Tales Of A Fourth Generation Textile Executive: Time For Some Change

A lot of people are creatures of habit, myself included.  Unfortunately, we sometimes get so caught up in the habit that we don’t realize that we need to make a change because the marketplace or the world is telling us to do so.  I hate to keep bringing this up, but the people at Quilts Inc. for example are creatures of habit because they are not willing to make change based on what the market and current fabric business environment commands.  Sometimes people can get away with not changing the habit like Quilts Inc., for the time being, but others that don’t change habits could be left for dead.  The worst part about this problem is that it happens very fast so you need to pay close attention. 
Jaftex Corp. (parent of Studioe Fabrics) has managed to stay in business for 85 years because my family members before me have frequently taken long hard looks at the business to reevaluate, reassess and make change.  Some hard and pivotal decisions that were made over the years, especially under my father’s watch, included:  buying out relatives, selling the print plant, switching from the lingerie and sleepwear business to the over the counter fabric business, purchasing other businesses, separating our chain divisions from our quilt shop divisions and now once again we find ourselves in a position to reassess, reevaluate and reinvent.
So here we are nearing the end of 2015 and things they are a changin’ again right before our eyes.  The major change that we need to contend with at Jaftex relates especially to our A.E. Nathan division that caters mostly to the chain stores.  Currently, the by the yard fabric business with the chains has become near impossible due to the extreme pressure on the chain buyers and pricing pressure on suppliers.  Not only that, but more and more of the chain business is being done directly with the mills i.e. the middle-men (A.E. Nathan) is being cut out.  Unless you have the license for a must-have property i.e. Star Wars, NFL, etc., you are potentially in big trouble and most likely getting squeezed on any business you do have. The chain store business pie is shrinking and there are just too many companies out there to survive in an environment where the overall dollars up for grabs are dropping so hard and fast.  This became especially clear over the last year when Wal-mart started skipping over the middle-man for the first time. That was the last straw and that really shrunk the pie down to mere morsels.  
So here we are in a bit of a quandary.  Without going in to the boring details of what we are doing to tighten up the belt buckles and batten down the hatches, let me just tell you that we are looking at every aspect of the business and adjusting accordingly.  The problem is that some tough decisions need to be made and people don’t always adjust well to change especially when they have been doing the same thing for so long.  In any case, we are going through some painful steps to transform ourselves yet again, but we are going to do it because it is a matter of life or death….of the business.So Scott, what is the point?  My point for all the independent quilt shops out there is that you too need to be looking at your business all the time.  Don’t just be a robot and go through the motions because that is how you have done it in the past.  Ask yourself hard questions and make hard decisions.  Step away and take a look from the outside.  What do you see?  Is change needed?

Good luck!
 
“Change Is Good” Scott        
     

Tales Of A Fourth Generation Textile Executive: Quilt Market Complaint Fest, Hear What People Are Saying

By now, you are probably aware of my little attempt to push for change at the international quilt market for the benefit of its exhibitors.  This push is based on the new reality of the downturn Quilt Market has taken over the last couple of years. If you aren’t aware of my push, here are the links to several posts I have written on the subject for you to review and get up to speed.

As per my most recent blog, I am throwing in the towel on a public battle due to my belief that I won’t have any public support. That being said, this doesn’t change my belief that many things need to change with the Quilt Market and it doesn’t mean that I am going to stop talking and blogging about it.  I do have a lot of private support for the crusade, but just not any public support.  Somehow those people at Quilts Inc. have managed to silence the masses.  That is pretty powerful and I guess scary to many.  

With that, I wanted to share with you some excerpts from various emails I have received to my personal email account on the subject.  I am truly shocked about how the emails to me have increased in quantity as time goes on….I guess bad news travels fast or I have some how hit a soft spot with many.  The irony of the whole thing is that I probably have made more new contacts through my little crusade than I did at market.  Unfortunately, that isn’t very funny.  Without further ado, here goes in no particular order some slightly edited anonymous quotes from real people in varying roles in the quilt industry:

EMAIL 1
You make some very good points and one that will never see the light of day may have credibility. That is joining up with CHA, and yes they are having their own difficulties. The problem is that Karey’s show is a business for profit and she would not want to split that with anyone. Another reason why the show will never be reduced to only one show.

