Selecting Fabric for the Shop, It is a lot of work – Guess Work ?

How do we as shop owners go about selecting fabric for our shops — it is kinda like throwing darts at the board, most of the time. There are times when the vendor shows you a collection and you know that it is going to be a best seller — you hope.

For example December 2019 and January 2020 we were reviewing the Christmas fabric for December 2020, yes, that is almost 12 months in advance. I gotta tell you that in December when so much is happening personally and with the business (inventory, closing out books, etc. the stuff you really hate to do) the last thing you want to think about is what Christmas fabric my customers are going to want to purchase in June and July. It seems to get earlier each year.

But, in their defense this is how the industry works and for good reason. So if you back up and look at how it all gets started it seems to make sense.

The artist begins their design work in probably June or July in the prior year and they are submitted for the initial strike off. The sales rep visits all of their customers in December and January to take orders. Then what happens, well depending on the size of the collection which can range from 6 bolts to 42 (yes, 42 bolts) a lot of work goes on in the background.

Each vendor has their designated schedule with the fabric manufacturer, that means the delivery of the greige goods to the factory where the fabric will be printed must occur and the orders for exact number of yards is submitted. If you miss your designated schedule, you get in the back of the line and hope for an opportunity to get bumped up.

The fabric factory runs a minimum of 3,000 yards of each of the bolts. That means for the the vendor who has 42 bolts in their collection a minimum of 126,000 yards of fabric will be printed. If you go back to the rep making the sales at the quilt shops, it is their goal to sell their quota so that nationwide the orders will reach the 126,000 for the “run”. Only if they book more than the 126,000 yards will additional yardage be printed. This becomes a sort-of just in time inventory.

No fabric vendor wants extra fabric sitting around in their warehouse collecting dust. With very few exceptions, and getting fewer each year, the fabric vendor does not make additional runs of their collections. It is once and done.

What does that mean for you? If you see something you like, buy it. It will probably won’t be there your next trip. That is what every Quilt Shop owner hopes. We want our fabric to go home with our customers so that we can bring more and newer fabric into the shop. This is where the guess work comes in.

When the fabric rep comes in to my shop, I ask them to lay out all of their collections from a particular vendor so that I can view it all at one time . They may have 20-30 collections at a time, so this is no small feat.. There are often stark differences between the collections — florals, geometrics, re-productions, novelties, nature, etc. The guessing now begins, we try to guess what fabric will appeal to our customers. Will they continue to choose traditional fabric or will be they be interested in selecting something out of their comfort zone? Guess work.

Have I made mistakes? You bet. They frequently go into the discount/sale room. Sometimes, the very fabric I think won’t sale, I am calling around trying to find another source for the fabric to bring it back into the shop.

Do I love what I am doing? Yes! Do I enjoy spending everyday at the shop? Yes! Is it fun looking at the new fabric and ordering something that won’t be in the shop for another 6-months? Yes, sometimes it is like Christmas. When the fabric arrives, I have forgotten how great it looks and it is fun showing it to the customers in the shop and watching everyone get so inspired.