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Are trade shows worth your time?


Quilt Market, the quilting and soft crafts industry trade show, starts in a few weeks. I’ve been going since 2004. I’ve gone as a vendor, a member of the press, and an educator. Today when I’m not teaching, I spend my time walking the floor, networking, and making connections.

I have always been a fan of trade shows, partly because I love all the tchotchkes. I have buttons, coffee cups, pens and even a couple of stuffed animals from the trade shows I have visited. I have developed quite the reputation among my family and friends for enjoying trade shows.

If you are on the fence about going to Quilt Market or any trade show, here are some reasons why you should make the time.

Industry trends

You need to stay abreast of industry trends, especially if you are a shop owner. Sure you can wait for your fabric rep or distributor to stop by and show you the new fabric or patterns. You can follow all the manufacturers on Instagram or Facebook.

But not everything is on social media. And, spending your time on social media going from platform to platform can seem like spinning your wheels at times. Consider the value of your time. Going in person gives you a jump on your competition and puts you in the know sooner than others.

Plus seeing lots of different fabrics or patterns, (i.e., the big picture), makes it easier to focus on the trends.

And, as a shop owner, you are able to return to your shop with “what’s new.” You are the expert to your customers. When you keep up with what is new, it reinforces that image.


You make some fabulous connections. I cannot count the numbers of people I met at my first trade show in 2004 that I still count as friends. Over the years those connections, and connections from those connections, have led to some wonderful business opportunities.

The networking opportunities are endless. You will never meet more people who are interested in your business than at a trade show. If you are trying to meet your customers, you have to go where they hang out in large numbers. And, your customer is found in large numbers at a trade show.

Enhance your reputation

Attending or exhibiting at a trade show lets people know who you are. It showcases you as an expert. Many of us, other than shop owners, work in an isolated environment. Getting out and being seen by others in the industry lets them know who you are and builds your name recognition.

Even if you’ve built a name on social media, nothing beats a face-to-face connection to cement that reputation.

Grow your list

Trade shows gives you a chance to capture leads and follow-up with attendees. If you are exhibiting in a booth, your goal is to be able to make sales in your booth. Not everyone will buy from you on the spot, and your next best option is to sell to them later.

This is a great opportunity to gather names of potential buyers so you can contact them when you have a new product or to let them know of a sale. Be sure you have a system in place to collect those names. You cannot do make that future connection if you do not have their name.

Enhance your knowledge

Trade shows often have lectures and classes, many at nominal or no fee. You have a chance to learn how to market a particular product from its designer or learn about a topic that’s new to you.

Many designers will offer demos. That could be in their own booth, a fabric manufacturer’s booth, or the new “Demo Alley” at Quilt Market. This is the perfect chance to compare various products and get your questions answered by the experts.

You can also learn from other attendees. I often see shop owners sitting with “strangers” at a table for lunch. They leave with new ideas for their own shops. While you might think other business owners are your competition, nothing could be further from the truth. There is enough business out there for all of us. If we help others grow, our businesses will grow.


You know about the “bright, shiny object” syndrome. Well, here’s your chance to actually find some of that BSO. That could be the unsuspected new product you’ve been looking for, or the tchotchke you just happen upon, or the new contact you make on the shuttle bus.

Your decision

I can point out valid reasons to go to trade shows. You have to make the final decision, and it can be hard. For many small business owners, cost is a huge consideration. Yes, it does cost a lot of money, whether that is having a booth or attending the show. Your booth fees can run in the thousands. You have travel expenses and that can cost $1,000 or more.

You have to weigh the potential for your business vs. the costs. Remember, too, that for some people the ROI for participating at a trade show will not show up at the trade show. For example, at many trade shows, you are unknown and your goal is to get known, to have distributors pick up your product, to make enough connections for future business.

This week I had a Facebook Live with the members of our ICAP Members’ Studio. One of them, a pattern and fabric designer, said, “Looking back, everything I have accomplished started at Market.”

It’s my privilege to be doing a workshop on Saturday night during this year’s Quilt Market. It’s on Facebook and Instagram and how to use them to grow your business. I’m also doing a luncheon lecture – a peek into artists’ studios  – on Monday to kick off Festival. Other than that I will be on the floor seeing what I can learn about industry trends, meeting new people, and sharing anything I can to help those in the industry grow. I hope to run into you so we can connect and share our opportunities.

It’s your turn!

What is your reason for attending trade shows?

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One Response to “Are trade shows worth your time?”

  1. Laura Estes said:

    Morna, you have listed the 6 key points of why I attend, even if I only attend Spring Market. Maybe one in a thousand will find success sitting on their home turf, but for most of us, you have to get out there and see and be seen.

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