I’m not sure what the reasons were but this show was the worst for us in 20 years. Could be export, but doubt it. Could be the fact the whole thing was torn to pieces getting ready for Super Bowl 2017 so anyone trying to get to the end I was on had to walk a ½ mile from one end to the other…or people who decided not to brave the pending hurricane to drive to the show. Whatever…it sucked.

Keep me posted on any good comments as I too would love to see this perk up. We’ll see.

EMAIL 2
Scott-you make some very valid points…to be continued.

EMAIL 3
I am a very, very small minnow in this Quilt Market pool.  I do believe that you are on the right track and something will need to be done soon.  I chose to stay home from Market and spend those dollars ($1000+) on fabric selections and notions.  I did spend a considerable amount of time watching Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for any updates that might come from market.  I took notes and did research to find out more about the things I saw that would be of interest to my customers.

I can fully understand how it is becoming economically unfeasible for your company to pack up and attend market twice a year.  It might make more sense to put that money into virtual salesmen – gather your designers in one place and have a video conference call using something like Google Hangouts.  This conference call could be recorded for those who would be unable to be present for the actual conference.  

We have very nice reps in our area, but they have to be feeling the economic pinch as well.  It’s difficult to make a living on the road selling anything these days – expenses are skyrocketing and shop owners are way more conservative than in the past, just like their customers. 

Being a small shop with a very small budget, I’m very conscious of not asking reps to come visit.  I know it’s their job but time is money and I don’t feel right about asking them to drive miles to my shop and not walk away with enough orders to make it worth their while.  I do use the internet and social media to watch for new items that are being shown.

I would like to join your Fix Quilt Market Crusade.  The time has come to explore other avenues before it’s totally ‘broke’.

EMAIL 4
Scott, I just saw your blog.  I guess I live under a rock and am not part of the QM buzz feed.  You certainly lay out the issues.  I’ve been thinking the same thing since I got into this business several years ago.

I’m going to be in NY this Fri for some meetings and would love to stop by and meet for a cup of coffee if you have the time. 

EMAIL 5
Thank you for forwarding the below blog post to me.  I cannot express to you how timely its arrival was, as I was just talking to my partner this morning about how out of control the Quilt Market expenses are.  The cost to move items from the dock to the show floor is highway robbery, not to mention all of the other incidental expenses that come along with exhibiting in such a way as to be impactful.  Your post was right in line with my thoughts exactly.  I also read your first post, which I agree with as well.

The idea of one show per year is a good one, especially now because QuiltCon (which takes place in Feb) is taking some attendees away from the May show.  There has to be a better way. 

I would be most grateful if you keep me posted as to how your suggestions are received.  The fact that Karey, rather than taking the opportunity to open up a dialog with you, said “if they don’t like it, they don’t have to come” is completely preposterous.  Not a good indicator as to the mindset of the folks at Quilts Inc.

EMAIL 6
Enjoyed your Quilt Market post— and would like to be on your mailing list for future posting about it.

Good job!

🙂

(everything you said was TRUE!)

EMAIL 7
I loved your blog.  People have been talking about it saying it sounded a little harsh, but my response has been “can you disagree with anything he said?”  

EMAIL 8
Thank you for getting out there. I’m interested in your email and blog. Good  job.

EMAIL 9
The 9th email I can’t post because based on what is written in it, people can figure out who it is.  So I am going to summarize here….The Quilt Festival was an even bigger disaster than the quilt market.  This person was told that there were 60,000 visitors, but it ended up that there were only about 20,000.  Said person increased their market footprint based on this and got absolutely killed.  Also included was a litany of other complaints about the quality and price of the internet service, the parking fiasco, the constructions disaster, the blown transformer at the Hyatt Hotel which caused heavy smoke at the show for people to inhale, the fact that the show was filled with jewelry and crafts people when it was supposed to be for quilters, yada, yada, yada, etc.  More of the same that we quilt market people dealt with minus the smoke.

