Wednesday Words – Not all the News is Bad – Blog post Series

Happy Wednesday. There’s been a lot of  publicity and news lately about the state of the quilting industry, and a lot of the news is negative. I know that’s a shock, but work with me here.  Shops are closing all over, and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that quilters are pulling back.  While I certainly see the same things that everyone else does, I also see signs of strength and growth in certain pockets (at least here in New England). I’m going to be looking at that side of things  from my perspective in the next several weeks of blog posts, which I call Not All the News is bad.

I’ve watched the news, the emails, the items coming out in social media for the better part of two and a half years, and I’ve seen the notices of shops closing.  And let me start this off with a couple of disclaimers – one, this is my personal opinion, research and observation – this isn’t a sponsored post, and I have no inside information to share (sorry). I am absolutely lucky to have some great friends to call on when needed, but this is me attempting to read the tea leaves.

Two, I admit to having been a quilter for 25 years at least, and while I can shop with the best of them when I am inspired to buy fabric – I haven’t done major fabric purchases for a while now.  It’s partly space issues here, it’s partly because I haven’t been wowed for a long time – trust me, when I saw the Hoffman Orange dream big panel, I pounced.  But here’s the crux of it…I shop a lot faster than I sew (and that’s not changing anytime soon).

I began building my stash as I began quilting – and that coincided with the quilting renaissance. And I always have been a round up to the nearest yard shopper, so my stash is plentiful.  I sew in a room where it’s organized, it’s pretty, it’s color coded – and really, other than solids to go along with my contemporary aesthetic…I’m mostly in a ‘maintenance’ mode unless something comes along that I have to have…and even then, I think about it.

With customers like me (and my counterparts)…is it any wonder that shops are feeling the pinch? That would be the narrative that a lot of us have been hearing…and yet consider these facts:

Earlier this year, on Feb 12,  the quilt world was shocked when overnight, Coats ,  the worlds leading industrial thread company (yes, Coats & Clark thread) announced that effective immediately, they were shuttering both Free Spirit Fabrics and Westminster Fabrics.  Those two entities were the creative home of Tula Pink, Kaffe Fassett, and a whole host of lesser known designers and fabric lines.  Tula Pink and Kaffe Fassett are two of the hottest names in the quilting industry, and if they were gone (with no notice), what did that mean for the rest of us?  A company shuttering that abruptly usually means a company specific problem, not an across the board softening of demand.  Shortly after that, Scott Fortunoff  of Jafftex made an announcement that Jafftex intended to purchase both Free Spirit and Westminster, and that sale closed at the end of April.

Jafftex as a company is a multi generational privately owned entity. Scott’s blog is titled Tales of a Fourth Generation Fabric Executive, and I’ve linked here to the first of his blog posts on the merger.  They haven’t been around that long without knowing the ups and downs of the industry better than most.

The next part of the story involves Keepsake Quilting, in Center Harbor NH.  As a NH quilter, I’ve made several trips (my husband would probably say pilgrimages, but that’s another story) to Keepsake over the years, and a good portion of my stash began there.  Keepsake began as a family owned business, then was purchased several times over by conglomerates and money people, and it slowly but surely began to lose the charm of a quilt shop. It was a sad day for me when on a trip to Lake Winnipesaukee, I skipped a trip to Keepsake because there was no reason to stop – and felt a bit of a pang as we went by. Sadder still when I skipped another trip, went by…and felt nothing.  That made me sad.  I wasn’t the only one…the changes from Keepsake as a quilt shop to a ‘big box’ shop were well documented.

At almost about the same time that the Jafftex sale closed, I woke to a article shared by a friend that Keepsake had been bought by a Steelcity llc, a family owned business from North Carolina, owned by Rick, wife Dot and son Dave. Steelcity is another fourth generation textile company…trust me, when I read that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Steelcity had been a supplier of Keepsake Quilting and has retail experience through its company Pineapple Fabrics.

The family’s commitment is to make Keepsake once again America’s quiltshop, and while it will take time to implement changes – they made two right moves immediately.  Keepsake Quilting’s hours had been shortened to a few days a week last fall – and right after the merger, they are back to 7 days a week.  The annual tent sale is always at the beginning of June, and this year…it’s going from 2 days to 3.  I’m so tempted!!!

So what my inquiring mind wants to know is what in the multi-generational ownership story is common to both deals?  What allows the new owners to take on the challenges (warts and all, and they are there) of each deal, and yet believing that both the entities are worth purchasing and adding to their portfolio?  According to Forbes, “…Less than one third of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generation ownership. Another 50% don’t survive the transition from second to third generation…”

I have more evidence of positive signs, amongst all the news of shops closing, there are shops reopening (two of them), and shops expanding…

Valley Fabrics is a wonderful shop in Northhampton MA (I need to schedule a road trip), and they were gone for several years, reopening earlier this year.  The Fabric Garden closed last fall, and reopens later this month in an new location.  Pintuck & Purl, formerly of Exeter, has moved to Portsmouth in a new, larger location.  Those are the ones that I know about and can share…

In part 2 of the series, we will welcome guest blogger (and friend of mine) Beth Ditkoff of Damariscotta Maine.  Beth and her husband have relocated to their forever home in Damariscotta Maine, and in that process, a sewing space was moved.  Beth spent the next year settling in, vowing to clear some of her UFOs and to sew only from her stash.  I thought that it would be interesting to read.  Come back next Wednesday, June 6th for her installment.

In part 3, I’m talking about what how the after market effects our buying options – yardsales, estate sales and destash options.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this.  Many thanks to Teri Lucas for her wisdom and guidance as I sorted this out.  Always a pleasure.


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