One can build a successful business selling quilts, however, it does require some strategy. In this article, I’ll share some best business practices that can be applied to a handmade quilt business to increase the chances of it succeeding. It will require work outside of designing and creating quits, but that work with be worth it if your plans are to make money.
STEP 1: Find a Target Market
Think of your target market as the specific group of people you’re going to make quilts for and sell them to.
This is an incredibly important first step.
You can’t make quilts and then try to find people to buy them, that’s difficult to do. You must create with a specific type of customer in mind.
In HOW TO FIND A GOLDMINE OF CUSTOMERS I teach you the exact steps to take to find those groups of people, but I’ll use an example here.
THE WRONG WAY
I’m a quilter and I love to be creative, so I let whatever I find at the fabric store influence the kind of quilts I make. I have quilts in every color, and pattern, and in a variety of designs. I list them on Etsy and hope that people find something they like in my shop.
THE RIGHT WAY
I target new moms of baby girls who are decorating their nursery in a bohemian style (think light and airy, pastel colors and light earth tones, pom-poms and tassels, feather and arrow prints, etc.). With that customer in mind, I only create quilts that would fit in a little girl’s nursery that has a boho-style.
The other aspect you must keep in mind about your customers and who you’re creating for, is they are not the same people who buy bedding at Walmart or Bed Bath & Beyond. Those consumers are looking for mass-produced products at a low price.
Consumers who value handmade quilts are looking for unique keepsakes. They don’t have to be one-of-a-kind (I’ll explain why you don’t want to focus on one-of-a-kind in step 5) but the fact that they’re handmade means there aren’t hundreds of them out there.
When you design quilts with a specific customer in mind, you create a connection with that customer. When they see your handmade quilt, they’ll be so in love with it that they’ll eventually talk themselves into paying more for it.
That’s what we do when we love something that’s more than we were planning to pay. We initially think we don’t want to pay that much, keep looking, but that one item just sticks in our heads. Then we start rationalizing: It’s not that much more. I guess I could save a little money when it comes to nursery art…I really want that quilt.
When you create with a specific person in mind it’s obvious. And it makes those customers feel like nothing else will do, they have to have your quilt. That makes selling quilts much easier.
STEP 2: Give Quilts a New Look
I hate to say it, but the quilts our grandmas made us are part of the reason many people undervalue quilts.
The typical patchwork quilt made from scraps of mismatched fabric isn’t what people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for today; they’re what grandma made for them for free, so there’s not as much monetary value placed on them.
As amazing as any quilt is, the design and look of a quilt that sells for hundreds of dollars is one that appeals to the people willing to pay hundreds of dollars for it.
Bring fresh eyes to the tradition of quilt-making and think about the trends that are driving home decor purchasing.
STEP 3: Build a Brand
Think of a brand as your business’s personality.
If you think about how you might describe someone you know, you base that description on a collection of things they do repeatedly, not just one element.
For example, you don’t describe someone as sporty because they played soccer in middle school. You would describe them as sporty if sports influenced several areas of their life: they dress sporty, they watch lots of sports, they play sports, they talk about sports, etc.
When it comes to your quilt business, its personality might come through in its logo, colors, fonts, style of photos, products, customer service, etc.
When you apply a specific look/feel/vibe to several areas of your business, you create a brand.
A brand is what makes consumers feel like a business is right for them and that business is the only one that has exactly what they need. The business speaks to them or represents who they are.
THE WRONG WAY
I’m hoping to sell quilts but I don’t want to miss out on any customers. So I leave my brand fairly vague and create a wide range of quilts in hopes of selling to people who need a quilt for their boy’s nursery, or girl’s nursery, or for their teenager going off to college, or for their own bed and guest bed, and their living room. And for people who love pastel colors, dark colors, earth tones, neon colors, etc.
The mom buying a quilt for her daughter’s nursery may find my earth tone boho-style quilt on Etsy and love it, but when she visits my shop and sees it listed next to the Star Wars-themed quilt (which is a no-no, by the way, you must follow trademark laws) it kind of loses its sparkle.
THE RIGHT WAY
I’m targeting new moms who want to decorate their nursery in a bohemian style for their newborn girl. So everything about my business has a feminine, bohemian style:
- Shop colors
- Product Titles & descriptions
- Business cards
When my ideal customer sees one of my quilts on Etsy and then reads the description, it paints the exact picture they have for their nursery and they feel like we’re on the same page. When she clicks to my shop and sees dozens of boho-style quilts, she has a hard time deciding, but now knows, she doesn’t have to look any further, this is the business for her.
Or she may see my booth at a craft show, which is full of soft colors, pom-poms, lightweight fabrics, script fonts, etc. It immediately catches her eye and draws her over.
A brand will tell consumers you’re running a legitimate business and aren’t simply a crafter trying to sell some homemade quilts.
