Quilt Market Fall 2008: Buying Bolts With Diane of Bee Square Fabrics

In case you didn’t know, the main purpose of the International Quilt Market is for fabric and quilt supply retailers to see, touch, test-drive, and order products from manufacturers. Diane of Bee Square Fabrics and her husband Michael were nice enough to let me tag along as Diane ordered fabrics from Moda.

Some fabric companies (like Moda) require appointments set in advance of Quilt Market, some set appointments on-site or see people on a walk-up basis. Moda had dozens of salespeople staffing their booth-empire. Diane’s appointment was two hours long, and at first I didn’t see why anyone would need that much time, but I quickly figured it out.

Buying Fabric From Moda

Diane and Michael look through the Moda catalog and the sales rep sizes up their tastes.

After introductions, the sales rep asked Diane about her shop and what kind of fabric she sold. The rep gave a sales pitch about Moda’s many different pre-cut fabric package options, but Diane told her she only sells yardage. The rep kept on pitching the pre-cuts throughout the appointment, to the point that I was sold — but Diane remained steadfast.

The rep then brought out a large catalog showing the newest collections. They thumbed through it together to decide which samples to fish out of the pile and unroll for a closer look. The collections were stapled together by colorway. These samples are usually strike-offs — short initial runs used to check colors, registration, and so on. Diane separated the samples into “definitely,” “maybe,” and “not now” piles.

I could see how this process might get overwhelming fast. Diane said she previews designs online and outlines a general buying plan, but she makes many decisions to buy or not to buy on the spot. She told me she goes on gut instinct — but I imagine that instinct is developed over time, a combination of knowing what her customers tend to buy and what they’ve asked for, familiarity with trends, and photographic memory of one’s current inventory — Don’t I already have too many Japanese fairy tale prints? Don’t I need more basic stripes?, etc. Since Bee Square Fabrics is online only, Diane also has to worry about how fabrics will display on her site. Because of that, she turned down a number of larger-scale prints — her shop shows fabrics at true scale relative to each other so customers can see prints side-by-side and know how they’ll play together. It’s hard to provide a good, true representation of large-scale prints, especially in those thumbnail views.

Buying Fabric From Moda

Thumbing through samples and picking the winners

Moda came up with the ingenious idea of using tiny clothespins for buyers to clip onto the fabrics they want to order. I was surprised that other companies haven’t followed suit, though Diane said that Alexander Henry provides post-its for customers to mark fabrics in their paper catalog (all their new designs are sold on paper).

As the decisions were being made, the rep filled in a pre-printed order form. Each company has different dollar amounts the retailer has to meet initially and then annually after that to keep his/her account active. They all have different payment terms as well. But most companies ship orders to the retailers and require payment within 30-60 days.

A retailer also has the option of ordering online, over the phone, or through local sales reps outside of Quilt Market. That takes some of the pressure off making the perfect choices during these Quilt Market appointments — one can order conservatively, and take pictures of the “maybes” and/or keep a paper catalog to facilitate later changes of heart. Although many companies offer previews of fabrics via their websites, there’s nothing like seeing the fabrics in person. Plus, Diane said, there’s such a diversity of offerings at Market, you have to be open to the unexpected — she even has a budget set aside for these new and unexpected finds.

Buying Fabric From Moda

Diane takes pictures of the samples to help her remember what she ordered.

In addition to Moda, Diane also ordered from Seven Islands (distributors of Kokka and Echino fabrics) and bought several prints from Cosmo through Bunny’s Designs. She also put in orders with Lecien and Westminster, and with Andover for the first time (she ordered the entire line of Lizzy Dish).

Orders arrive at varying times after Market — sometimes up to six months later — depending on where each collection is in the production process. In fact, sometimes different prints or colorways from the same collection take longer to arrive than others. Occasionally a print or two will not be produced at all, and of course in that case the retailer is not billed.

Buying Fabric From Moda

A quilt at the Moda booth featuring the Wonderland collection by Momo (which Diane did order!) — the companies present all kinds of finished products to showcase their new fabrics and inspire retailers to buy them.

Diane said she regrets not getting to sit down with Michael Miller, Henry Glass, and Art Gallery Fabrics at Market, but plans to place her orders through other means.

So there it is, a couple hours in the life of a fabric retailer at Quilt Market. Even though I don’t plan on ever opening a fabric shop myself, I think it’s a very interesting process. Keep your eye on Bee Square Fabrics shop and Diane’s blog to see when the new prints roll in. Thanks, Diane, for giving us this peek behind the scenes!

10 Comments

  1. sandy says:

    How interesting … thank you for that recap.

  2. Carrie says:

    What a great write up and so interesting too. Thanks for the peak behind the scenes!

  3. Jennifer says:

    What an interesting process. Diane has been nothing but incredibly kind and helpful on every order I’ve placed. She’s my favorite online fabric source.

  4. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the behind-the-scenes peek! I’ve only recently heard of Quilt Market, and so had no idea what its main purpose was. Thanks for featuring Diane. Bee Square Fabrics is my favorite online fabric shop!

  5. Erin says:

    I’m pretty new to this blog. I have to say this is the most fascinating piece I’ve read here to date.
    Wouldn’t we all love to have multi-thousand dollar budgets when we walk through bolts of fabric? Like a kid in a candy shop…

    Thanks for giving me a look-see into the process.

  6. [...] any case, I found this great Quilt Market+behind-the-scenes post over at True Up.+ Check it out!+ I never realized how much time and effort fabric retailers spend [...]

  7. Kate says:

    Thanks so much for the very interesting ‘business of the business’ type report.

  8. Diane says:

    Thank you Kim! That is exactly the kind of post I looked for before I started my business. :) It was really fun sharing that experience with you, and I loved seeing your reaction to the massive amounts of fabric that flew by us.

    Thank you also Jennifer and Sarah for the super nice comments about me. They really made my day.

    -Diane

  9. Stephen says:

    Interesting. I think we’re going to go ahead and replace Kona cotton on Spoonflower with the Moda Bella cotton. I’m just waiting to get a sample roll for printing, but the availability of Kona has been inconsistent so we’re going to have to change. My understanding is that the Bella is even nicer.