Change is the only constant

Last night, I attended a lecture given by Meg Cox, a former WSJ reporter, who now writes about quilting for various publications.  Her talk covered the recent consolidation within the sewing and quilting industry.  The old guard is now retiring and closing/selling those businesses (think HandiQuilter, Fons & Porter, City Quilter, and NQA as examples). Many segments of the business are now owned by a handful of corporate entities like F + W who look at it solely from a business perspective. (See my previous post on magazines and F + W here). Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine is no longer someone’s pride and joy dedicated to a subject about which they are passionate. Instead, QNM folded because it didn’t meet certain circulation, revenue and other metrics set forth by the parent company.  Ms. Cox even hinted at the possibility that we’d see even more layoffs industry-wide before the dust settles.

Quilting is $6 billion a year industry. What’s driving the recent changes?

  1.  The “average quilting customer” is aging.
    The average quilting customer is still affluent and well-educated, but she is well into her 60’s. Chances are she’ll actually quilt and sew MORE once she retires, but the way in which she spends her quilting dollars will likely change.
  2. While the Modern Quilt Guild has helped spur interest in quilting and sewing, younger sewists don’t have near the disposable income of today’s “average” quilter.
  3. Project preferences have changed – think tote bag and lap quilt made with precuts instead of a Baltimore Album bed quilt.
  4. Handwork is definitely experiencing a rebirth. While the maker may use precuts and make a small project, there is a use of hand (or machine) embroidery to add a personal touch to the item.
  5. Online shopping has definitely changed the retail landscape.
  6. YouTube, Craftsy and similar web based learning portals have made it possible to learn on your own if no classes are available in your area.

My thoughts:

I’m 15 years younger than the “average” quilter, but I am more into quilting experiences rather than buying more stuff. Look at the growth of quilting related travel – tours, retreat centers, etc. I’ve taken two trips within the past four months that were strictly for quilting.  My bucket list includes several quilting/craft related trips. Even though retirement is still years away, hubby and I are starting to look at RVs with a second room I can use for quilting/office work while we are on the road.

The things that I do buy have special meaning for me or are a designed to make my sewing more productive or easier.  I received a Singer Featherweight as an anniversary gift. Now, I am searching for original accessories to go with my sweet little machine. I splurged on sterling silver TJ Lane thimble 10 years ago and it is one piece of equipment that is always packed in my travel sewing/embroidery kit.

In my opinion, it seems as if sewing machine manufacturers must also think this average customer is willing to shell out $10k plus every time she buys a new sewing machine. One new machine I saw advertised at the AQS Show boasted a show special of 60 payments of $168 each for a brand new sewing machine. That’s over $10,000 for a sewing machine at a quilt show. We all know that  quilt show prices tend to be pretty sweet.

I found it ironic that Ms. Cox pointed out that she already had all the machines she would probably ever need, so she didn’t plan to buy a new sewing machine. I’ll probably buy another machine at some point, but I won’t spend anywhere near $10k for it unless I buy a longarm machine.

So, who’s sewing these days?  Students in my maker club at school. Millennials with small children. (Can you believe they are asking for garment sewing classes???) Young adults setting up their first homes. Empty nesters. People who got off the hamster wheel and went in search of a simpler life. People who like to make stuff. People trying to save money. What you don’t find are face-to-face classes at times convenient for working folks. Hence, the surge in online learning. But people are beginning to discover that the best teacher is one who works right beside you for a series of lessons while you learn the basics. Then, online learning makes “sew” much more sense.

With our society’s need for “instant gratification” and limited time, it’s no wonder that precuts, kits and fabric cutting systems (manual/electronic) are such hot items.  Missouri Star Quilting Company is probably the undisputed leader in selling precut fabrics. I found it quite humorous when Ms. Cox relayed that MSQC started Block Magazine on its own rather than accept an unfavorable magazine deal from F & W (Jenny Doan – you go girl!).

Will the rise in online shopping mean the end of the LQS? I don’t think so. I do think that shop owners will need to be more proactive and extend their offerings to include some garment sewing options (Oliver + S, Children’s Corner) and needlework supplies.  An ongoing Sewing 101 class might be worth looking into to help those newbie stitchers develop their sewing confidence (and sell more items!).  Our LQS will have to get creative and add value to convince shoppers to visit their store first before they let their fingers go shopping online.

As the title of this post indicates, the only constant is change. One of my favorite LQS closed its doors a year ago.  Hancock Fabrics shuttered its stores. My local Baby Lock and Bernina dealer recently changed hands after 25 years with the same family. My local Janome dealer now has his adult children working in the store.  I buy my quilting books from and my magazines are mostly British imports.