By Barb Bergquist
We are home now from Fall 2016 International Quilt Market that was held in Houston, Texas, and for those who aren’t aware of this amazing event that supports quilting retailers, I thought I would tell you about it. If you are considering establishing your own quilting business, feel free to contact me if you would like more detailed information.
First, Quilt Market is held twice a year, Spring and Fall. The Spring Market is held at various locations throughout the country, usually in May, and the Fall Market has been in Houston preceding the International Quilt Festival. That means it is held in late October since the International Quilt Festival is held in early November. Actually, the International Quilt Festival starts today, Nov. 1, in Houston.
International Quilt Market, as its name states, is open to designers, manufacturers, retailers, etc. from all over the world. I met shop owners from Australia, Sweden and New Zealand. I saw vendors from Australia, France, Italy, Japan, and many other Asian countries. These are all I personally can attest to, yet likely many countries were represented.
As the name intimates, this is an event for Shop Owners and their personnel. A person cannot walk in off the street and state “I am a quilt shop owner.” Strict requirements must be met to attend, and if you do not meet their credential requirements, you won’t get through the door.
For those who are interested, Quilt Market starts on Thursday with training opportunities that cover a number of subjects to help shop owners build their skill set. I would call them classes that cover the nuts and bolts of operating a quilt shop. A number of classes were available to me, but I chose a marketing boot camp. I took so many notes that I welcomed long discussions that allowed me a minute or two to massage the cramps out of my hand. Needless to say, I learned so much that my brain was on overload!
Friday is Schoolhouse. Schoolhouse is a day full of short sessions that manufacturers and designers are offered opportunities to train shop owners on what may be new for the season, what they may be offering at Market, or how to best represent their product(s). It is fast and furious with no time for breaks of any kind unless you want to skip a time slot. Fourteen sessions were available between 9am and 6pm with five minutes to move from one classroom to another. I learned quickly to make sure to get any handouts and drop off my business card for opportunities to win some of their products that I could bring back to my shop.
Saturday, Sunday and Monday, between 8am and 9:30am, focused training was offered, again by the vendors, that was focused and more in depth than any you might experience in Schoolhouse. These were called Teach & Take. We participated in three sessions. One was about Schmetz Needles and we learned that it takes 12 weeks to make a Schmetz Needle. You will likely see a future article on these needles and you will find them in our shop when we open. The other two were a bit different, yet very informative. One was about hosting an event that is fun for all involved. We are planning to give them a try and as much fun as we had in the class, I am sure it will be even more in the shop! The other was how to present demonstrations that are informative and helpful for you, the customer. Our choices were perfect and we learned so much.
Another part of Quilt Market was the special events that a shop owner may have the opportunity to attend. Since this was our first Market, we had no invitations to any large manufacturer events, but as Fabshop Network members, we signed up for the Fabshop Dinner. I will come back to the Fabshop Dinner, but first, I’ll talk about the large manufacturer events. These vary as much as manufacturers do. Some have elaborate events, and others have small intimate events. Since I haven’t been to any, I can’t vouch for what to expect if you received an invitation to one so I will just say that those who have attended are pleased with them.
And now back to the Fabshop Dinner. First, if you haven’t heard of Fabshop Network and you are considering a quilt shop, or a quilt-related business (such as long-arm quilting to just name one), become a Fabshop Network member as soon as you qualify for membership, but onto the Dinner. The Dinner is open to any member, but there is a cost to attend. We expected that it was a great opportunity to network, but were overwhelmed with the quality of the planning and detail of the Dinner. With a social time prior to the dinner to mingle, you whet your appetite with luscious appetizers with a cash bar while you visit a few vendors who are handing our goodies. When they open the doors to the dining room, it looks like Christmas. Each chair is covered with bags of goodies, an overstuffed bag of goodies sits on the table as a centerpiece, and at the front of the room are tables filled with door prizes. I walked away with a great start of items that I can use as giveaways at our Grand Opening. (If you are in the Rio Grande Valley, watch for announcements so you have opportunities to win!) We know we got our money back on the goodies we received at this dinner, and we had the opportunity to meet other shop owners and learn from them.
Finally, let me tell you about the show floor. First to give you an idea of the size of the Market floor, it had 24 isles with 20-50 booths per isle. That alone would be daunting for most people, and I will tell you it took us three days to walk all 24 isles and visit with the vendors that offered information we need. The vendor booths covered just about everything that you need to run a quilt shop. Fabric manufacturers were the larger booths and included the major manufacturers. To name a few, Hoffman Fabrics, Moda Fabrics, Clothworks, RJR Fabrics (parent company of Cotton+Steel), and so many more. Fabric designers presented their wares, and pattern designers offered new designs or ideas for BOMs programs (Block of the Month). Sewing machine and quilting machine vendors presented both tried-and-true as well as the latest innovations in machines. Vendors were there with services for shop owners such as laser cutting services, and supplies for shops such as bags, labels and others.
But the most important are the connections you make with other shop owners while you are there. Some of the best information you can get are from other shop owners who have experienced what you are wondering about. I’ll mention a few of the special people I met there, and I encourage you that if you find yourself in their area, you visit their shops. Beckie and Charles Yeary are the owners of Discount Fabric in Tazewell, TN. We actually talked on FaceBook first and made plans to meet at Market. Every day we were either attending the same class or ran into each other on the Market floor. I felt like they were my new best friends and was delighted everytime I saw them.
Virginia Green and her sister, Amy McGinnis are finishing their buildout for their new shop in Kechi, KS, near Wichita, Sewing & Embroidery Works. They are delightful and we struck up a conversation just waiting in line. They are a few steps further in the process than we are so we felt like kindred spirits when talking with them.
And then there is Karen Grof. She and her sister Sharon own Happy Apple in the Tampa, FL area. Karen and I met through a mutual friend and she graciously spent a couple hours after a long day on the Market floor giving me great advice and information as an experienced shop owner. With experience as the best teacher, she had a lot of good, sensible advice for us.
Many more wonderful people who were booth vendors as well as shop owners shared tidbits of information that will help us be successful. Many shared their knowledge even though I may not have gotten their names. As I have learned, that is the biggest benefit of the International Quilt Market. Was it worth the cost? I have no doubt it was worth our money.
So if you visit a quilt shop in the future and you hear them talking about Quilt Market, realize that they are looking out for you. They are dedicated to continually learn and grow so they can provide you, their customers, the best experience they can give. I know that is our goal!
Barb Bergquist along with husband, Ron, own A Block Away Quilt Shop. A dedicated quilter with more than 25 years of experience, she is now actively sharing her love of quilting through the work in her shop.