To: Karey Patterson Bresenhan & Nancy O’Bryant
From: Scott Fortunoff of the Jaftex Companies
Re: Making Quilt Market Great Again, Vendors UNITE!
Dear Ms. Bresenhan & Ms. O’Bryant,
Thank you both so much for taking the time to meet with me in Houston to discuss the current state of the Quilt Market (QM). As we discussed, after I attended the early morning QM vendor meeting, I learned that the next 6 QMs were already booked. That threw me for a loop as that essentially made it impossible to implement any of the ideas that I prepared to present in our discussion to make the QM great again. This was obviously disappointing, but you are running a business and these sorts of things need to be planned out well in advance. So I can absolutely understand your predicament.
I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the things that we discussed at the meeting as inquiring minds want to know. Please note that in spite of not being a proponent of long blogs without pictures, this one is unfortunately both of those, but please stay with me because everyone should hear everything that is being said from start to finish. This is truly an important matter for all of us.
- Everyone’s (including your own) disappointment that the outside of the Houston Convention Center looked and smelled just how we left it last year. You assured me that it would be in good shape for next year’s QM.
- We discussed the note that you put in to the buyer’s guide acknowledging the difficult state of the industry. I was glad to see your realization as to the current environment for convertors and quilt shop owners alike. It shows that you are aware of the challenges that we all face right now.
- I inquired about the availability of booths at market and you said you were sold out. That might be the case, and I hope it was for your sake, but if you ask me, it looked like there were a lot of empty spaces and fewer rows. It would be interesting to see the year over year booth count comparisons. Right now this is probably a moot point, but it would be nice to see all statistics come from an impartial third party rather than Quilts Inc. itself. It isn’t much different than the general attendance numbers that are reported after each QM. No one in their right mind, no offense, would agree that the attendance has remained stable or continues to go up. To me, this is really more about trust, accuracy and making vendor attendees feel like they are getting their money’s worth based on hard facts. This would help to further the relationship between Quilt’s Inc. and its vendor attendees. It would also go a long way to help us all sleep better at night knowing that a great opportunity at market really still does exist.
- I mentioned to you that I knew a lot of fabric suppliers (my companies included) and distributors that have been reducing their QM footprint i.e. by having fewer booths, bringing in fewer people, not doing sample spree, getting the people in and out quicker, etc. Perhaps it would be worth your while to have some generous incentives to get people to increase their booth sizes to where they were in previous years. At some point, it is just about taking in more revenue and every dollar that you take in goes to the bottom line. This would definitely show some good faith on your part towards the vendors which would probably be greatly appreciated by all.
- We discussed the fact that David Textiles did not have a booth this market, which was probably a first for them. We also discussed the fact that other vendors were considering doing the same, but everyone was a little timid to be the first one to pull the trigger. I have even heard of some vendors that just get hotel rooms and see customers without having to go through the hassles of putting a booth together.
- We discussed ways in which we could attract more large international customers back to QM. At one point you stated that the international customers were up, I believe you said, 39%. At which point, Nancy interjected to clarify that this was on a much smaller number. In other words, because the numbers are so low, the percentages are exaggerated based on small increases in this case. On that note, I mentioned that we were really not talking about the same types of international customers. We fabric vendors need more international fabric distributors who buy fabric lines up front i.e. true international partners. We do not need a couple international shop owners, nor do we need a couple international suppliers of thread for example. In short, I would venture to guess that the types of international customers that I am referring to were probably in fact down this QM over last. I know that of the normal 10-12 international distributors that I see, at least 4-5 were not in attendance this QM. So I would consider that a 25-50% drop for me which would strongly go against your 39% increase. In any case, moving on.
- We discussed moving QM to an earlier date i.e. around May 1 and October 1. I mentioned that attendance is constantly battling against graduations in May and Halloween in October. Based on the current schedule, our companies no longer have brand new lines to release at market. Our new lines come out May 1 and October 1. So the excitement of coming to market to see new stuff isn’t there anymore. Many other companies are on a similar release schedule so earlier dates would probably benefit everyone and bring back some of that excitement and the WOW! The truth is that if a fabric convertor waits until QM to release new lines, their sales reps probably won’t have enough time to cover their entire territories before things slow down in mid-December. Our reps do get additional new lines in January so that is when the next cycle would begin. So as we go later and later in to the year, it only gets worse and more challenging for the sales reps. With that, I was shocked to hear that the October 2018 QM was now moving to the first week of November. No one was happy to hear that, including yourself, but apparently there is a city wide event going on at our usual time, which is a big conflict that can’t be avoided. Needless to say, everyone would have been happy with an earlier date than a later one.
- We discussed trying different venues and venues without unions. I suggested trying some venues that are a lot more user friendly i.e. central US, capable of being driven to, easier to fly to, have a lot more tourism and food possibilities, more affordable, etc. I mean, who wants to schlep out to Portland, Oregon (no offense E.E. Schenck peeps)? The problems that you mentioned were that many venues could either not fit our QM or they were too expensive. Those are real problems that only you can address, but please keep looking and thinking outside the box for everyone’s sake because change is a good thing, but sometimes difficult to embrace.
- Karey & Nancy, I just want to say that you need to be in better touch with the pulse of this industry as it is today in 2016/7. We all know that QM has changed a lot since the inception. Perhaps it is time to put some young entrepreneurs on your executive board to try to get this QM back on track and in line with the new fast paced world that we live in with the internet, social media, etc. You did mention that at least on spot on your board recently opened up. I kind of thought that you were going to ask me to fill that spot. NOT! A few people come to mind that I think would be great additions and could add true value to your board. Of course, there is yours truly, but we can all still agree that isn’t happening. Come on, laugh! Keep in mind that I have not discussed this with any of these people, but here are few bright young people in our industry who I think could do your board a real service and I am sure there are plenty of others.