EMAIL 10
I enjoyed reading your blog and agree with most of your points about the current state of quilt market. I have been in the industry since 1980 and have seen many changes. Not many for the better. I have personally felt that market has become irrelevant to attend for quite some time. 

However, I (foolishly) exhibited at fall market this year. I thought I would give it one more try. And, I lost my shirt. And, I only rented 1/2 booth! I shipped the boxes to my hotel and dragged each and every one of them to my booth myself to avoid the drayage charges. I learned my lesson about that several years ago.

However, i don’t necessarily agree with you about joining up with CHA.

Several years ago, I was involved with a group of industry professionals (including two presidents of sewing machine companies) who were trying to organize an organization to promote sewing (I am using that word as all inclusive with quilting). We met several times and held several events over the course of 2 years. We got no support from the industry as a whole. So, the cost of this was absorbed by the executive committee and we could no longer throw money toward that direction. We had invested thousands and thousands. And, part of our efforts was teaming with CHA at a national show. It was not a match. Their customers were not our customers. And, our customers did not follow. I am afraid that will happen again. People are all talk. No action. And they are familiar with quilt market. the routine. the people. the venue. Teaming with CHA is starting from scratch and if you don’t have enough vendors there, the customers won’t come. If the customers won’t come, the vendors will back away.

Personally, I think there should be only one market a year. I think the industry needs to take a good honest “state of the industry” look at themselves. Creating two entirely new product lines is simply nuts. But we have created our own monster with the “new, new, new” mentality and I see no end to that plight in sight.

But the bottom line is that Karey can run her business any way she wants. She is laughing all the way to the bank. However, it is of my opinion that the product they are selling has lost its effectiveness and they need to reevaluate. But that is not going to happen. My major complaint with the tightening up of the credentials is that you are either a buyer or industry professional or exhibitor. I had many individuals in my booth that took up my time only to tell me they were a long-armer. And, may I buy one pattern at wholesale, please? I don’t mind them coming to market, but I wish the name tags would be more specific. They have an interest in being at market, but they are not qualified customers for my product.

I could go on and on, Scott. But I am tired of fighting. I (think) I am glad that I am on my way out. However, it does sadden me that I am kind of being forced out before I want to go because of the way the industry has changed. Many things that I used to include as a revenue streams have dried up with no financial returns. I am afraid I have no other options than to close my business doors.

EMAIL 11
I am a manufacturer.  We stopped attending Quilt Market because we were experiencing an increase in the costs and dwindling attendance.  We decided to place our emphasis in other craft areas.

We also stopped attending CHA, because it was even worse.  It was a four day show.  They, at one time, took seven exhibit halls.  When the bottom fell out of the scrapbook market, they were down to 1 1/2 exhibit halls with no traffic.  On one day, 3 years ago, almost no one passed my booth in an eight hour period.   Last year, I drove down to Anaheim, after the TNNA (The National Needlework Association) show and wanted to walk CHA to determine whether I should do it again.  They told me that I would need to pay $1800 to renew my membership before entering or pay $450 because I  would be going in as a manufacturer. Needless to say, I did not venture forth. I later found out that it was like a bowling alley, no people.

I believe the arts and crafts industries are at a crossroads  Young people who are opening small shops tend not to go to shows for they either can not afford the expense or they feel that they can find anything on the net.   They text or email and are not accustomed to face to face in this touchy feely industry which is truly a shame.   We may be headed for “virtual trade shows”.

I am interested in what you have to say.

EMAIL 12
I am a designer. I create designs for clothing and accessories.

I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it is that you wrote what you did. It is reaffirming to know that someone besides the independent designer is seeing what is going on at market. I have read both of your blog posts and can’t possibly agree with you more. We have been exhibiting at Quilts, Inc. shows since 2002 and have seen the decline.

