

Extra Complication:

Sometimes, “line sheet” and “catalogue” are used interchangeably.

A retailer might ask for your line sheet, but they actually mean your full catalogue including all the facts and figures. 

Avoid confusion by always sending your catalogue and line sheet out together. Neither can do its job without the other.

“Why can’t I put the details from my line sheet into my catalogue?”

You can, but a separate line sheet can save you money.

In the far-off days before the internet, when all catalogues were paper booklets, suppliers had a big problem.

They knew they needed a catalogue to sell their work to shops. They knew that catalogue had to tell the retailer why they should place an order and exactly how to do that.

But they also knew that sometimes things change. It might occasionally be necessary, for example, to adjust the price of an item or tweak their terms and conditions.

And if those details were printed directly into their catalogues, they’d either have to send out-of-date information to stores or shell out for an entirely new print run.

Those suppliers were not happy bunnies.

So they came up with a solution.

They decided to put any details that might change onto a loose sheet of paper and insert it into their catalogues. That way, if an adjustment was required, all they had to do was reprint a single page.

[Read: Why won’t these abominable jackalopes buy my work?]

The same principle still applies. If your catalogue is printed, it’s almost always a good idea to put the facts and figures on a separate line sheet. Unless you’re incredibly sure nothing will change, it’s the safest option.

Extra Complication:

But what if your catalogue is digital?

Making changes to a PDF is free and easy. Do you still need a separate line sheet?

Well, maybe.

The line sheet has become such an ingrained feature of wholesale that it can be a good idea to include one, or something like it, even if your catalogue is made of pixels rather than paper. 

So you might make a separate line sheet and attach it to your pitch email. Or, you could create a line sheet-style section towards the back of your digital catalogue, where you give just the facts about placing an order.

This can be very handy for retailers. Instead of flicking back and forth, searching for details on of a particular item, all the information we need is in one place.

“How long should my line sheet be?”

As short as possible.

Your line sheet is the cheat sheet version of your catalogue. It’s where you summarise all the stuff the shopkeeper needs to know so they can move on to actually placing an order.

Ideally, by the time they reach it, they’ve pretty much decided to stock your work and the only question is which items to buy. So we want the period between the retailer deciding to buy and them emailing you with their order to be as short as possible, right?

Of course we do. 

Any delay or obstacle at this stage could mean the retailer’s attention slips away.

So your line sheet has to be horribly simple and as short as humanly possible.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to crush everything on to a single page, or that you should leave out important details. You shouldn’t, and if you have a large collection it’s fine to use more than one page.

But brevity is the goal. The point of your line sheet is to make buying your stuff stupendously easy.
Feel free to ditch anything that gets in the way.

“How do I stop my line sheet looking boring?”

Retailers like boring line sheets.

That’s because, in this context, boring usually means simple.

Retailers receive a ton of catalogues. Most of us will read through at least a couple on a daily basis. Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of Christmas ordering, for example, we might look through twenty in a single day, or even more.

[Read: Pricing for wholesale and retail]

So you know what? A boring line sheet is fine by us.

Your line sheet isn’t the place to be clever, cool, interesting or ground- breakingly creative. It doesn’t have to make us laugh or express the personality of your brand. 

Save all of that for your collection and your catalogue.

In your line sheet, just tell us what we need to know – without any distraction, prevarication or bells and whistles.

You can certainly make it look nice – a clean, airy, well-organised line sheet is always better than a cluttered one – but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. 

Also, try to see things from the retailer’s perspective. What might seem perfectly clear and obvious to you could be confusing to someone who’s new to your company.

Imagine you’re a tired, busy shopkeeper who’s found a spare five minutes to pull together an order. What can you do to make that process smooth and hassle-free?

“What’s the biggest mistake artists make with line sheets?”

Here’s my top three.

1. Poor quality pictures.

Bad product photos make even a well-designed line sheet useless. They don’t have to be incredibly high resolution but they should be clear, in focus, in colour and have a white or neutral background.

It’s pretty hard to make an order if I don’t know what I’m looking at.

2. No email address.

Even if you’ve provided your email address (and phone number and street address) elsewhere, like in the main part of your catalogue, repeat it on your line sheet. Don’t make the retailer hunt around.

3. “Contact us for full details.”

The full details about, well, everything should already be on your line sheet or in your catalogue.

A few buyers will always have obscure or highly specific questions, and it’s fine to encourage them to get in touch. The vast majority, however, should find all the information they need right in front of them.

Expecting us to contact you about something basic is a bad idea – it’s just too much work for busy retailers. And if you try to force us, there’s a good chance we’ll just order from one of your competitors instead.

When you need to get your work in front of retailers fast, a line sheet is your best friend.

It doesn’t have the persuasion power of a full-blown catalogue, but it can take you a long way towards building a thriving wholesale business.

Clare Yuille Bio Picture

Hello, I'm Clare Holliday. I'm a shopkeeper who's helped thousands of creative people sell their work to stores, galleries and regular customers all over the world. Now it's your turn.

Worry less. Sell more.