If someone is going to spend hundreds of dollars on one of your quilts, they need to feel “quality” and “attention to detail” coming through in every aspect of your business.
A brand doesn’t have to be expensive to develop. It just requires cohesion. For example, use the same 3 colors everywhere: your logo, your website, your business cards, your photo backgrounds, etc.
STEP 4: Price it Right
When someone is shopping on Etsy and they see that a small handmade quilt is typically $200 – $300 but yours is under $100, they’re automatically going to wonder what’s wrong with yours.
>> Are you not a skilled quilter?
>> Is it not going to be finished properly?
>> Are the materials cheap?
The consumer who does gravitate towards the cheapest quilt on Etsy is not who you want to attract or build your business on. They’re looking for a deal and are unlikely to come back and buy from you again and again; they’re always going to buy from the business offering the lowest price.
Your customers must be able to understand your prices, but your prices do not have to be the same as your competitors.
If your prices are higher because you use premium, organic, pesticide-free cotton, that information needs to be clear and immediately communicated so you attract the new mom who wants a toxic-free home, values toxic-free materials, and understands the price of them.
“Properly” means you’re basing it on your business’s numbers, not just multiplying a number by 2 and hoping it will cover all your costs and leave you with a profit.
STEP 5: Create in Bulk
I know it takes some of the fun out of quilting when you must make the same product over and over, but that’s where efficiency comes in.
Not only can you purchase your materials in bulk when you’re using the same 3 fabrics to make 30 quilts, but you also speed up production, which decreases your costs…which allows you to charge less…which encourages more people to buy.
You don’t have to make the same quilt over and over all year, but rather block your design time into 3 or 4 times a year.
You may design a new collection for each season. So four times a year you get to research home décor trends, design new patterns, and be creative. Then you’ll spend a couple of months creating those designs until you must create a new collection.
This makes your business much more efficient.
THE WRONG WAY
Every quilt I make is different, so I must make a trip to the fabric store several times a month to buy fabric. I also spend more time designing each quilt, and learning how to assemble and sew it. Then I must photograph each quilt once it’s completed and upload it to Etsy to create a listing for it. When I sell that quilt, the listing comes down, never to be used again.
If I make 10 quilts per month, that’s 120 times I am completing this process throughout the year.
THE RIGHT WAY
I create a new product collection 4 times a year, one for each season. When I design my quilts for a season, I’ve planned everything out is I can place a large order for all my fabric and am able to get a discount because of my bulk order.
I have 5 designs in a collection, which means each quarter, I only need to design 5 times, photograph 5 quilts, and create 5 Etsy listings. Not to mention, I become more efficient because I’m making the same 5 quilts over and over.
If I create a new collection each season, I’m repeating this process 4 times a year and only have to complete each step 20 times in a year (instead of 120).
STEP 6: Choose Where to Sell your Quilts Wisely
When selling quilts, where and how you sell them can have a big impact on your business.
If you are truly building a business and creating quilts to make money, money must help drive your decisions.
If you spread yourself too thin and sell quilts on Etsy, at craft shows, and through retailers, costs can quickly increase and efficiency can go down.
THE WRONG WAY
If I were to sell my quilts on Etsy, at craft shows, and to retailers, it would require me to:
- Learn how to use Etsy and stay on top of their changes
- Create Etsy listings each week
- Market online to drive traffic to my Etsy shop and perhaps:
- Grow my Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest accounts
- Reach out to bloggers to get featured
- Run paid ads
- Purchase packaging and shipping supplies
- Apply to craft shows and take time filling out their applications
- Design my craft show booth and buy supplies
- Driving to craft shows, setting up, selling and packing up
- Buy shopping bags and tissue to wrap craft show purchases in
- Buy a credit card reader and pay transaction fees
- Create lookbooks for retailers
- Reach out to retailers and follow up
- Ship orders to retailers
All of this context switching increases my costs and decreases my efficiency.
THE RIGHT WAY
I’m able to create my quilts quickly and focus on increasing profits through volume. I don’t enjoy the marketing and selling side of business as much, so I focus on selling my quilts wholesale to retailers.
This allows me to do most of my marketing and selling over email, and when I make a sale, I’m selling several quilts in one order. It also only requires me to send an email each quarter with my latest lookbook to sell to that retailer again and again.
I get to cut out all of the time Etsy and craft shows require from me. I also don’t have to spend money on Etsy and craft show fees, fancy packaging, online ads, etc. So my overhead costs reduce, which allows me to lower my prices.
Selling wholesale isn’t always ideal for a quilting business, I cover the subject here.
If selling quilts wholesale isn’t a fit for you, then consider focusing online only, or through craft shows only. But just don’t try to do it all.
I hope this article has helped you get a better picture of what it takes to build a business selling quilts 🙂
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!