We haven’t attended the Houston market for the past 2 years as we saw no reason to go. The attendance has been poor and it costs a lot to be an exhibitor…and we actually live in Texas, so we can drive to that show and carry our own stuff to the booth!

We have decided to exhibit at the spring show only until something changes. Even the spring shows are not as well attended as they used to be. I have spoken with many fabric designers from different companies and we have all been talking about how good it would be for there to only be one show a year that would move around to different parts of the country. I agree that it costs a lot for shop owners to attend and when they can stay in their shops and basically have market come to them, what’s the point of going?

Market needs to be more of a destination that it has been made to be. I am not completely sure what needs to happen, but it seems like there needs to be more value added to attendance. Perhaps keynote speakers? Or how about round table discussions with designers and shop owners about how to improve business instead of the way Schoolhouse is done now? Just a few ideas. I know a lot of us have many ideas to kick around to make market vibrant again.

Thanks again for your candor. You are right that Karey is short-sighted.

It is known that she doesn’t like to have designers that “don’t do quilts” at the show, but she still takes our money. It would be nice to have support from the organizers and the foresight to see that we have a way to market fabric in a variety of ways.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to what comes of this.

EMAIL 13
Hello Scott! Some other designers shared your blog post with me and I thought it was very well-written. I’m really very much the little guy (tiny), although I share the same feelings that you wrote about in your post. I exhibited twice last year. I didn’t have a booth this year and I won’t have one next year. I live in Chicago, so I decided that I’ll exhibit at Spring 2017. My products appear in other booths’ and in other designers’ product brochures. I thought that instead of exhibiting in what appears to be a flailing Quilt Market, my output could be better spent in working harder at social media marketing. Until Quilts, Inc. can get their act together, I’m okay with only exhibiting occasionally. Thanks for the great post and for saying what many of us have been thinking.

EMAIL 14
I have read both blog entries. I know what you mean about folks being afraid of Karey. We can’t be held “hostage” by someone who has decided to run her company like this. And I think that is the crux of the problem. She doesn’t have a board to answer to who directs the way they conduct business, so she can sit in her cave and ignore that her trade show is dying. Until one of you “big guys” decides not to come, I am not sure she will take notice. It will have to hit them hard pocketbook-wise before they will want to do something, and then it may be too late.

I have often thought that if someone would compete with them for a great show with better pricing and more attractive events, maybe they could be put out of business. I know that isn’t the intention of anyone…to really put them out of business, but if they aren’t going to change with the times and make it a good show for us to exhibit, that may happen regardless of what is done.

As I am sure you are aware, Quilts, Inc. was for sale a few years ago but they had no buyers. I think until the company is in someone else’s hands, not a lot will change unless they are slapped in the face with it. I think Karey’s reaction of saying that you could just not exhibit at her show is illustrating her defensiveness about the decline. Maybe she’ll reflect on that and the obvious declining numbers and decide to do something. Wouldn’t she flip out if everyone just decided one year to do CHA instead? That would be a huge wake-up call, wouldn’t it?

As you said, it will be interesting to see what happens. Again, I appreciate your candor. I don’t feel alone in this anymore!

EMAIL 15
I loved your blog posts and they are very true. I’ve heard it over and over from industry execs, but no one has had the courage to speak publicly! 

BUT I hope you don’t share my name publicly (hence why I’m sending this from my personal, rather than professional email), as I don’t want to bear the wrath of Karey. I’ll admit I’m a bit scared of her. 

Keep me posted, I’ve thought quite a bit about the challenges.

Personally, I think a non-profit industry organization could revitalize the industry. Components would be a trade show, shop and maker support, industry wide research and studies (not owned by a for-profit company like F+W’s study), online webinars, as well as partnering with other industry organizations to bring sewing back into schools. To promote sewing as a hobby to the general population to grow it for everyone. 

EMAIL 16
Thanks for sending me your Quilt Market blog. I did track back to the StudioE website and discovered you have been doing this for quite some time. Starting to read them now-very insightful and humorous. I have not seem anyone write about our end of the textile world in over 20 years. I am enjoying your takes on the biz, especially the QM. I hope you don’t mind that I send this out to a few other people I know in the industry, see what they are missing. I loved the history of Jaftex, seeing the old photos of your family. 

