Mixing and mingling at the free buffet breakfast. Exhibitors hang banners over the railings so they are visible from the courtyard below.
Nashville, Tennessee is home to country music, hot chicken, and for one weekend a year, cross stitch. The Nashville Needlework Market, the only trade show dedicated solely to cross stitch, has been around in various forms for decades and represents the industry’s biggest buying event of the year.
The show is held each March in an Embassy Suites Hotel about 15 miles south of Nashville and is referred to, appropriately, as a “hotel show.” Instead of the booths you would find at a standard convention center show, vendors set up their displays in the living room of their 2-room hotel suite.
The show takes up four floors of the hotel, which is arranged around an open central courtyard. Buyers travel from floor to floor visiting the various suites. The format makes for a more intimate and informal feel than a convention center show.
Chalkboard inspired cross stitch by Hands on Design.
For vendors the hotel show format is generally less expensive than setting up a booth at a convention center. The entry fee is comparable to what a 10×10’ booth costs at a TNNA show, for example, but because your booth is also your hotel room, there is no additional cost for lodging. Exhibitors also avoid common convention center fees like electrical and drayage.
Displays are set up around the hotel suite’s existing furniture, which can be both a positive and a negative. Because the rooms have tables, desks, and chairs, exhibitors don’t need to bring or ship as many display pieces. The downside is the rooms can be dark, and the hotel furniture can limit display options.
The hotel room couch is converted into a table in this display by Just Another Button Company.
The Needlework Market was previously managed by TNNA, but in 2014 they decided to drop the hotel show format and focus instead on their convention center shows. This decision caused much consternation in the cross stitch community, and left many cross stitch shop owners and designers feeling abandoned by the trade organization.
After a period of uncertainty about the show’s future, it was ultimately picked up by Needlework Retailer, a trade publication dedicated to cross stitch and needlework. Needlework Retailer has run the show for the past three years.
Compared to TNNA and Quilt Market, the Needlework Market is relatively small. According to show organizers, 131 vendors exhibited at the show this year, and 143 shops and other related businesses attended. Attendance numbers in 2015 and 2016 were similar.
The show attracts mostly small, independent designers and supply manufacturers with a couple of larger brands, like Sulky, added to the mix. Distributors that cater primarily to the cross stitch market are also represented.
Most of the exhibitors and shop owners at Nashville have been attending the market for years, even decades. The demographic skews older and favors traditional cross stitch designs like reproduction samplers. Contemporary cross stitch designers like the ones you might find on Etsy are not well represented at the show.
Contemporary patterns by Tiny Modernist.
The need to attract a younger audience is a common refrain in the cross stitch industry. Nashville exhibitor Cheryl McKinnon of Tiny Modernist is an example of one designer targeting a new generation of stitchers with modern color palettes and graphic designs. Her approach is similar to the one I employ with my brand Red Gate Stitchery, but it is among the minority at the Nashville Market.
Trends in the broader craft industry don’t seem to penetrate too far into the Nashville Market. Exceptions are chalkboard-inspired designs as exemplified by Hands on Design, and laser cutting as used by Retromantic Fripperies, as well as in my line of cross stitch kits.
Aside from its physical layout as a hotel show, the Nashville Market stands apart from a convention center show in one other important way. There is ample opportunity at this show for socializing and networking.
At the end of a convention center show, attendees and exhibitors scatter to various hotels and restaurants. Because most everyone at the Nashville Market stays at the same hotel, when the show is over shop owners and designers alike descend to the lobby for a complimentary happy hour and chit chat. The same happens in the morning over the hotel’s free buffet breakfast.
With trade show attendance declining across the board, face-to-face networking is often touted as one of the main reasons to attend a show. In this aspect, the Nashville Needlework Market gets it right.