Quilt Market was last weekend. My Instagram feed was full of pictures of new fabric collections, designers beaming proudly in their beautiful booths, and the crazy crowds at Sample Spree.
If you sew and follow sewing blogs at all, I’m sure you’ve heard about Quilt Market. But what is it exactly? How did it come to be and what purpose does it serve?
What is Quilt Market?
Quilt Market is the quilting and “soft crafts” industry wholesale trade show. Karey Bresenhan, a Houston quilt shop owner, founded Quilt Market in 1979. The show is produced by Quilts, Inc. and Karey is still founder and president.
The show takes place twice a year. Fall Market is always held in Houston, usually sometime in October. Spring Market is in different cities each year. Thus far it’s been held in Williamsburg, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Boston, Nashville, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Charlotte, Providence, Portland, and Atlantic City. Spring Market was in Pittsburgh last weekend (May 16-18) at the David Lawrence Convention Center.
Who goes to Quilt Market?
Quilt Market is a trade show and as such isn’t open to the public. In order to attend you need to show industry crendentials either as a “buyer” or an “industry professional”. A “buyer” is either a retailer like an online fabric shop or a brick-and-mortar store, or a manufacturer, importer or distributor of sewing industry products. An “industry professional” is a teacher, designer, sales rep., publisher, or longarm quilter. Note that children under 14 are not allowed on the trade show floor.
This year Quilts, Inc. tightened the credential requirements. Everyone was asked to reapply. Here’s what you need to prove you qualify:
-A company website with your own domain name
-A tax certificate or business license
-A letter of authorization from a current Quilt Market exhibitor
-A work contract for services or licensing
-Proof of two industry related published designs in books, magazines, or websites
I surmise that these new requirements are to keep what goes on at Quilt Market focused on the mission of a trade show (to do business) and not let it slide into a meet-and-greet, networking event, or sewing conference (like Sewing Summit).
What goes on at Quilt Market?
About 600 exhibitors have booths at each market and some have more than one for a total of approximately 2,000 booths.
The show floor is open on Saturday and Sunday. On the Thursday and Friday before the show opens there’s Schoolhouse. These are short sessions presented by designers, distributors and manufacturers, publishers, and authors presenting new products, techniques and books. Presenters pay $200 to have Schoolhouse and attendees pay $15 to attend the full day.
The schedule is available just a few hours before the Schoolhouse begins. There are about 250 classes offered, at either 15-30 minute intervals (although some are longer), and they run all day from 10am – 6pm.
What’s the purpose of Schoolhouse?
Schoolhouse is intended as professional development for shop owners. Quilt Market attendees are primarily shop owners who are there to get firsthand knowledge about their inventory directly from the product producers and to plan their inventory for the year. At Schoolhouse shop owners get ideas for in-shop classes they can plan. If you’re interested in getting a feel for what a Schoolhouse presentation is like take a look at this one from Spring Market a few days ago by Quilt Dad.
What is Sample Spree?
Sample Spree takes place on the Friday night of Market from 8pm – 10pm, although people begin lining up hours in advance. The word “sample” might imply free, but that’s not the case here. It costs $10 to attend Sample Spree and whatever you get there you pay for (although there are sometimes freebies like tote bags with purchase). Fabric companies sell bundles of their new fabrics and designers sell their new patterns.
The focus of a trade show is to do business. Fabric stores buy fabrics and patterns at Sample Spree so that they can make up new samples for their shops in advance of the release of new lines. The fabrics and patterns will be shipped months from now, but buying them at Market gives them a head start.
Quilt Market is a Business for Doing Business
Remember that trade shows are businesses themselves. To that end, let’s talk about the money involved. A ticket to walk the show costs $25. Quilts, Inc. keeps booth pricing is a bit of a secret. According to the prospective exhibitor application they say, “It is our company policy to release booth pricing information only after you have passed the screening process.” But, I’m not one for secrets. A booth is 10’ x 10 and costs $2,000. That gets you a 6’ or 8’ table and two chairs, but no walls. So now you know.
Should You Go to Quilt Market (and how come I’m writing this post and have never been?)
If you have a small sewing-based business it’s tempting to go to Quilt Market just to go. Knowing that shop owners, fabric and pattern designers, print publishers, and fabric companies will all be in one place is so exciting. Watching it all unfold on Instagram can underline that feeling even more.
Nothing beats connecting with people in real life. At it’s core, that’s the function of a a trade show, right? In real life you can talk to one another, ask questions, touch fabrics, watch demonstrations, and make connections in a way that just can’t be paralleled online. Meeting people and seeing everything yourself can set you up for lots of future business relationships.
Does that mean you should go to Quilt Market this year, or ever? Assuming you have the credentials to get in, remember that traveling and staying overnight is expensive. Before you spend $1,000 to fly to Houston and stay three nights just to walk the show, ask yourself,
“What would my goals be?”
“What am I hoping to do there?”
Do you have a new physical thing like a fabric line, print patterns, or a book to promote? Are you interested in previewing products to stock your online shop? Who can you set up a meeting with in advance?
I decided not to go to Quilt Market this year and here’s why. I sell digital patterns for toys. I don’t have immediate plans to branch out into print patterns so I don’t need a distributor. My toys are made primarily from fleece, not quilting cotton, and to make a toy requires very little yardage anyway so I can’t work with local quilt shops. It’s just a mismatch, at least right now. You know what I’d really like to do, though? I’d really like to go to Quilt Market as a member of the press and write about it here. Now that’s a great goal.