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TNNA/INRG Show Report

Most -- but not all -- were pleased.

compiled by Mike Hartnett (June 17,  2004)

Crossing lines and an analysis.

In the past, I have attended this show in a number of capacities designer, consultant to shopowners, and as a buyer for client shops.

This time, Wandering Wolf Design attended as a first time exhibitor, so our expectations (if not our dreams) may have been different from veterans of past TNNA or INRG summer markets. We crossed some lines; we brought products not usually seen, such as quilting and fulled wool/penny rugs. We did not publicize quite enough that we would have a new line of Russian Punch needle tools and patterns (which may be why we are the only company able to make immediate delivery), but we were still among those who went home tired but pleased with our sales.

Given the task, TNNA, INRG, and Offinger Management are to be commended for how well it all went. Period, end of sentence. I have done consumer and trade events in a dozen industries in every major city in the country. (For all those complaining about the expense, please join me at New York's Javits Center; never again will you complain about TNNA.) Was it perfect? Of course not. Do I have ideas on how it could be better? Will the sun rise in the east?

But all that said, without exception, none were better to work with than this group.

One thing everyone seems to agree on: TOO much show with TOO little time; that's always a common complaint, but this time they just might have been right! The show floor covered an area equal to more than three football fields, including the end zones and most of the sidelines with the Food Court/Lounge in the center. That works out to almost a 1.25 miles of walking even if all you did was up one aisle and down the next.

Many retailers did not really comprehend just how much territory they would need to cover, and that their usual time allotments just would not work. Hopefully this year's experience, combined with information-sharing among shopowner Internet groups will help them to better plan for next year.

It seems that all categories saw less than expected sales; although some exhibitors went home happy, most expressed disappointment that the larger show did not generate greater sales. In many cases, sales were down. Many, particularly in the counted-thread segment, seemed to feel the larger event was the cause. If that applied to just one category, maybe, but when put into the perspective of observations and conversations before and after Quilt Market last month, there is more going on here than just a single factor making a small influence.

At no time would you ever have called the show crowded, and even the yarn booths did not seem to have any difficulty making a rep available to present the line. In the past, it was not all that uncommon to walk along the cross rows and not be able to see more than a few booths down because of the press of buyers. At no time was it ever difficult, much less impossible, to see from the back to the front except around the food/lounge area.

About that food court: please put it back where it belongs, and either eliminate one row or consolidate the back row into a short "run."

So what seemed to do well? Once again, more attention is being given to how to attract the younger generation; several of the shopowners who spent time with us had much younger staff with them and their opinions were being seriously considered.

The Fantasy segment of threaded needle was more apparent, and there seemed to be more embroidery, even machine embroidery. Several booths mentioned quilting and some (like us) made it no secret that we believed the crossover was here for all to see.

Last but not least, Russian Punch Needle Embroidery may just turn out to the be the "next new thing." Other distributors of the tools are suggesting delivery in the 3-8 week interval, and interest in the demos with lots of questions was definitely the order of the day.

Common in sales presentations and even in some signage, exhibitors are recognizing that while the Internet exists, they need to offer more support to local shops because it is the dedication of the local shops that will nurture, maintain, and grow the industry.

The BIG question: Why more retailers were not at Market, either Quilt or TNNA/INRG.

Is there a new breed of shopowner out there who does not yet know they are supposed to order at shows, not just look, then order later via the Internet?

Might it be that the Internet is not killing retail shops, but retail shows? Certainly show-only vendors are saying their sales are down in the past year, and some events are way under attended. It used to be you went to a consumer show because no local shop could carry everything; can it be that now if your local shop does not have it, you go home and order it on the Internet instead of waiting for or traveling to a show?

In the past, I could not walk this show without running into many retail show vendors many familiar faces were not in the aisles or at the order tables.

Could it be that the Internet is not really killing "wholesale to the trade" because shopowners can now pretty much find everything they want on line, anytime, while sipping a favorite beverage instead of sprinting around multiple football fields of exhibits without adequate time to stop and enjoy the view?

Or, is there something going on that is making shopowners more cautious in their purchases?

TNNA & INRG are committed to at least one more joint event and I for one hope it continues beyond that. The energy in the new Counted Thread and Embroidery Group there was a willingness for all segments to work together to increase the pie so we all get bigger pieces was apparent.

There is definitely "something happening here, and what it is ain't exactly clear"....

It will be interesting to see how things go at Charlotte in August.

Please feel free to "share" your thoughts - other perspectives are always welcomed. Meanwhile, I vote for BIGGER, easier-to-read maps, and show books mailed at least a month in advance to every TNNA member (with addendum delivered on site) so buyers can plan better.