I believe your QM rant was right on. I feel the Quilts Inc people are getting a little complacent. The goal of the Show is simple, get us paid customers(Exhibitors)as many customers and potential customers as possible for us to see. I had thought it would be great if they expanded their offerings re Exhibitors to have some Apparel and Home Dec>there is no other retail fabric show now, so they would have a great chance to expand. Maybe try a new location every now and then-the Southeast or Calif. come to mind. There is the attitude from them to us-hey you are lucky to have a booth here.

EMAIL 17
Please include my on your list for future information. I have been an exhibitor at Quilt Market starting in 2010 – going to both shows a year until last year. It was ok the first year I went and then  I have lost more and more money each year since – due both to expenses and a declining number of customers. Thanks for addressing the problems with Quilt Market.

EMAIL 18
I am not a store owner, just a guild member and thought I would make some suggestions.

I think they should have market in the central part of the US around a major airport so flying costs would be more affordable and driving with loads and loads of supplies and decorations would be more cost effective.  I also agree with one show per year as I have friends that are designers of both fabric and patterns and they normally will only go to Spring Market rather than make both venues.

Another thing that needs to be addressed is quilt guilds.  Just a few years ago we had around $20,000 in our account.  Due to the high costs of travel and presenters demanding that they have both a presentation and class.  The guild is faced with paying for any unsold classes so now are balance is around $6000.  We have a quilt show next year to raise more money, but even show attendance is down.

It appears to the lay person that a lot of the stars of the quilt world are becoming divas and making demands that medium to small guilds can’t afford.  We are looking into other ways to teach and share at the local level, including guild members giving presentations or staying very local.

Any suggestions you can help us with would be much appreciated.

Good luck in your endeavors and we can all hope that America remains a capitalist country so quilters can keep enjoying their creative rewards.  The economy sucks and doesn’t appear to have a very bright future.

EMAIL 19
Interested in following this and agree with your article!! Have been going to quilt market 15 years and something needs to change…it hasn’t been good. I used to do both shows now I only go to spring market. 

Thanks for writing the post! Agree with it all! 

EMAIL 20
I know you are tired of email about your Nov. 5th post but I still wanted to say thanks!

I am —- and have been going to Quilt Market for 22 years, though I always skip fall market and starting to skip some of the spring markets. I had a booth once near Studio e and really enjoyed the staff working there. Very nice folks.

I enjoyed your post about Quilt Market on Nov 5th and just read your Nov. 9th post.

You are right on both accounts – problems of Quilt Market have been escalating for a long time. And the newsletter reviews every year – I just laugh, laugh when the numbers are better every Market.!!!! I have never believed those numbers!

But true on your Nov. 9th post, every one is just trying to make a living and cannot risk alienation. That is the saddest commentary of all! I think this phenomenon is everywhere!

Hang in there. Just wanted to let you know I appreciate your stance! I support you and any efforts that might be made some day.

Meanwhile, I am anonymous — cause I do need foot traffic!! lol!

EMAIL 21

Hi Scott! My name is —- and I manage a Quilt Shop. I read your blogs. I saw it on Facebook (—- from —- posted it.) Anyway, I am so excited that you are speaking up. I’ve been saying that something is happening in the quilting industry for awhile, but no one seems to listen. Or maybe they don’t care. I don’t know. And I can’t put my finger on what is happening either.

So, anyway, thank you for starting the conversation.

So what do you think?  Will this ever change or is this a lost cause? Hard to believe that nothing will happen when so many people feel the same way and I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.  

One last comment:  isn’t it amazing that so many people are afraid of the wrath of Quilts Inc.?  Kind of ironic, considering that we are their customers.  I sure hope my customers are not afraid of me because that wouldn’t be good in my business.  So why is it good for the trade show business?  Some things to think about.  Until next time.

