Here's something to contemplate - I heard last night that two fabric companies are closing their doors. They were owned by Coats - the companies are Westminster and Freespirit. That's huge news as these companies had a lot of famous designers in their midst including Kaffe Fassett, Tula Pink, Anna Marie Horner and a whole lot more. Here is the link to the article. Here's the list of designers that are affected. (pulled from Freespirit website)
Now I think you can rest assured that many of these designers will be picked up by other fabric companies. Especially the big names, although there are a lot of big names on that list. Here's the thing - two companies closed last year - Kona Bay and Red Rooster. Now Westminster and FreeSpirit. And I've heard rumors of another one about to close its doors, but can't find any information to back that up. So what's happening? Is quilting on the way out?
How many of you think that there are too many choices on the market? How many think the fabric market is totally saturated? How many think the fabric companies are not listening to us?
Let's take a quick look at some numbers. I'm not sure how many fabric companies there are, but there are a LOT - for the sake of argument, let's say there are 50. All of these companies usually have FOUR fabric releases per year. It used to be two. Let's say in each release that each company produces 20 collections. Within each collection, there is an average of 20 SKUs (different fabrics). Now let's do the math -
20 collections x 20 fabrics in each collection X 50 companies x 4 times a year. What number do you get? YES --that's about 80,000 NEW prints EACH YEAR!!!!! How many quilters are needed to sustain that amount of NEW fabrics? While we like to think that quilting is huge (and it is), I keep hearing over and over from quilters - "I'm not buying much new - only if I need a border or a focus fabric" or "I'm only going to use fabrics from my stash (our HUGE stashes accumulated over the past x number of years". Someone might spring for a new print for a backing, but I think many quilters buy a lesser priced fabric or something on sale. You see where this is going?
How many new prints do I buy each year? Not nearly as much as I did before. Significantly less and I'm not alone. The competition is HUGE and each fabric collection has to go through two buying processes - one - the shop has to buy and the second phase is that the consumer has to then choose what to buy from the shop. So whatever the fabric companies produce had better be very good or the collection will fail.
Some designers have a following and I strongly suspect that many of the designers above have a great following. But here's the thing - the fabric companies get smug and think that whatever they print will be gobbled up by the quilters. Well - I don't know about you, but I can't afford to buy each fabric from designer A's new collection, especially if they produce a new collection several times a year. I think that's what has happened - the companies thought they had a license to print money with these designers and they have stretched the consumer's dollar so thin that no one can keep up. One other thing to note - these designers have followings on social media - are the followers actively buying or just living vicariously through the connection with the designer?
Let's take this a bit further. Let's say that for each of those 80,000 fabrics, that 4,000 yards gets printed of each. That means that 320,000,000 NEW yards of goods are produced EACH YEAR. Seriously??? That's huge.
Now let's say that each yard sells for $12 (US price). That equals $3,840,000,000. Almost FOUR billion in sales. But according to the stats from 2014, the quilt industry is worth $3.7 billion. And that number includes all things quilting, not just fabric. So there are way more fabric goods in the market than is actually being sold at regular price.
Isn't that shocking? And there is more and more fabric coming out all the time.
Here's a link to some stats that were compiled in 2014 by The Quilting Company.
I'm not in the fabric business, but if I was - well - here's my advice to the fabric companies.
- Pick good designers. Don't over release the collections. Allow the quilters to fondle the fabric and actually make something before the next collection by the same designer comes out. Many of the collections are so similar that I question why I would want to buy the same thing, but with a new twist. I like fabric, but not that much.
- Rein in your expenses. Like all companies, I would bet that there is a ton of waste. Develop plans, goals, teach the employees to treat expenses like it was coming out of their own pocket - things like shipping. Those things add up very quickly. While trade shows are fun - they are very expensive and how many does one need to attend in a year?
- Get good management. Management needs to ensure that employees are treated with respect and fairness and that appropriate number of employees are hired. Are people doing their jobs? Are managers managing or are they fighting fires or doing the work that the staff should be doing. What is the vision of the company? What is the five-year goal/plan? Is it well communicated to all involved?
- Hire industry knowledgeable people. Do they have people on board who understand the market? Users of the product? If they don't, are they in regular touch with those kinds of people? Do they listen to the feedback? Do they know the buying habits of the end user of their products - the consumers?
- Hire good salespeople. This industry's sales rely on door-to-door salesmen. Sales reps are a major link to the success of the individual companies. Many of them represent multiple companies and which company do they pull out of their suitcase first? Companies need to listen to the feedback from their sales rep.
- Fabric companies do NOT sell to the consumers. The quilt shops are the middleman. If the fabric companies do NOT understand the consumers and their buying habits, they are in trouble. It's one thing for the quilt shop (who is also a quilt consumer) but if the consumer doesn't buy the product, who cares how many shops buy it. They won't get repeat business if the product isn't good.
- Be open and honest. Yes - in this market of rising costs, companies are looking to cut costs. Did you know that the base goods used to be 45" wide? Through the manufacturing process, the goods we bought was around 44". The other day, I was using some panels and I could BARELY CUT 42 1/2" from the width of the fabric. Like all products, they are keeping the cost the same but shrinking the goods.
All the above is good common business sense, but like everywhere and in every industry, it doesn't happen. Egos and power are huge deterrents to really understanding the market and allowing them to be truly successful, responsive and sensitive to their consumers' needs.
I get it that consumers always want something new, but we've been trained by the fabric companies to expect and want something new. But now we have HUGE stashes and we are getting older. We don't want more and we're being much more selective. This "new market" has almost taken the fun out of quilting. Products are produced that are already done for us - in other words, the items are printed as we would piece them. While that is good for some, it's not what everyone wants. Let's not forget the new quilters or the young quilters - they don't have the money or the space for huge stashes like my generation.
Anyway, that's my advice to fabric companies. Keep in mind, I am NOT affiliated with any fabric company. This is based on my own experience and a bit of information gleaned from the internet. A lot of assumptions were used and are outlined above.
Seriously, there are going to be further shakeups in the market. The rising cost of living will reduce the amount of money that can be spent on luxury goods like quilting fabric. The industry needs a good shake up or it will collapse. Think wisely fabric companies in all that you produce. It better be exceptional fabric or we're not going to be buying it and you'll be in trouble like Westminster and Free Spirit.
Have a super day!!!!