From the outside, Quilt Market looks like one big candy store—all those gorgeous new fabrics, all those fascinating books and notions. What gets lost sometimes is Quilt Market’s reason for being—to help quilt store owners do one-stop shopping, so they can share all that quilty goodness with their customers. And being surrounded by all that goodness can be stressful! So many options, so many choices. I asked a few experienced shop owners how they plan for Quilt Market, and about their strategies for navigating Market’s myriad temptations.
(This is a long post, but has some really great information for shop owners considering how best to approach Market. So hang in there!)
First up are Charla and Bobbi from Valley Fabrics (seen here enjoying the rhododendrons during Quilt Market in Portland).
We go to Quilt Market once a year, usually in the spring. We always go to Schoolhouse, wanting to see the newest fabrics, notions, ideas, and patterns. We like Sample Spree because of the excitement and possibility of seeing something great for the first time. The first day of Market we try to walk the whole market making notes as we go. We’ve been in business 37 years so we have a feel for what our customers like. We watch for trends such as color, hand embroidery, wool fabrics, and more. We take brochures and ideas home at night and spend some time deciding what to buy. We like to be the first quilt shop in our area to have the newest thing. We do not buy very much fabric at Market but instead watch for interesting patterns and notions items that we might not otherwise see from our loyal salesman. Lunch time is important to us because we talk to other store owners and exchange ideas on classes, trends, etc. We’re happy to bring books patterns and some notions home with us. We look forward to Quilt Market!
Next up is Heidi McHugh from Yoder Department Store.
Our strategy when going to Market includes sending two people for two distinct purposes: one goes for product for Yoder Department Store and one for the Shipshewana Quilt Festival. (Shipshewana Quilt Festival is a four-day event that we are very involved in planning with a quilt and vendor show, Schoolhouse, shop hop, and lectures and workshops by internationally-known speakers like Marianne Fons, Eleanor Burns, and Edyta Sitar.) For both, prior to going to Market we talk through goals and make a plan for executing the strategy. It’s easy to get caught up and distracted in all the activity of market, so with a plan and goals we know what needs to be accomplished in addition to having fun and seeing what’s new.
Our focus for Yoder Department Store is to look for fresh designs and new notions with easier ways of doing things that excite us and that we can be excited bring back to our customers. Fabric Department Manager Candice Parker likes to go to Schoolhouse because she can get a lot of information in one place to understand what’s happening in the industry. Even though solid fabric is our staple, we also carry a lot of collections and we pay attention to what is selling here. We don’t buy something just because it’s new if it is similar to something that isn’t working for our customers. And we listen to our customers—for example, that is how we picked up Moda several decades ago—our customers came in asking for it!
A Shipshewana Quilt Festival representative focuses more on checking out new industry talent, as well as on connecting with current Festival sponsors, like Moda who sponsors the Best of Show Award, and developing relationships with other companies who are interested in sponsoring aspects of the Festival. With many lectures, workshops, and our own unique version of a quilter’s Schoolhouse, we try to bring in a mix of presenters, from long-time industry favorites to innovating newcomers, so that attendees experience a fun, educational Festival no matter what they participate in.
Finally, Julie Karasek of Patched Works in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, shares her very organized approach to Market. So, so many great tips, here! Read on!
Quilt Market is an exciting time of year. It is a semi-annual event that gets us out of the daily routine and gives us a chance to meet up with colleagues, check out the new trends, and get inspired.
It’s not all fun and games. It is a lot of work. To make the most out of Quilt Market, I do a few things before I step foot on the trade show floor.
- Review my open orders.
- Estimate dollars already committed by month. You can do this by simply recording rounded order totals on the side of a calendar page or creating a sophisticated spreadsheet or database.
- Analyze the categories of the fabric orders. We order fabric so far ahead of time, it is critical to re-evaluate to make sure that in six months we don’t end up with an entire inventory of one look of fabric, unless you have a single-themed store.
- I used to bring all open orders with me. I have found the detail does me little good and the extra paperwork weighs me down.
- Take a walk through my store.
- What am I missing? Make a note—buy some more.
- Do I have inventory that is not moving? Make a note—don’t buy anymore of that and/or find inspirational ideas at Market of ways to sell it.
- Look at my upcoming event calendar.
- Do I have something to sell at each upcoming event in the next 30 – 60 – 90 – 120 days?
- Can I negotiate trunk shows to enhance the events?
- Do I need to buy a bulk of product and ensure it arrives at the event? Make sure the vendor is able to meet the date required.
- Make a list.
- Bring a list of reorders needed.
- Is there a new “Thing” my customers have asked about?
- How much money do I have to spend per month? Make sure to leave money for restocking basics!
- Do I have questions I need to ask my vendors?
- Are there specific designers I need to visit to get the latest support for ongoing programs?
- Bring your schedule of vendor appointments and classes enrolled. Be courteous and respectful of your appointment times.
- Know your monthly budget.
Once I arrive and start placing orders, I make sure to continue to tally those dollars committed. Tracking on the side column of a pocket calendar that also lists my events is super helpful. Orders add up quickly and in the excitement of Market I need to make sure I continue to behave as a shop owner and not a consumer binging at a shop hop.
Even though I have done a lot of prep work, I look for trends and new things for inspiration. I look for ways of merchandising product. I look for clever displays. I listen for sales techniques. I take way too many photos and notes. There is a lot of product and stimulation to wade through. Sometimes just by reviewing the photos at night or on the plane ride home I get that “a-ha” moment that I was seeking from the trip.
I am not a fashionista, though I do carefully dress for Market. I want to look like a creative professional. I dress differently than I would everyday in the shop. I update my wardrobe to stay relevant but not too trendy. I dress in layers as temperature in convention centers is always an unknown. I don’t currently sew a wardrobe for Market as I want to be seen as impartial when meeting with various fabric vendors.
I leave my laptop and purse in the hotel. I carry a briefcase tote with wallet, camera, file folder, pen, notebook, calendar and business cards. I take out all of my paperwork and goodies from the previous day every morning out of my briefcase tote.
I travel to Market with a two pieces of luggage and totes to use for carry-ons for taking things home. I have been known to mail home my clothes.
Last but not least, I take some time for fun. I take a deep breath, indulge in some treats and meet up with old friends for some laughs. We chose this business to follow our passions. Let’s make sure we have some fun along the way!
Well said, Julie! And all the best to shop owners who are planing their own strategies for making the most of Quilt Market. Do any of you have additional tips? We’d love to hear them!