This Is The Quilt Market Complaint Hotline With Your Host Scott “Solo”

 

Tales Of A Fourth Generation Textile Executive: A Moment Of Silence


I had prepared to share a blog today that included all the emails that I received regarding the ideas on how to fix the quilt market.  In light of what just happened in France, I have decided to forego my blog for this week to have a moment of silence.  We at Studioe Fabrics are praying for all those affected by the most recent tragedies and hope you do the same.

This gives you one more week to email me your comments about fixing the quilt market which I will include in next week’s blog.  Please email to scott@jaftex.com.  All quotes will remain anonymous.


Tales Of A Fourth Generation Textile Executive: Quilt Market In Review


BOO!  Everybody relax!  I am NOT going to continue on with my tirade and crusade against the Quilt Market monopoly as we know it and how it has become way too costly to participate. I am actually throwing in the towel right now for reasons mentioned below.  I am very proud that I was able to start the dialogue, but you are now on your own.  Sorry.

I will tell you that I received over 20 emails to my personal email account and every single one of those emails was in support of some Quilt Market change.  Some people were even harsher than I was.  (Another day, I will post a blog anonymously with all the comments I got so you can get an idea as to what was said.) It was rather unusual that none of these people that emailed me was willing to post their comments to the public…except one or two.  Under my breath, you can hear me muttering “wimps.”  This led me to believe that a public battle wouldn’t get me very far since I would most likely be battling alone and it would be an uphill battle all the way. I guess everyone is afraid of the repercussions, and the fear of the people at Quilts Inc. lives on…ROAR!  (I was warned about the wrath every step of the way). Unfortunately, without any support, I can’t worry about everyone else, I need to worry about my companies.

That being said, I believe the actions on behalf of Jaftex will speak louder than my blog words. In addition, your actions will speak louder than words.  The Jaftex Quilt Market footprint will shrink dramatically.  We will do whatever we need to do to get around all the exorbitant fees and make the quilt market losses more reasonable.  Unfortunately, profiting from quilt market is probably no longer in the cards.

Here are some actions that we will take: 

  • Forget sample spree.  
  • Fewer people attending market.  
  • Smaller booths.
  • Simple designs for the booth.
  • Reusable booth decorations.   
  • Doubling and tripling up in hotel rooms.
  • Staying in cheaper hotels.
  • Starving our employees.  (just kidding)
  • So on and so forth.

Enough of that!  Now let’s get back to the real business of fabric buying and selling. Now that the jury has spoken, I wanted to update you on the most successful and buzz-worthy Studioe items from this market.  

  • Double Gauze Fabric:  So we finally came out with a double gauze line called Baby Love. We decided to go with the real baby-baby prints.  We came up with 9 skus and we are printing these in Pakistan.  They ship in March 2016 in 15 yard cuts only.  I was shocked how much of this fabric we sold and I believe that is because the price and the recent popularity of this fabrication.  The one thing I did want to let you know about the gauze was that you have to wash it before using.  It does shrink, but in a really nice way….it gets so soft and yummy when washed.  Make sure to ask your sales rep to see this line. We are working on some great projects too. Stay tuned as they will be posted in the projects section on the website early next year.

  • Remember Cheeky Pumpkins By Dt-K Signature?  Well, Dt-K is back with the follow up line called, Cheeky Wee Pumpkins. This line is 15 skus and ships in April 2016.  It has been selling as well as the first line did and we sure hope it does better. You should make sure to check out the stripe pattern 3274-93, how awesome are the shoes?  


Remember these guys?

  • Got Colorful 108″s?  Yup, we finally are producing some colorful 108″ wide quilt backs in Spangle.  The customers have spoken and we are answering.  In the past most of our 108″ wide fabrics have been monotone, but we are changing it up and adding some pop of color.  Nothing too crazy and loud, but a fresh new look nonetheless.  These come in 18 yard bolts and ship in April of 2016.  Make sure to check out the red, white and blue version because that will be amazing for Quilts Of Valor and charity quilts.