And, oh yes, I do think crossing the lines can work, but you already knew that <g> Wheat Carr, owner, Wandering Wolf Design

(Note: Wondering Wolf Design offers patterns, charts, tools, and supplies for quilting; Penny Rug Fulled Wool Applique; counted thread; Russian Punch Needle; and more. Also a distributor for PolStitches Dragon Floss and Presencia Threads.)

"I was thrilled."

As an INRG member (counted cross stitch & framing) I was thrilled with the show. The energy of the needlepoint and yarn buyers invigorated me. It was large and my feet were aching, but it was a wonderful opportunity to check out such a diversity of products in one market.

I found cross-over product to purchase within the first six booths in the first row of the show. I can still see the needlework vendor telling me to take the literature because she understood I would want to walk the show first and my telling her, "No, I'm ready to place

the order and by the way, I would like to have the product in my shop no later than June 24th." A win/win for both the exhibitor and my shop!

Actually, the vast majority of my purchases at this show were from new vendors for me TNNA vendors. I went to the show purposefully to seek out new contacts and products to bring into the shop to compliment my cross stitch stock.

I would assume that INRG members would be more excited about combining the shows than the needlepoint and yarn shop owners, since we were the new guys on the floor. I would guess that the TNNA vendors wrote more orders from INRG shoppers than INRG vendors wrote for TNNA shoppers. Those would be interesting statistics to see.

Combining shows and moving forward together can do nothing except strengthen the entire needlework industry. You can bet that next year I'll spend all three (or four if a day is added) days at the show but I'll bring more comfortable shoes.

If we want to see a resurgence in counted cross stitch, we must move it from a craft to a needleart and get customers back into NeedleWORK shops, rather than chains & craft stores, for their purchases where we have the ability to expose them to more than an "x" on a piece of aida." Gayle Horton, owner of Accents in Stitches in New Orleans

"A merger finally!"

I was very happy to FINALLY see TNNA and INRG join forces. I firmly believe that the key to survival in these challenging times is working together.

I am extremely excited by the opportunities that the Pearl Jubilee Campaign is offering and the structure is flexible enough for each company to develop a participation strategy that will work for them. I think that we are limited only by our imaginations.

I saw a LOT of networking and education going on as different groups were able to interact with each other for the first time in a long time.

I felt that the TNNA and INRG management did a very good job. As always, with a first time show, issues and problems became obvious and thus can now be addressed. With one show under our belts, we now have a common frame of reference as we work to craft a show that will work well for our diverse membership.

I was THRILLED with the participation in the inaugural meeting of the new Counted Thread and Embroidery Group. We had over 80 participants, we accomplished a lot, and we should be up and running with an official committee by the end of the year. What was most exciting was the degree of commitment shown by those who attended.

While I didn't get to talk to very many counted thread vendors, what trickled down to me was their disappointment with sales. Peg and Tink Ink represents three companies with diverse product lines in each company. Our sales were lower than we would have liked BUT it was evenly distributed across the board. I think that shops are being conservative in all of the disciplines right now, not just in counted thread. Tink Boord-Dill, Peg and Tink Ink

"The buyers were not there."

I think that the show was well handled and well laid out. The class selection was diverse and interesting, but the buyers were not there. I am in the Counted Thread area and we never

saw the numbers that we were told that were there. The yarn areas were busy and the other areas had people in clumps, but there was never anyone that was busy the whole time.

I know of a lot of counted thread companies have said they will not do it again, due to the expense and the poor showing of buyers. Most of my regular customers asked me to hold off sending my auto till the end of August. This is my fist show that I did not do the numbers that I would like since starting in 2000. The comment I heard the most was, "I am going to do Nashville and then send my new stuff to my distributor."

I have friends and business associates in the needlepoint area and they were not busy either. The majoirity of them said their sales were down or flatl. With a few exceptions (very few), if someone tells you they had a great show-they are adding the fluff to their tale.

The show was dead from about 1 pm on Sunday till we closed Monday afternoon. The floor was like a ghost town and it looked like Charlotte last year with all the vendors chatting and waiting till the bell would ring so they could get the heck out of there.

We need to find out why buyers did not come. I think for the expense that I had to pay, I did not get enough work on the TNNA end to encourage buyers to come. I think a lot of work was put into organization and layout. There was no effort put into getting shops there. I know that you can not make a shop go, but I am not sure where the shops are going to get their merchandise.

The Charlotte cash-and-carry market has about 50 or so vendors, but I am not sure there are buyers. I can't do the show, nor do I want to enter that can of worms.

We need to figure out what is going on and try to fix it before the counted thread area gets lost in the shuffle Name Withheld

"Don't blame TNNA/INRG"

I am concerned that the unhappy counted thread vendors will blame their poor sales on the combined show. Certainly there is a LOT of fine tuning that needs to happen with the show structure and organization, but that is only to be expected. I think that there are many factors that are resulting in soft sales but the easy and least threatening explanation, and possibly the least true, is to blame it on the combined show. Name Withheld

Other responses.

