Everybody loves a bargain. Scoring something on sale is a modern day hunter/gatherer coup of the first order, a proof positive that you are conducting your life with thrifty adult aplomb.
But the push for sale prices is eroding the quilting (and other) industries.
Many chain stores have resorted to constant discounting as a way to keep the sales moving, and what this has done is teach their buyers that the listed price of a thing is a number that only fools without coupons pay. And that even if you’re lacking the coupon or mobile store app, everything will be on sale at some point during the next six weeks if you’re willing to be patient.
This just isn’t sustainable. Putting things on sale is a great way to get some fast income, but it’s always followed by a slow period because your customers already spent their money. Once a store puts everything on sale all the time, it’s close to impossible to go back, and it dooms them to cutting back in other ways to make up the lost income.
The long standing formula for a retail price was one built to pay everyone decently at every tier. If I give you an example using one of my $10 patterns sold through a distributor to a store, the cut goes like this: I get $3.50 (out of which come my material costs), the distributor gets $1.50, and the store gets $5. The store gets the lion’s share because they bear the biggest cost of keeping the lights on and paying talented people to help you, and the highest cost per square foot of their retail space.
Let’s apply this to a chain store like Joann’s. If they are making it possible for you to buy that $10 pattern for $6 with a coupon, they are losing $4 on that sale. How that has manifested at Joann’s is that the stores have devolved to being (under)staffed by mostly part-time people (who get no benefits), who don’t know a voile from a velour, and who are mistreated by the company in ways that not a one of us would voluntarily subject ourselves to if other options were available.
And do we really want to be a part of making that happen?
This perpetual discount model has educated us to believe that a $32 rotary cutter is really a $19 product with the coupon. But if the true price (from one end of the manufacturing process to the store) is $32, then that’s what we should be paying.
The next problem with this is we take the “I want everything on sale” attitude to our local quilt stores. I’ll let you in on a secret… no one wakes up imagining that that the fast way to get rich is to own a quilt store. They work hard for the money. And for the most part, they are staffed with the kind of people that can calculate how much border fabric you need without missing a beat. Good quilt store employees are SKILLED workers, and so they deserve better than minimum wage. And if the store is doing it right, they are getting the latest and greatest for you, and making samples of it to inspire you (even my speediest quilts take me a couple of days each to finish). There is a LOT of love in the labor.
Trust me – I know that quilting is expensive. But I also know that it is, as my dear friend Maddie Kertay at BadAss Quilters’ Society once said to me, a luxury sport. If you want to play it, there is a certain investment in the equipment that goes with the game. You are not going to die if you don’t quilt. While it might be emotionally necessary to your well-being, it isn’t critical like food, or heating, or gas for your car.
No one OWES you the right to quilt, nor to have the materials and tools for cheap. If you want to quilt cheaply, you absolutely can. You can acquire the fabrics at thrift stores and opt for doing it all by hand, dispensing with the need for a machine – or scour the same thrift stores for a lucky machine find. If your income is fixed (and seriously, whose isn’t?) you definitely have decisions to make regarding where you spend your pennies. But just because you want it cheaper doesn’t mean you get to have it cheaper – if that logic were true I’d be demanding my rightful Porsche, and my McMansion with singing woodland creatures to keep it clean for me!
If we, as consumers, don’t start supporting the small businesses, they will disappear (just look at dearth of bookstores). There will be no local quilt shop with the carefully curated fabric selection, nor the sweet woman who works on Wednesdays and knows how to find the exact blue you need. All there will be is a sea of chain stores with limited selection and harried staff who can’t help you beyond pointing down the aisle.
Yes, I know, buying a new rotary blade full price might cost you the equivalent of two frothy coffees instead of one (or three fat quarters instead of two), but consider it an investment in having the best quilting community possible. You want to be a part of that, right? Yes! Because otherwise, we’ll be condemning ourselves to nothing more than chain stores.
At some point each of us needs to step up to invest in the health of our industry. Consider it the quilting version of eating your spinach or whipping up a green smoothie.
It’s in our hands. Let’s go do something about it.
For other reads on this:
- Megan Dougherty’s peek behind the green curtain at Joann’s (read the comments, too)
- Maddie Kertay’s Quilt Shop Confidential series 1, 2 and 3
- Ebony Love’s discussions (1 and 2) on pricing her online class offerings.