Features Industry Profiles
November 19, 2021 •
A Dallas stationery brand goes from show floor to store.
National Stationery Show attendees probably remember Talking Out of Turn’s splashy, colorful May 2018 debut well. The zany house of stationery, or TOOT for short, came to life in 2013, when Melissa McCauley and Jim Martin got acquainted.
McCauley, then running a branding firm, began buying private label product from the manufacturing company Martin worked for. When Martin’s parent company bought a few letterpresses in 2017, McCauley knew the time to launch was right. She hired Kate Ortiz as lead designer, and spent the next 90 days designing merchandise, a website and a booth for its official debut. McCauley describes TOOT’s signature style as “a pinch of ‘can’t hush this’ with a dash of pretty.”
Over the next few years, as their brand garnered a devoted cult following, Martin focused on manufacturing and capital needs, while McCauley oversaw product development and creativity. Then a Dallas store, Jade & Clover, offered the duo the opportunity to set up a weekend pop-up there. That turned into a three-month residence with an “insane” reception from the community, Martin recalled.
On the day they returned their pop-up keys, McCauley learned another local shop, Set & Co., was closing. So in November 2020, as coronavirus raged, TOOT laid down retail roots in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood.
While setting up shop during a global pandemic presented a myriad of obstacles, it did not dampen their welcome, McCauley recalled. “We honestly didn’t know if the timing was right, but we knew we just needed to get it open. We were shocked by how well received it was. It was a little bit of pink fun and irreverence in the middle of dark time.”
Part of TOOT’s retail magic is in its overall approach, McCauley emphasized. “The thing about us that is so special is that everything in our shop — except Le Pen — is made by us! Our hearts, hands, brains, passion, and tenacity are wrapped up into every product. To us, it is so much more than just a curated assortment of goods purchased for resale from other wholesalers.”
For McCauley, customer feedback reinforces her TOOT instincts. “Customers keep telling us that four-letter words are much more appropriate than we ever realized. I am surprised in general that much of the world has as foul of a mouth as I do.”
Product retails from $2.50 “for the best gel pen you’ll ever use” to $80 for a cooler bag. The top three stationery items are planners ($38), bullet journals ($22) and weekly desk pads ($10); Top three gifts are Selfie Care Kits ($68), desk sets ($30); and cooler bags ($50-$80).
Of course, part of any successful shop is its website. That for TOOT mirrors its freewheeling, fun approach with its “Shop the Scene” function, through which visitors can shop directly from flatlays and styled photos.
McCauley updates this feature as often as she can to keep everything fresh. “It really helps our customers see our stuff ‘in the wild’ so to speak. We love for them to see how good it all looks together — visual merchandising on the Internet is so much more complex than in a physical space. I think the feature really helps with short attention spans and the forever endless scroll problem.”
In that vein, McCauley says she’s made too many mistakes to list since debuting the TOOT brand, but “one biggie is to always beware of organic SEO companies,” she cautioned. “Trust me. LOL.”
For now McCauley doesn’t foresee any big changes or course corrections. “Honestly, we’d just like to keep making stuff people want!”
Quick Q&A with Melissa McCauley
Q. There are some things that are timeless — a little black dress or the perfect martini come to mind. What epitomizes “timeless” for you when it comes to stationery?
A: A good pen and good notebook can solve any problem.
Q. If you were a stationery product, what would you be?
A: I’m a complicated person, so I’d be a planner, they’re kinda like fine wines. Complex to create, the good ones are expensive, everyone is obsessed with you at first, and kinda sick of you in a few weeks …. IT MEEE!
Q. What is the best buy under $50?
A: Our planners, they are insanely well thought out, with an accountability focus, topped with candy colored pages for $38.
Q. What have you learned about running a stationery and gift business that’s surprised you?
A: It’s a labor of love. Heavy on the labor.
Q. What is your best splurge?
A: Selfie Care Kits, $68. These come with a weighted neck wrap, weighted eye pillow, jade roller, mug, and letterpress card. We included a card because we figured most of the time this would be a gift. When ordered online, if you include a personalized message to the recipient, we write it for you. I absolutely LOVE how often I see this item come through (with) someone sending it to themselves, and writing a note to themselves!