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What's new in various product categories; monthly update.

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How the Quilt Market and Festival Are Different from CHA Events

The dominance of the chains is a major factor.

by A Veteran Manufacturer (August 16, 2010)

Why can’t the craft industry look to the Quilt Market and Quilt Festival in Houston as an example of how to integrate trade and consumer shows? They (Quilts, Inc., a for-profit business, not a trade association) have been doing it for literally decades, putting on the consumer show immediately following the trade show in Houston.  The trade show closes at 4 pm on Monday and the consumer show opens at 5 pm (yes, 5-10 pm opening night) on Wednesday. The exhibitors who stay have that time to change over their booths which usually stay in the same spot.  They do not have to dismantle, sit in storage, then reassemble a few days later, as would be the case with the CHA Anaheim/Los Angeles schedule.

My only complaint is that the spring Quilt Market and Festival are not similarly coordinated, being in different cities at different times. I think they would have many more consumer show exhibitors if they did them back to back because the expense is so much less than when you have to double ship a booth and crew. Not being a trade association, Quilts, Inc. does not make decisions based on members’ input.

What makes Quilt Festival different as a consumer show from CHA?  There are no big chains in quilting to any meaningful degree with products other than fabric. Quilters do not see items at Fest that they see in Jo-Ann’s or even, in many cases, in their home quilt shop. 

Fest gives consumers (all 50,000+ of them from all over the world!) a chance to see products they may never see again, even in their local quilt shop. Fest also has a huge number of classes going on through the whole show, taught by some of the biggest and best known names in international quilting. THIS is what draws the international crowds, not just what they can buy.  And buy they do; even in the last couple of years sales (for my company anyway) were only down marginally. 

Heard in the aisles, “I put some money aside every week to save up for this. NOTHING is going to stop me from coming to Houston!  This is the high point of my year.” Now THAT is a motivated consumer; a consumer who appreciates the new, different, innovative, yet doesn’t want the latest “fast fad.” A consumer who WANTS to learn new things, is willing to take the time to do projects that take more than an hour, and to refine her skills in what she considers an art form. Name a craft that can be described in the same way. – Name Withheld

(Editor’s note: In terms of consumer shows, this sounds very much like the annual Bead&Button show in Milwaukee each June, albeit with about 14,000 attendees, 400+ classes, and products not found in stores.)

I don’t think crafts can offer anything like that experience because most manufacturers have to chase the chains to stay in business, and no consumer will come to a show just to see what she can find any day of the week in her local chain store. The small, innovative guys who weren’t willing to sell their souls to the chains mostly disappeared from crafts years ago, unless they could find a niche market or survive with Internet sales. 

CHA is not Quilt Fest – or Market for that matter – and never will be, simply by the nature of the beast that is the craft industry. Heck, I remember the days (early/mid 80’s) of working the consumer craft show “circuit” all up and down the West coast, sometimes a show nearly every weekend. One year I did 22 shows in addition to working full time in the office (and collapsed from exhaustion, but that’s another story). Each show drew crowds of 10-12,000 and I could usually figure grossing $1.00 per head. That was the “seed capital” that started my business. One heck of a lot of back-breaking work, but also a lot of CASH. Now, even Quilt Festival is nowhere close to those numbers and a LOT more expensive to do, even when combined with Market.



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