“Market used to be a place to debut your new products to shop owners and pretty much only to shop owners and others in the trade,” says Linda Sullivan, owner of Linderella Quiltworks, an independent quilt shop in Southern Pines, North Carolina. “Excitement would build and then on the first day of Market a frenzy of eager shop owners would surge into the aisles to be the absolute first to see and place orders for the newest products. Imagine – no one else would know but those in the hall.”
Over the last decade the internet has radically changed the way information about new products is shared with shop owners and with consumers as well. Spring Quilt Market takes place in Salt Lake City in just a few weeks, but quilting enthusiasts who are on Instagram have already seen much of what will be shown, some of it weeks or even months ago. Following the #quiltmarket hashtag throughout the weekend of the show will let you see the fabrics, samples, and booths from every angle. In the 1980s and early 90s this certainly wasn’t the case.
How does the early hype and extensive coverage by attendees change the show?
Linda feels it’s had a negative effect. “The overgramming of each new product has taken the excitement out of Market,” she says. “Nothing is new and in fact, some products that have not yet been released seem old and worn out due to their overexposure. As a shop owner, I find that by the time Market arrives, everything new seems old and I can wait for my sales rep to arrive at the shop before purchasing. That usually means less orders as I have now had time to evaluate what I really need and do not make impulse purchases as I used to when Market was exclusive and exciting.”
In many ways Quilt Market is the ideal social media event. It’s a highly visual experience that lends itself to photography and it’s an exclusive event open only to industry professionals which means the average consumer’s only access is online.
Traveling to Quilt Market has always been a significant expenditure for small quilt shops. Jane Barnett, owner of The Quilter’s Way in Acton, Massachusetts decided about five years ago to stop attending Quilt Market due to the expense. “I’m sure I’m missing out on making some in-person connections and maybe on finding some new products, but I’m pretty internet savvy,” she explains. “I’m following bloggers and designers online and I know what I want to buy. Market is expensive and we’ve chosen to put those funds elsewhere.” Kelly Ann, owner of Kelly Ann’s Quilt Shop in Warrington, Virginia, estimates she spent between $2,000-2,500 going to Houston for Fall Market which she described as “financially ridiculous” for a shop of her size.
Social media does seem to have at least some effect on the behavior of the thousands of shops who do attend the show each season (Quilts, Inc. doesn’t share exactly how many quilt shops attend the show). Sample Spree, the evening shopping event known for its crazed atmosphere, was originally intended to give shop owners a chance to buy small cuts of the new lines in order to sew samples for shop displays. Today, it plays a different role for some shop owners. Elizabeth Nelson owns Modern Makers, an independent quilt shop in Kansas City, MO. At Sample Spree Elizabeth purchases bundles of the new fabrics and resells them in her shop. “My customers are savvy enough to see it all online. They don’t need in-store samples to see what’s new,” she explains. Elizabeth chronicles her Quilt Market experience on Instagram to build customer anticipation to visit the shop when she returns. “Reselling the bundles brings people into the shop because they are getting early access. We call this ‘sharing the loot.'”
The preview and sharing culture that’s developed around Market affects designers as well. Designer Maureen Cracknell explains her philosophy about pre-Market sharing in a recent blog post. “As a great lover of fabrics, I still get so excited to see the release of my favorite designer’s new collections. If I see it prior to Quilt Market, well then I can’t wait to see how they put their booth together at the show.” Maureen’s sharing strategy seems to be working in her favor. Most commenters on the post agreed with her with one stating, “I love everything you share!! Keep it up! It just makes me convinced I need your fabric all the more once it hits stores.”
Other designers aren’t so sure the frenzied sewing and thousands of dollars in expense are worth the effort. Reflecting on the time and expense involved in creating a booth for the show Ellen Luckett Baker wrote on her Facebook page, “Certainly having a beautiful booth at Quilt Market can create buzz around a collection, but I wonder if any companies have really analyzed what motivates their customers. These days, everything has changed because the customers might see the fabric on Instagram before the shop owner even gets to market. To me, this makes the samples and display less exciting.” Ellen wonders, “Is it time to re-think the marketing approach of investing so much time and money on a booth display?”
One thing that remains a constant about Quilt Market no matter what the social media environment looks like is the opportunity to connect with people in the industry face to face. Bob Ruggiero, Director of Publications and Public Information for Quilts, Inc., the company that owns Quilt Market, says, “Our focus groups, attendees, and exhibitors have told us that solely relying on social media to check out new products cannot replicate or replace the real Quilt Market experience.” He goes on to explain, “Quilting is and always has been a truly tactile industry. Seeing and touching a piece of fabric, trying out the latest product, and viewing the true colors of thread can’t be compared to simply looking at a one-dimensional image on a smartphone or a computer screen. Likewise, interaction on social media can’t begin to measure up to the face-to-face business and personal connections made at Quilt Market, as well as what participation in the multitude of networking and learning opportunities can accomplish.” The quilt shop owners I spoke with emphasized how much they value the opportunity that Market gives them to make in person connections.
Elizabeth of Modern Makers is still weighing Quilt Market in the balance. “There’s value in going, but how much? That’s money you could have spent on inventory. How much fabric do you need to sell to make it worth it? That’s hard to say. I’m not totally sold that it ends up being worth it financially.”
Still, she feels attending one Market a year is worthwhile. “At Market I can see everything at once and can better assess trends and excitement and what’s generating buzz. I really enjoy the community,” Nelson says. “That’s why I opened a shop – for the community. Quilt Market is a community building event and for that reason it’s hard to miss.”