F+W has sold Keepsake Quilting, the quilt shop and catalog business, to Steelcity LLC, a family-owned business owned by the Kimelman family of North Carolina. The Kimelmans also own Swatchcraft and Pineapple Fabrics. The sale was announced this week. The Keepsake Quilting shop is located in Center Harbor, New Hampshire, and the catalog business has its headquarters a half mile away in Moultonborough.
Judy and Russ Sabanek founded Keepsake Quilting as a quilt catalog business in 1986. They opened the retail shop in 1988. The couple sold the company to New Track Media in 2007. New Track was acquired by F+W Media in 2014.
I reached out to John Bolton, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Crafts Group at F+W for comment on the acquisition, but he did not respond to my email.
Swatchcraft is the fabric industry leader in producing sample cards and swatch cards. It’s a fourth generation company started by current CEO Rick Kimelman’s grandfather in Long Island City, New York. The company relocated to North Carolina in the early 1990s order to be closer to the textile manufacturing plants it served. As precut fabrics gained popularity Kimelman realized his company was well positioned to expand into that business. They opened a second facility focused exclusively on cutting and distributing precuts and today they contract with many of the major quilting fabric companies including Andover, Windham, and Jaftex.
Kimelman started Pineapple Fabrics, a precut quilt kit company, to keep the factory busy during the lull periods. His wife, artist Dot Kimelman, selects fabrics from various manufacturers and collections to kit together. Pineapple does 20 consumer shows a year, keeping the Kimelmans in close touch with the buying behavior of quilters.
In August of 2017 Kimelman says Keepsake reached out to him when the vendor they were using to cut and pack kits for the catalog got backed out and they asked Swatchcraft for help. Swatchcraft began fulfilling about 20% of Keepsake’s kit orders. When he heard that F+W was looking to sell Keepsake he leaped at the chance. By all accounts, employees and customers are excited, too.
Yelp reviews of Keepsake Quilting reveal years of customer disappointment with both the in-store experience and the ecommerce shop. Customer service is described as disinterested at best and shipping delays are said to be as long as two months with no notifications or updates.
Cheryl Millett is the vice president of merchandising at Keepsake and has worked at the company for 21 years. “F+W fully admits today that they didn’t understand the catalog business,” Millett said in a phone call on Tuesday. “It’s just something that they struggled with over the years.”
Kimelman concurred. “They were not very hands on at all. You can see it in what happened to the store. You can see it in how the systems are antiquated here. They just did not put a lot of time, or money, or effort into this business,” he said.
F+W has experienced leadership upheavals over the last few years. In January F+W ousted it’s executive team and rounds of layoffs followed, leaving staff with feelings of uncertainty. “We were just left in the dark,” Millett said. In August F+W attempted to make Keepsake into an entirely digital company, doing away with mailing out catalogs. Millett says that effort failed, and the company backtracked. “Maybe other people at F+W know what the direction of that company is. We do not.”
Kimelman does have a clear plan for Keepsake and he’s already taken action. Immediate changes in the catalog business include returning to mailing it out five times a year and getting rid of the $1.99 charge for the catalog. Bringing fulfillment in-house will also dramatically reduce shipping time.
On the retail side the store will now be open seven days a week. The store is located in New Hampshire’s lake region, near Lake Winnipesaukee, a popular vacation destination. “F+W made the decision to have the store open four days a week. While we were up here visiting we could see there were carloads of people that had drive hours to go to the store, just to find it was closed,” Kimelman said.
He also plans to raise the standard for customer service and to expand the product selection. “Right now you walk in there, if you aren’t there to buy fabric there’s absolutely nothing else for you to buy. And 90% of it is fabric off the bolt.” Soon there will be kits, precuts, and a wide selection of gift items as well, he said.
Reaction to the announcement of the acquisition on Facebook was overwhelmingly positive. “Welcome to the Kimelman family! I was once a loyal KQ shopper/visitor but over the years became disillusioned with the inventory of KQ as well as service,” said one commenter. “Having an impressive number of bolts does not necessarily make a shop a good shop. Hope to visit early this summer and rediscover KQ!”