Mary Bale (left) & Cindy Minota (right) at Fabric Art Shop in Lake City, FL during All Florida Shop Hop
In a time when many quilters are mourning the loss of neighborhood quilt shops, Koleene Herlocker and Jen Gasper are on a mission to help keep as many of those local businesses open as possible.
They purchased Shop Hop Inc from its founder in 2019. In the years since, they have grown the business significantly, refining their model and boosting hundreds of local quilt shops around the U.S.
“We want to do everything we can to help ensure that we have brick and mortar stores to shop at for a long time to come,”
says Herlocker, executive director of Shop Hop Inc and a quilter herself. (Gasper is the company’s marketing director.)
“It’s hard for me that we are losing so many brick and mortar stores,” says Herlocker. “Buying fabric is very different. You can buy notions and stuff like that online, but fabric is just one of those things you’ve got to see and feel in person.”
Left/Top: L to R Margaret Bevel-Jeter, Shirley Bevel and Stephanie Smith at Perfectly Pink Quilt Studio in Elmore, OH. Right/Bottom: Jodi Mosher, Deb Rozeveld, Emily Rairdin & Ruth Tacoma visiting University Vacuum and Sewing (their 18th shop) in Des Moines, IA.
A foundational model
Shop hops have been around for years. The basic model works like this:
- A group of stores organize a shop hop together
- Organizers create incentives to encourage participants (known as “hoppers”) to visit as many stores as possible within a timeframe (usually a couple months)
- Hoppers gather freebies, make shop hop-themed creations (sometimes with custom fabrics and quilt patterns), and win participation prizes
- Participating shops reach a wider audience, grow their customer list, increase revenues, and forge connections with colleagues
Shop hops are typically organized by a group of quilt shop owners, which can cause organizational challenges, says Herlocker.
Instead, “We offer a one-stop shop for our stores. We do all the planning, all the marketing. We provide all the services, the materials, everything that they need for the shop hop.”
The company creates a website for each event, as well as a Facebook page where participating shops can promote themselves. Participants receive a “passport” and get stamps from each shop they visit during the event.
Achieving critical mass
The company is unique in that it mostly focuses on state-wide shop hop events vs. smaller regional events. Typically about 60% to 80% of a state’s quilt shops participate, says Herlocker. To be successful, they need a “critical mass” of about 60 stores to participate in the first year.
“That’s the number we need for our stores to get the best bang for their buck,” she says. For example, “If every store brings 1,000 customers to the marketing database, and we have 50 stores, that’s 50,000 customers. Every store has access to 50,000 customers, because we’re all working together to promote it.”
Shop Hop Inc is expanding to 12 events in 2024, covering 26 states, including the Carolinas, the Mid-Atlantic region, New England, Texas and more. In 2025, they’ll add three more events covering four additional states.
“Our total estimated economic impact to a state (or an event) is $4 to $6 million, because our hoppers are eating, lodging, traveling, and spending money at quilt stores,” Herlocker explains. It’s typical for participating quilt shops to see an increase of hundreds of customers during an event.
Examples of the magazines Shop Hop Inc. produces for each event.
Read between the lines
The company creates a robust magazine for each event. Participating shops buy ads in the magazine, which also includes a map and directory of participating shops and sponsors. The magazines feature quilt patterns designed to be made with fabric exclusive to the shop hop. (Shop Hop Inc partners with industry manufacturers like Windham, Benartex, Maywood Studio and QT Fabrics to create the fabric.) Each participating shop purchases copies of the magazine to re-sell to consumers, and they fly off the shelves. “We typically sell 4,500 to 6,500 magazines across a specific event,” says Herlocker.
“We originally ordered 125 magazines, not knowing how many customers would buy into an $11.50 magazine sight-unseen,” says Cheryl Dolloff, owner of Colchester Mill Fabrics and Quilting in Colchester, Connecticut. (She pre-sold many magazines before the event started.) “We marketed the magazine to our customers as part of the shop hop, but also as a travel guide. We ended up selling 392 magazines,” says Dolloff, even a few that were water-damaged, and the shop sold out before the event was even over.
Reaping the rewards
Gasper and Herlocker’s model can cost more for shops to participate in compared to owner-organized shop hops, but by many accounts the price of entry is worth it.
“Twenty-five percent of our hoppers are first-time hoppers,” says Herlocker, “so we’re continually attracting new people. And then, theoretically, we’re introducing them to new stores that they weren’t aware of.”
Naomi Miller, owner of Miller’s Dry Goods in Charm, Ohio, said participating in the 2023 All Ohio Shop Hop was worthwhile. Their revenues for August and September were up significantly over previous years, and they had more than 2,000 hoppers.
Left/Top: Mary & Ray Higgins finished the All New England Shop Hop at Blackstone Quilting Company in Cumberland, RI. Right/Bottom: The Iowa State Fair project.
“It brought in revenue not just for this quilt shop, but for people lodging here,” Miller says. Her shop was among eight in Ohio’s Amish country that participated. “Customers asked where they could eat, and shoppers like to shop at other shops as well.”
Dolloff originally approached Shop Hop Inc to see if a Connecticut event was possible, and ended up helping them brainstorm the All New England Shop Hop event.
“It went better than I could have possibly imagined,” she says. For her shop, “It’s probably a 25% increase in sales. We purchased 1,000 assorted giveaways and quickly realized we were going to run out; as of this morning, we were nearing 1,200 hoppers.”
Cindy Goodman, owner of All American Quilt Company in Nashua, New Hampshire, says she was wary at first because of the initial investment, but the event has been “phenomenal” for her company. Her September sales were more than January through August combined. “We’re a very small shop, but this thing has gone crazy!” she says.
“Shop Hop Inc has definitely found a goldmine in this,” Goodman says. “It’s been an amazing experience, and we will definitely be doing it again in September 2024.”
Jenni Grover is a wellness coach for makers, freelance writer for the craft industry, and hyperscrappy maximalist quilter. Learn more at coachjennigrover.com.