- Brad Krieger Of Checker.
- Arvin Pairavi of Shannon Fabrics.
- Michael Steiner of Michael Miller.
- Steve Haupt of Camelot.
Alright, so that just about sums up our conversation and gives everyone an overview of what we discussed. So now the million dollar question is: where do we go from here and how do WE make QM great again? Before I answer that question, I want to mention the number of people that came up to me at QM to see if I made any progress in my discussions with the Quilt’s Inc. team. There must have been at least 20 and they would stop me in the most random places like the elevator, the bathroom or while ordering lunch. Needless to say, I have met some nice people in some strange places. This showed me that people really do care otherwise they would not have asked about it especially while I was using the restroom. Just a side note, even Karen Montgomery, who is my favorite Fab Shop writer and also a quilt shop owner, asked me about it. I didn’t even know she knew who I was. I was star struck!
With that, I started to think about the fact that many vendors do care about market. They all want it to be great again, but they just don’t know how to do it. Of course, I wish I had some powers to make it great again, but I don’t. On the other hand, I have the next best thing. I have some ideas of how WE, the vendors, can put the onus on ourselves to make QM great again. The people at Quilt’s Inc. can only do so much and we know that they are trying their best. Case in point, I heard from my sources that they did an amazing job promoting the festival this year as it was way better than the year before. But think of it now, if we all put our brains together, I am sure that we could move mountains. Come on people, we need this and we owe it to ourselves and the people at Quilt’s Inc. (You like that idea Karey? I bet you never thought you would hear that from me. I do actually care.) I was reminded by someone that Quilt’s Inc. played a huge role in making this industry and QM what it is today, so now it is our time to pay that forward.
So is everyone with me? WHAT? I can’t hear you? HUH? Louder? No longer are we just going to put our heads in the sand and hope/pray for a great QM. We are actually going to be proactive to try new things to make things happen, but we must realize that there are no guarantees and progress takes time. We can only try. I know that there are tons of smart people in our industry and I am sure they are all way smarter than I am. So, it is time for a meeting in your office conference room to brainstorm for the good of our industry. Chop! Chop! Get to it people! Here are some of my ideas which I have not fleshed out completely (market was only 2 weeks ago), but I am strongly considering and I will discuss further with my team. Here goes:
- Here is an easy one. For people that attend market, not only will we show them the newest lines that were released earlier in the month, but we will also show them the future lines that we normally just show to our international customers. This isn’t the biggest deal in the world, but it would be a privilege to the people in attendance and it would help to make them feel special. Stay with me here because the ideas get better and like I said before, you are way smarter than I am and probably have much better ideas that should be shared too.
- At every QM, my company throws a dinner with our team which includes in house staff, sales reps, licensed designers and of course some customers. We usually have about 20-30 people attend. Next QM, I am going to take the number up to 40 and invite quilt shop owners or have some sort of contest to earn a spot at the dinner. This year, we had Pepper Cory & Jodi Barrows to name a couple of known designers. Who wouldn’t want to hang with them….and me too? I am sure that every company has their Kaffe or Amy Butler that people would be honored to hang out with. Let’s take this a step further too, Kaffe & Amy also would be happy to see QM be great again. I am yet to meet those two, but that would be cool.
- What if a bunch of companies all chipped in to have some contests to offer free hotel rooms? Or free airfare? Or a free dinner? These are enticing and could make people want to come to market as it would help to reduce their out of pocket expenses. This can be fleshed out so much more. Perhaps the people at Quilts Inc. could even help to get us some freebies to giveaway or do it on their own.
- We could definitely inquire with local venues to see if they would donate stuff.
- What if all the quilt magazines out there wrote some articles about why people should attend market? Or maybe they could offer some free advertising. We need all hands on deck folks.
- What if we had all of our sales reps, customer service people and anyone else that talks to customers start talking about QM incentives, contests, etc? We do have our target audiences’ ears on a daily basis, so why don’t we take advantage of that? One by one, we can be sure to convince people to start attending QM again. We can do this people!
- Why don’t we start using social media and our company newsletters to once again entice people to come to market?
- What if we offer great giveaways at the booth for writing orders?
- What if we put together a coalition of vendors to push our cause?
- What if we had some huge market wide raffle where someone could win a free trip to the next QM or a car or something awesome?
- The what ifs could go on and on. My dad always says that he doesn’t do what ifs? The thing is that this what if is different because we are going to make some or all of these what ifs come true and make QM great again. Do I have your attention? Can we handle this? Allow me to answer: YES WE CAN & YES WE WILL!
Do you hear what I am saying? Do you get the message? So why are you sitting there and not hitting the drawing board?
Finally, (yes this blog is going to end) I know of a couple vendors that were strongly considering giving up on QM. You know who you are because we did discuss this. Please don’t give up just yet. Another couple of QMs is not going to kill anyone. Please consider giving it at least 2 QMs before throwing in the towel. The tide is going to turn, so hang in there with the rest of us and be a part of the movement. This is a group effort.
Please share this blog with everyone you know in the industry who has a vested interest. Please comment here. Also, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is just the start my friends. WE CAN DO THIS! SO GET EXCITED AND GET TO WORK ST. LOUIS IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER!
Amen. To Making QM GREAT Again!
This is Scott Fortunoff trying his best for the greater good of our industry. Thanks for listening.