Quilt Market: How to Survive Sample Spree

Sunday, November 9, 2014

This post is a little overdue, but it's here at last. I had a great time at Sample Spree at Quilt Market last month and I wanted to share some tips for anyone who is considering taking on the madness.

Prior to attending, I was under the impression that Sample Spree was like Walmart on Black Friday x100. I know I'm not the only one who that that either. While I was there I overhead a security guard say to his coworker, "Man...they sure picked one hell of an event for my first day of work."

I stopped, backtracked to them, and asked if it was seriously his first night on the job. His reply slayed me: "Yeah, the other guys just told me 'When they open the doors, grab a piece of wall and hold on for dear life. The crowd is mostly harmless but you still don't want to get between them and their fabric.'" So yeah. Even the security team has clocked our fabric obsession.

In all honesty though, it was not that bad. Sample Spree vets I talked to said this year was noticeably calmer than in previous years. This is probably a result of the stricter credential requirements to get into Quilt Market. Regardless, Sample Spree is totally doable with a little bit of preparation.

1. Dump any other stuff you have in your car or room first. The less stuff you have to carry, the better. That means limit the contents of your purse to your wallet, phone, vendor list & map, and maybe a bottle of water.

Bring a roomy, durable tote or shopping bag that is easy to toss stuff in and lug around. Wheeled bags are not allowed, so you’re limited to what you can carry. Some vendors may have plastic or paper bags, it isn’t a sure thing.

2. Bring cash in several denominations. My awesome guildie, Tammy, advised me that “cash is king” and she wasn’t lying. Vendors take cards, but that means you may have to wait for a device to free up before they can swipe your card, plus the added waiting time of processing/signing.

I brought $300 in cash (A $100 bill, $100 in $20s, $50 in $10s, and $25 each in $5s and $1s). Being able to have exact cash on hand ready to pay meant that I was able to complete some purchases ahead of people who were waiting to pay with a card. For example, at the Cotton + Steel booth, I got my bundles and paid in less than 5 minutes, while some people waited more than 15 to pay with plastic.

An added bonus is that it was easy to stay within my spending limit. No more cash, no more shopping. I actually didn’t even spend all I brought.

3. Know the terrain! A list of vendors and map of the tables is posted in advance on the Quilts Inc. website. Print out a copy, highlight the booths you want to hit, and map them out. Make a rough plan of the order you want to hit each table so you don’t waste time.

4. Skip the afternoon camp out. People start lining up for sample spree hours in advance. Unless you have your heart set on a single booth that you are quite certain will sell out of your desired products within the first few minutes, there is not much to be gained from camping out. I got in line about 5-10 minutes before the start time. Once the doors open, the line move very quickly. I had no trouble getting what I wanted.

5. Don’t rely on the divide-and-conquer approach with a friend. Booths may limit popular items to one per person, so if you guys are trying to buy the same bundles, you may be out of luck. I didn't actually see this enforced, but I did hear people saying it. One solution to this may be to buy a larger bundle (like a half-yard bundle instead of 2 FQ bundles) and cut the pieces in half later. 

6. Don’t be discouraged by a crowded table. The Cotton + Steel booth was completely surrounded, three people deep when I approached, assuming all the bundles had been claimed. In reality, there were loads of bundles left! The crowds of people were just waiting to pay with their credit cards. Ask someone to hand you what you want, then try to pay. Be sure to shout that you have cash!

7. Grab first, then worry about paying. This isn’t like a cafeteria where you ask for a bundle, then proceed to checkout. You grab what you want, then see if you can get a someone to take your money once you have your goodies in your hands. There isn’t a neat little line for checkout either, so don’t worry about “cutting” the line to pay. It's like going a bar. Pay when you find an opening, and if someone tells you that they were there first, defer to them if you’re not a jerk. However, cash does seem to trump plastic. 

8. Stick around till the end. There were a few products I wanted, but were not at the top of my list. After the crowds cleared a little, I was able to grab those items with less trouble. Some vendors may even get generous with extras towards the end if they’re trying to clear out their table. You might even get to talk to someone special! I had a nice one-on-one chat with Melody Miller, which was not as easy at Market.

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