Note: CLN asked members of the Yahoo group, NeedleworkBiz for their comments; here's a sampling:

1. The knitting and needlework was mixed in together and the show was too big to see everything. If they had only kept the knitting together and the needlework together it would have been much better. That will never happen since the exhibitors are place according to seniority points.

We have asked for segregation of the different types of vendors for years. It is a significant waste of time and energy for us to walk the entire floor. TNNA seems to have been particularly unaware of the interests of retailers and unresponsive to needlepoint shops. Although bigger shows are necessary to get the spaces we need, if they are not made easier to attend we will be less willing to go.

Most retailers cannot afford to have more than one or two people attend. I suspect that when a shop has four or five people working a show it is because most of them are paying their own way. That's fine if we want to be dominated by shops that are not profitable businesses. It is not good if we want to be a growing strong industry.

2. I was part of the Wandering Wolf Designs booth at the back of the hall and we had a pretty good show. This was my first experience at a non-quilting show. My products are not considered "normal" for knitting, needlepoint, or cross stitch, but there was a delightful amount of interest; they were well received and we wrote enough orders to be happy.

If you think there were a lot of booths to cover, you might consider a way to get used to it, like staying for the full show. Quilt Market is that big or bigger and all types of vendors are mixed together. I wouldn't want it any other way. If you stick to only one section (i.e, charted work), how will you and your shop ever expand or move into other venues and grow? At Quilt Market, and, I believe, at TNNA there are lots of classes to take, which is valuable if you are considering a new product area or if they are business related.

I am very happy to have been able to attend and will be adding some new product to my retail business as a result.

Also, my kudos to TNNA for recognizing that the counted thread and other embroidery needs a group to represent them. I am very happy to be a part of this world as well as the quilting world!

3. TNNA and INRG did a great job with the layout of the show.

Many shopkeepers I spoke to had only allowed one day! They were overwhelmed by the size of the market and realized that they needed to plan a route; I know of one who extended her stay at the market.

Because of the vendors being mixed together, I enrolled a knitting shop as a new customer. This is a good thing. I also know of a few needlework shops finding great tools in unexpected booths. Segregation will dilute those unexpected finds.

I visited venues I had never partaken in. The Galleria was awesome, very smart and professional. I can see counted thread designers partaking in future years. The Sample Spree by INRG was interesting, and I can see that expanding to add yarn and needlepoint.

With time the new Counted Thread & Embroidery group will be organized in 2005 with a great temporary Chairperson, "Tink," and will start analysis for a way forward. (Support is required by all for the boring, business of forming committees and strategy. Nothing will happen unless

members stand behind this fledgling Group)

The Yarn group's seven-year marketing plan is really making a dent in the needlepoint and

counted thread & embroidery market. The Needlepoint group now has the results of last year's SWAT anlysis, and are now working on the way forward.

I am feeling very positive about TNNA Columbus.

4. No matter how the show is laid out it will never make everyone happy. TNNA and INRG did a great job of marrying two different events into and one and pulling it off more smoothly than I would have expected. I'm sure there were lots of hair tearing scenes from show management we never saw to put this together.

While you might want to segregate the various segments into areas, there are problems with doing that. What if you're, say, a cross-stitch designer who is now doing needlepoint as well? Where do you get put? Do the primarily needlepoint shops never see you because they assume you have nothing of interest to them? For vendors to be put into a separate area means many customers won't even walk by them to discover they have an item the customer has been looking for. I heard from one vendor that a customer referred to an area as "the cross-stitch ghetto/." I'm not sure if that's a sad commentary on how people view the differences in our industry or on the fact they were segregated. Either way, it's not a vision for the future of our industry I want to see perpetuated.

I've been going to TNNA and INRG shows for seven years and I, for one, am thrilled to have only one summer show to go on the other side of the country. Did it mean I and my shop manager walked our feet off? We certainly did, but I also found some wonderful things mixed in with all the yarn vendors that I bought and I don't carry yarn at all.

We planned how we'd attack the show floor (I think of this as small military campaign.) and set some goals for what we'd get done each day. In the end the two of us managed to get through the show floor, see most everything, place orders, and be done by the 3 pm close on Monday.

Will that happen next year when the show is bigger? I don't know if we'll get through it all, but I'd still rather see things mixed up and walk more than have arbitrary boundaries set for me.

Is it a big show? You bet, but you need to plan for that. Getting through it in a day is not possible unless you have a staff of 8 or 10 people. Plan to spend at least two days and if at all possible, all, three. If walking is a problem then perhaps TNNA & INRG might be able to solve that with some kind of loaner program for scooters.

But we have a big industry between the segments and making divisions at the show does not help us create a unified needlework industry; which I believe we all need to not only survive, but flourish in the future.

