How to Shop the International Quilt Market

By Karey Bresenhan, Founder & Director Emeritus

The International Quilt Market is the world’s only wholesale trade show for the $1.6 billion quilting industry. We have two Quilt Markets a year: a spring edition in a rotating city, and a fall edition in
Houston, Texas.

Market also offers Business Seminars, Take & Teach classes, and events to help retailers meet their business goals. Teachers, industry leaders, media, and designers also attend.

A show so large requires pre-planning for a retailer to successfully cover the entire show floor and visit all of the exhibitors they want to see. Since every exhibitor is carefully screened for quality and relation to the quilt industry before being accepted into Quilt Market, and because exhibiting companies vie with each other to make creative and attractive booths, Quilt Market may require more shopping time for the retailer than many other trade shows.

How many? Market usually attracts more than 500 exhibitor companies who take out more than 1,000 booths. We also have a “Sneak Peek” section near the front of the show where exhibitors can showcase their newest products.

Retailers usually have a total of just over 23 hours to shop the show—so there’s no time to waste! Start by “walking” the show to get a feel for what’s being offered, what’s new, and what’s most useful for your business. We recommend you spend no more than two hours on this “walk through.” Then…start buying!

Here are 10 specific suggestions to make the most of your time at Quilt Market:


Schedule your time and plan your attack. Allot yourself specific times to accomplish the goals you’ve set. For example, if you are staying all three days, you may want to have finished 35% of your buying by the end of the first day, 65% by the end of the second day, and 95% by the middle of the third day. And remember that 90% of the shoppers at any trade show go in the door and turn right—it’s human nature! But if you turn left or go straight down the center aisle, you’ll help spread the crowd out more efficiently and will avoid wasting time waiting in line.



Go into Market to do your buying for at least the next four to six months. It’s always best to figure out your open-to-buy at home, then follow those figures in your buying. But it’s most important to actually buy at the show. Don’t just use Market as a source for catalogs and flyers. Once you get home, you may not remember why you brought them.



Plan your orders and their shipment. Remember that when the invoices are due, they’re due then, not a month later. Don’t order everything for immediate delivery if you know that in six weeks you’ll be in the heart of an annual slump and won’t have the cash flow to pay the invoices. You can often specify shipment immediately, ASAP, 30, 60, or 90 days. You can also split delivery of a shipment or spread it out over time. Plan delivery of your goods so that you can pay your bills when they are due. That will go a long way in establishing a good relationship with a supplier.



If you know you want to do major buying at one supplier that may require more time or don’t want to wait in line, make an appointment and come back to do your ordering then. Or see if you can make an early appointment to meet with the supplier in the 8-9:30 a.m. time before the doors open (they will need to put your name on a list, give that list to show management, and then meet you at the door at the set time to escort you back to their booth). Early appointments are only available on the second and third day or Market.



Take a chance on something new for your store, but be sure you order in enough depth that you
  can judge your customers’ response. If you buy six, and you have six employees, there’s a good chance
  that those items will go straight home with them. Then you’ll never know whether or not your customers liked them.



Consider adding related merchandise that can represent good profits for you. For example: sewing, knitting,  garment making, cross-stitch supplies, and related items go hand in hand with quilts. They meet many of the same needs that quilting meets, they appeal to the same people who love quilts, and they’re logical extensions of your business. And who knows? Maybe a customer will come into your store for those items and “discover” quilting—or vice versa! Don’t change the nature of your shop—just expand the concept to include more profit centers and make your square footage pay off!



Many of the suppliers have their top people, sales reps, and executives here at Quilt Market. While this is not the appropriate time to berate them for something that has gone wrong, it is an excellent time to talk with them about general trends, what the quilting industry really needs from that company, and general problems or challenges you might be experiencing. Remember, exhibitors want your business to succeed and sell more of their product. Because that means you’ll be ordering more from them!



Use the Market for ideas for displays, samples, and classes. Photography is sometimes allowed, but not always. Be sure to ask the exhibitor’s permission before you snap away. Let them know why you are photographing their display or sample. A good photograph of an idea gives you something specific to go by when you try to recreate the look in your store.



Talk to the exhibitors. Ask their advice. Don’t limit yourself to buying from only the best sellers or you run the risk of having the same merchandise that your competition carries. Some shop owners have a policy that they carry only the very newest merchandise and products, and by the time that everyone else jumps on the bandwagon, they’ve moved on. Others aim for a mixture of merchandise. Also, talk to exhibitors if something is not working for you. If you have six bolts of fabric growing cobwebs, see if they have any ideas on how to merchandise that product. If a fabric you ordered comes in looking different than what you expected or ordered, ask about their return policy. It costs nothing to ask, and you might end up with the perfect solution! And if they offer you an idea or suggestion that works for you, let them know!



Pace yourself. Remember—fashion stops at the knees! Wear comfortable shoes and take a break periodically. Be sure to keep hydrated and fed. Sit down and rest in the convention center or at our Relax and Recharge Networking Lounge. You can take this time to review your orders, plan your schedule, or just decompress! And always remember to use your copy of The Buyer’s Guide: make notes, circle exhibitors, jot down ideas. The Buyer’s Guide can also be a year-round resource for you with important exhibitor contact information.