There is a lot more to talk about related to this last market and Jaftex’s 85th anniversary.  I will however save that for my next blog.  Thanks for listening.  I hope to hear some comments.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words Scott 

Notes From A Fabric Rep: On The Road In Vermont

Blog post written by Shelley Houis.

Among the many pleasures that come my way in my travels as a Jaftex sales rep, is the opportunity to visit Vermont – especially in Autumn, when my route is ablaze with the brilliant reds, oranges, browns and yellows of the turning leaves. It seems that the coniferous trees are perfectly happy to provide a nice dark green counterpoint to the warm hues of the deciduous trees. I was almost stupefied by the splendor of it all yesterday while driving to a quilt shop at the very top of Vermont, almost at the Canadian border. As StudioE has said in their beautiful new line, AUTUMN ABUNDANCE!

To view entire Autumn Abundance collection, click here.

One of the things that a driver in Vermont must bear in mind is that although perfectly good superhighways like 89 and 91 can speed you along in North-South directions, the State is somewhat challenged when it comes to East-West travel. This is because of the Green Mountains which elevate the center of the State, from the bottom to the top. When driving from Essex Junction to Stowe, for example, to visit Carla at Stowe Fabric and Yarn, my car and I are grateful that nature has provided Smugglers’ Notch, a steep and narrow mountain pass through which smugglers and bootleggers of the early 19th century were able to transport illegal goods through thickly forested switchbacks, to and from the Canadian border. The notch also played an important role in the Underground Railroad, which helped American slaves escape to Canada. The winding road through the notch, at the foot of Mt. Mansfield (Vermont’s highest peak @ 4,393’), is closed in Winter.

Often, in Vermont, what should be a one-hour drive becomes a two-hour drive because only back roads, through small towns and miles and miles of farmland, can get you to where you are going. Such was the case for me, yesterday. The quilt shop in Newport, at the top of the State, is called Countryside Quilts. Flo Verge, her wonderful helpers, and their shop dog Buffy, are no longer frozen in their tracks by that gorgeous view from their parking lot of Jay’s Peak (elevation 3,862’). Unaccustomed to this kind of natural grandeur, I almost forget the purpose of my visit when confronted by that magnificent vista!

Image source, click here.

The back roads that take you from Newport to Essex Junction, home of Yankee Pride Quilting, go through towns like Troy, Lowell, Eden Mills and Jeffersonville. The roads go through notches and mostly follow clean, clear rivers. I saw several “Thank You For Visiting” signs without having been aware of actually having BEEN somewhere!

There is a very subdued commercial presence in this part of the world. Aside from the many farms, where the farmhouse is often connected to the barn (so that, I imagine, the humans and the animals can share the warmth during long, cold winters), you will see woodworking shops, maple syrup sugar houses, orchards, and the occasional, small, hand-painted sign at the end of a driveway, for “Quilts”. The Vermont legislature has made a concerted effort for more than fifty years to keep roads and highways free from unnecessary signs and billboards. You notice it the minute you cross over into the State. Freedom from signage makes it possible for you to really appreciate Vermont’s natural beauty.

Image source: http://www.dearjane.com/

Quilting is a huge part of the Vermont tradition and culture. The Dear Jane quilt is at the Bennington Museum. Shelburne’s Museum has more than 400 18th and 19th century quilts. The Vermont Quilt Festival is New England’s oldest and biggest quilt event, with hundreds of quilts on display every year, along with gallery talks, classes and shopping opportunities. The Vermont Shop Hop in March (mud season) will take you to a dozen wonderful quilt shops – and there are plenty more well worth visiting. The “You Can’t Get There From Here” aspect of traveling in Vermont is one of the best things about the beautiful Green Mountain State. I recommend Vermont to you as a travel destination, quilter or not, any time of the year, but especially in October