5. I'd like to share my impressions of the Columbus market. I will preface my comments with several disclaimers: I am still new in the business. I am fully aware that my designs would be classified as a "niche product" and from the beginning I knew that mass appeal and large orders were unreasonable expectations. I acknowledge that counted thread is not what is "hot" right now. Finally, we all look at situations from our own unique perspectives.

I believe that one of the values of groups such as this [Yahoo's NeedleworkBix] is to facilitate the widening of our peripheral vision. In that vain, as this discussion progresses, let us all remember to be kind to one another and respectful of our individual perspectives. With that said, here is my take on the Columbus market:

I exhibited at Columbus last year, being a brave counted thread pioneer moving into a market dominated by yarn and needlepoint. I was pleased with my first year sales. I left with great anticipation for this year's market, knowing that counted thread would be moving into the show.

I anticipated exposure to a larger number of buyers than last year and logically expected to see some increase in sales.

I was not located in the INRG Pavilion having never exhibited at Charlotte. I was quite surprised (OK, shocked) to find myself at the end of day one with zero orders. At the end of day two I had only four orders, three of which were paid with the fourth to be completed in late summer. I added only one order to my total on day three. Four comparison, I took ten orders at the 2003 Columbus market.

As far as dollars and cents, when my one unpaid order is paid for and shipped my total income from the market will be approximately half of what it was last year matching the 50%

reduction in the number of orders. I never dreamed that with the projected increase in counted thread buyers that my sales would decrease. As stated earlier, I honestly expected to do at a minimum what I had done the year before. Although I didn't actually count, I felt like I saw less foot traffic move past my booth and I know that I handed out fewer catalogs than last year.

According the several other vendors that I chatted with throughout the three days, their sales were "off," things were "slow," and they questioned, "Where are the buyers?"

Here are some factors that surely must have impacted what many of us experienced as a very slow market:

1. Several people told me that counted thread shops don't have much cash available in June as May is historically a slow month for sales. 2. In June people have graduations, weddings, family vacations, etc., that could have kept them from market. The Columbus market is traditionally in June. This year it was approximately a week earlier than last year. 3. The show was so big that people had trouble making their way to see everything. 4. The segregation of counted thread vendors in the INRG Pavilion was a problem. 5. The expansive food court in the middle of the floor was a problem.

Obviously, the market was not slow for all vendors and I am glad to know that. I believe that combining the TNNA and INRG markets was a wise move and that in the long run offers the best approach to uniting the needlearts industry. For shops who offer their customers multiple media options, a combined market has to be the most economical and efficient way to shop.

I will give careful consideration to my decision to participate in the 2005 Needlearts Market. I am hopeful that I will receive orders during the next couple of months from shops who picked up my catalog in Columbus. I am hopeful that I will see increased sales of my designs through my distributor. I am hopeful that shopowners will give us constructive feedback on how to make the market more "user friendly." I am hopeful that shopowners will listen to vendors' perspectives.

Participating in market is expensive for both buyers and sellers. Although I have not added all of my costs yet, I estimate that this venture cost me approximately $2500. This figure does not include the amount of money I lost in wages from my "paycheck" job or the value of my time away from my family. I don't think that anyone can deny that the vendors were present in

Columbus. I guess that my greatest question would have to be, "Where were the buyers?" and "What must be done to encourage buyers to buy?" Although the value of making industry contacts must be factored into the equation, it doesn't make up for a net debt of $2000+!

Again, let us all carefully consider each other's perspective as we identify the problems and seek solutions, all in an effort the unify and strengthen the needlearts industry.

A final word.

I know that many of the exhibitors were hoping that a combined show would mean far more orders to write that old adage about shooting fish in a barrel (you want more fish to better your odds!), and I am actually quite thankful to have written what orders I did considering how badly some designers have reported their show to have been.

My own philosophy has always been to reach out to the stitchers themselves and try to get them excited about what I do so that they find their local shopowner and pester them to pick up/bring

in my designs. At least three of the shops came into my booth this show with a list from customers.

The days of being able to just set up a shop or go to a trade show and automatically get orders are gone. Designers and shopowners need to be creative and innovative in how they encourage sales but I still think that as everyone worries about which segment of the needlearts industry is healthiest, we are missing the point.

Yes, we do depend on dollars to be in business doing what we love. Yes, the hobby industry is a huge source of revenue on many fronts. Yes, there will always be competition between organizations and even companies. BUT: if we all spend the next year focusing on how we were EACH going to raise awareness of our craft, increase the number of people participating, find ways to make it innovative, fun, exciting or different, and promote the benefits of being creative such as having something to show for your time instead of just spending hours watching TV.

We cannot afford to wait for someone else to "fix" the industry. It is up to each one of us to breathe some life and creativity into what we do then stand back and watch the ripple effect. Jennifer Aikman-Smith, Dragon Dreams Inc.



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