Meghan in the Sommer Street Associates booth at Spring Quilt Market in Kansas City.
Imagine you own an independent bead, quilt, or yarn shop, and have spent years curating goods that speak to your customers. You spend a significant amount of time running your business, as well as cultivating, supporting, and growing a community of makers. Your shop offers an array of classes and workshops, a key component of fostering your maker community.
As a shop owner, you keep your eye out for books that are hot, you take suggestions from customers, you buy from trusted publishers, and take chances on new authors. But what does the actual book ordering process look like? Until very recently, that process was incredibly daunting. It meant identifying the books you wanted to order for your shop, figuring out which publisher publishes each book, and then reaching out to the individual publishers to order the books.
Enter Sommer Street Associates. Meghan Sommer and Steve Koenig met in 2008 when both were working at Interweave—a publishing company started in 1975 by Linda Ligon that originally focused on weaving, and later expanded to publishing a broad variety of craft books. At Interweave, Sommer and Koenig’s understanding of the vital role played by independent quilt shops, bead shops, and yarn shops increased. “These are the places where the most passionate crafters shop, where classes are held, and where the growth of the industry is happening,” and they worked to make it easier for shops to find and order Interweave products.
In late 2018, after independently leaving Interweave, Sommer and Koenig started talking to publishers and each other, and the idea for Sommer Street was born. They realized that most publishers had very little presence in the independent craft retail sector. “We then started talking to our retail contacts and realized that there wasn’t a good way for retailers to discover and order all the great craft books that are being published every month.”
The day they got the Sommer Street Associates booth sign delivered at the office (aka Meghan’s house).
There are simply too many publishers for most retailers to spend the time researching to see if there are books that will sell well in their shops.
Meghan talking about books with Barb Barone from River City Yarns in the Sommer Street booth at TNNA Summer 2019.
Meghan with Nuala, Maggie Casey and Judy Steinkoenig from Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins in Boulder when she was doing a sales call at their shop and presenting books.
Sommer Street officially launched in February 2019; its goal is to make it easy for independent craft retailers to identify, choose, and order books from a variety of publishers in a single place. Sommer Street reaches out to retailers every day via phone, email, and social media, and meets in person with shop owners via trade shows (including TNNA and Quilt Market), and visits to individual shops when they are travelling. Their message? Order from a curated catalog of craft books and a single point of contact. Sommer and Koenig identify new and best-selling books that will likely do well in retailers’ stores. Shop owners place their orders through Sommer Street; the individual publishers bill the shop owners and ship the books directly to them.
With two clients—retailers and publishers—Sommer Street is currently focused on signing increasing numbers of publishers (who pay Sommer Street commission for each book sold), and spreading the word and signing up retailers (who don’t pay Sommer Street anything for the convenience of one-stop shopping). Additionally, Sommer Street plans to start signing self-published authors, which could greatly increase this group of authors’ ability to get their books into independent craft retail shops.
Although their business model isn’t a new one, it is the first of its kind in the craft retail sector. “The outpouring of support and enthusiasm for what we’re doing has been tremendous,” they shared, but it has been a more difficult concept to explain to retailers than they had anticipated. It’s not uncommon for retailers to think Sommer Street is a publisher or distributor; they are not. Instead, they are an “online ordering system for retailers,” and their publishing clients (as of press time) include Schiffer, Sixth&Spring, Zakka Workshop, Penguin Random House, Search Press, Yarnworker, Macmillan, Fox Chapel/Landauer, and Independent Publishers Group.
When asked about what goes on behind the scenes of their business, the answer is simple: they are doing it all—website design, answering phones, managing trade shows, email marketing, accounting, and interfacing with customers. Currently, the priority in the day-to-day workflow—and where a bulk of their day’s work is spent—is responding to customers.
They also work with publishers to get physical copies of books—the importance of samples, and their familiarity with the books, can’t be overstated. They bring samples to trade and quilt shows, and most often, retailers want to do a deep dive into the content before deciding if it’s a good fit for their shop. If they don’t have a sample, the book doesn’t get ordered.
He commented that it shouldn’t be so difficult to order books, and because he understands the publishing landscape, he identified the publishers for the remaining 80% of the books, with instructions on how to order for the retailer. Sommer and Koenig consider themselves book ambassadors, and as Sommer Street signs more publishers, they hope to simplify the process and increase the number of published craft books, including by indie authors, that get into the hands of crafters via independent shops.
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The Sommer Street Associates setup at the TNNA Winter Show this year.
Katie Clark Blakesley
Katie is an author, quilter, and outdoor enthusiast who tries to balance her newfound love of the mountains with everything else. The author of Vintage Quilt Revival and co-founder of Pattern Drop—the only quilt pattern of the month club for creatives who love unique, premium patterns—Katie’s work can most often be found at http://swimbikequilt.com.