Tales Of A Fourth Generation Textile Executive: Post Quilt Market Complaint Line

Before you delve in to this blog about the current problems of the Houston quilt market and market in general, I think it is important for you to take another look at a blog I wrote previously so you have a full understanding of the situation and where I am coming from.  Once again, this is not an attack on the people at Quilt’s Inc., this is about how the Quilt Market needs to evolve based on reality and come up with solutions.  If the Quilt Market doesn’t evolve on its own and embrace change, the people will speak and force an evolution.  
I would like to reiterate some of the key problems with this quilt market specifically and quilt market in general:  

  • The US quilt shop customer base for quilt market has dwindled dramatically over the last couple of years.
  • The expense to come to market is cost prohibitive and it keeps getting worse every year.
  • Some shop owners can’t afford to be away from the office.
  • Shop owners would rather work with sales reps in their shops.
  • This year the international customers took a hit too due to the strength of the US dollar.
  • Of the 10 or so international distributors that I work with about 4 didn’t come.  So that is 40% less business.  Ouch.
  • Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate at this market and that caused a lot of last minute cancellations too.
  • There was a ton of construction going on by the convention center and it definitely didn’t help the situation whatsoever.  It was like starting over after becoming so comfortable with the floor plan and such.  You had to go to the third floor for lunch..talk about inconvenient especially when you just want to grab a quick bite and get back to the booth.  If by chance a customer stops by, you don’t want to miss it.
  • Attendance had to be down.  I for one do not believe the stats that Quilt’s Inc. publishes.  I sure hope they don’t try to tell us there was a 20% increase in attendance this year.
  • Sample spree went strong for an hour and then completely went kaput.  I did however appreciate that sample spree was made earlier this year.  So thanks for that.
  • I am not against unions, but the costs inside of the convention center are getting out of control. It is robbery and it can’t go on any longer if fabric suppliers are going to survive.

I am sure you get the idea, but now let me tell you some stories about the reality.  As a fabric company owner, I am friends with many other owners and key people at competing companies.  Word got around about my previous blog and my mission to bring the quilt market madness discussion to the forefront. Trust me, I am not alone.
In fact, I was still getting calls about this after market and I will soon be starting a petition or something like that very soon.  Something needs to be done and who better to spear head that than someone from the younger generation in this industry…the future and not the past.
The best suggestion that was tossed around that I heard was to have only one quilt market a year. Another decent suggestion was to combine with the CHA show as I have heard that they are having some of their own problems.  You have any ideas or suggestions as I would love to hear them?
Before I get in to the best part of the story, I wanted to note that we live in a great country where I can speak my mind.  Of course there may be repercussions, but I am willing to risk that.  Everyone keeps saying that the person that runs the quilt market (Karey) is going to put my booth near the bathroom so on and so forth.  To be honest, that works for me because the bathroom is usually very far away and I spend precious time going to and fro.  Not only that, but we really aren’t seeing foot traffic…because there is none.  We are seeing the people that are making appointments with us.  So in other words, we are a destination and whether I am in the men’s room or on the loading dock, people will come to see me.  
Ok finally, here is the good stuff.  So Karey, the woman that runs Quilt’s Inc., got a hold of my previous blog.  While she was meeting with an elite group of textile heavy hitters prior to market, she handed out copies of my blog.  Yup…my blog.  Finally some readers.  As the story goes, everyone reads the blog and this is what Karey says, “If he doesn’t like it, tell him not to come.”  No Joke!  I can’t stop laughing. This was the message that was delivered to me from the person in charge.  I guess the quilt market monopoly has gotten to her head. The first thing that came to my mind was how short sighted she is.
The second thing I thought was what a great way to alienate your customer.  Hey Karey, how about coming over to my booth and talking to me?  How about seeing that my family of businesses has about 10-12 booths here and about 25 people in attendance?  How about I am the future of your quilt market? Talk about a truly disappointing reaction.  In any case, this is where we are now.  Stay tuned for the rest as I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.
  

If you are interested in being a part of my “Let’s Fix Quilt Market” crusade, please email me at scott@jaftex.com and I will be sure to add you to my list for when the day of reckoning is upon us.  

What do you think of this?  Please share your thoughts and ideas.

Scott M. Fortunoff