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.
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.
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.
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.
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!