Cool row from @crinklelove on Instagram.
From the start Lutz believed strongly in the power of the experience of visiting a brick-and-mortar quilt shop. “Calico Gals is a girlfriend place, a friendly place that’s fun,” she says. “It’s not the largest store in the area, but I believe that quilting should be a fun hobby and shopping for quilting supplies should be part of the fun. The secret to my success has been hiring really good staff—people who have a friendly personality and love being here.”
A degree in retail management served her well and she quickly grew the shop’s scope. By 2011 she had 15 employees and had opened a second location an hour’s drive away in a less populated area. That summer Lutz was searching for ways to draw customers to the new shop and tried to get in on a local shop hop.
“They wouldn’t accept me. They said the shop was too new and too far away.” Being turned down for the shop hop led to a powerful turning point in Lutz’s career. “I thought, ‘I want to do something different and be really inclusive.” After talking with a fellow shop owner in California, Lutz devised a radically new shop hop model, one that would be open to quilt shops everywhere.
Typical shop hops are both regimented and expensive for customers and shops alike. To participate, customers purchase a passport and collect stamps at various shops over a period of 7-10 days in order to enter prize drawings. Shop owners have to pay several thousand dollars to join a hop, and they are required to buy specially printed fabric and to donate top-dollar items such as sewing machines as prizes. Lutz’s model did away with all of that.
“Yes, shops would be giving away the patterns for free, but I’ve found that people who visit a shop feel disappointed if they leave without buying something.” Shops were encouraged to sell kits for the pattern and do other things to make the visit unique and memorable. She encourages shops to reach out to local designers for help in designing their rows. “That raises the entire industry,” she remarks.
Marlene, winner at Hickory Stick Quilt Shop, Hannibal Missouri, July 2015.
Lutz has refined and formalized Row By Row over the years. At first, participation was free for shops. She’s slowly instituted a modest fee (today it costs $100 for a shop to join). She’s also realized the value of Facebook for marketing the event. Each area has its own Facebook page and coordinator who posts pictures of prize winners with their Row By Row quilts.
Shops sign an agreement that spells out rules, including not emailing the patterns, not listing them online, and not bringing them to shows. There’s also a “hibernation period” when the summer ends, in which the patterns aren’t available to ensure that customer motivation to participate in the summer months remains high.
What started out as a just an event has become a business all its own. Last year Lutz made Row By Row its own LLC. She sees promise in applying the Row By Row model to other industries, including possibly scrapbooking, knitting, and craft beer, if she were able to connect with experts in those industries willing to do the legwork. For quilt shops, Row By Row has been a boon. On average, the program brings in 200 new customers per store in a period when many shops would otherwise see slow sales, and it leads to $30 million in sales for the participating shops overall. At a time when many are bemoaning the decline of the brick-and-mortar quilt shop, Row By Row is making a significant impact in keeping them alive and well.