Each fall and spring for the last ten years Quilts, Inc., the company that owns Quilt Market, has published the attendance numbers for the show in their newsletter. Over the years that I’ve been reporting on the quilting industry, I’ve heard many people express skepticism about the accuracy of these numbers. Just last week I was talking about Quilt Market with an industry executive who said, his voice laden with sarcasm, “Oh sure, every show is a smash success.” I know that the attendance numbers are self-reported and they certainly could be inflated, but I choose to take them at face value. They are the only numbers we have and I think they do tell a worthwhile story of the way our industry trade show is changing.
A few years ago I thought it might be interesting to compile the Quilt Market attendance numbers and make a chart. With the help of some friends, I was able to find issues of the Quilt Market eInsider newsletter dating back to 2008. I contacted Quilts, Inc. to request data going back further because I thought it would be really fascinating to track the show’s attendance from its inception in 1979, but they denied my request.
|Spring 2011||Salt Lake City||3009||559||1049.5|
|Spring 2012||Kansas City||3311||554||1040|
|Spring 2016||Salt Lake City||2302||411||899|
|Spring 2017||St. Louis||2104||405||835.5|
A few things affect the data. Just before Spring 2014 Quilt Market Quilts, Inc. tightened the credentials required to attend the show. This led to a decrease in attendance because consumers who were able to get into the show previously were no longer allowed. It didn’t affect the number of exhibitors or the number of booths, however. And Spring Quilt Market is harder to compare year over year than the fall show because of the venue shifts, but it does return to the same venue approximately every five years so some comparison is still possible.
Unfortunately, as of spring 2018 Quilts, Inc., is no longer publicly publishing show attendance numbers. I have those numbers because I requested them as a potential exhibitor, but I’ve been told by Bob Ruggiero, Vice President of Communications, that I am not allowed to share them publicly or online.
Anyone can see by looking at the data that Quilt Market is in a slow decline. And you can surmise by the fact that Quilts, Inc. no longer wishes to share this data that the decline continues.
I’ve compiled and shared this data because I firmly believe in the idea that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. This show is vitally important to our industry and it needs to change if it’s going to survive. As it stands now the chances that it will be financially viable to have two shows a year five years from now seems slim.
One thing that’s really striking to me about meeting new people in the industry is how the reaction to Quilts, Inc. is always the same. When the topic of Quilt Market comes up nobody ever says, “What an innovative company!” or “Wow, Quilts, Inc is really on the cutting edge!” Without fail, people roll their eyes and say something about close-minded leadership that’s stuck in the past.
The way that a company grows is by learning, seeing different perspectives, and being willing to look at things in a way they didn’t see them before. That can only come by surrounding yourself with people of diverse of backgrounds and with diversity of thought. Rather than hiding the data from the public, why not use this opportunity to bring people together to sit down and reinvent the show: trade show experts, shop owners, manufacturers, and marketers including bloggers and influencers. Retail is in flux, but people are still buying products. There’s a lot to learn and this show could be the nexus.
Quilt Market is a valuable component of our industry, even if it’s no longer the order-writing show it once was. Being able to analyze the data and fully understand the big picture helps all of us see what’s really happening and rethink the function of this event going forward. Unfortunately, beyond what we see here, that data is no longer available to us.