Demystifying the Australian Craft Shows

13 02 2011

I often get asked questions about the shows I am attending and what the differences are between them.  You can find my show schedule on my website behind the link .    Across the country there are a lot of different levels and variety of shows that have quilting and craft products for sale.  It is an industry which has been in flux lately, with a number of significant changes, most of which have left the craft consumer – you my friends and customers – in a state of either complete confusion or non interest.  For those of you that don’t care, great, keep going to what you like to attend.  My concern is more for those of you that have come away disatisfied with the experience of a show in the last few years, or worse showed up to one that had been canceled with out notice.  There has been a lot of change that is not apparent on the surface.  So, some history and then where we are at now.

I am talking here about the major, Australian wide shows which generally go to some or all of the Capital cities.  There are a huge number of smaller localised shows or companies that go to the Regional centres.  These are the same as they have always been, more or less. 

Many years ago, the first major shows were put on by Reed’s.  These were the Stitches and Craft Shows.  For a while, they were they only main craft shows available in Australia.   About 20 years ago, Gary FitzRoy set up Expertise Events and launched the first of what we now know as the Quilt and Craft Shows.  You will recall that these commenced with sponsorship with Women’s Weekly and were often linked by name to that magazine.

Reed continued to run shows at Caufield in Melbourne; Rosehill in Sydney and Boondall and then Southbank in Brisbane.  The Reeds Brisbane show was that run in May.  Gary’s Expertise Show is in October.

This continued for a number of years, with Sydney seeing three major shows a year, two at Rosehill (Reeds) and one in Darling Harbour (Expertise); Melbourne also three, two at Caulfied (Reeds) and one at Jeff’s Shed (Expertise) and Brisbane had two as described above.  I used to do all of the Reeds shows and most of Expertise, but decided that I would no longer go to any city more than twice in a year, so eventually dropped some and then all of the Reeds shows.  The reasons I cut back on Reeds was varied, but overall, I did not like the way they ran the shows, there was no corporate memory and they did not support their exhibitors as well as Expertise did.  Many other exhibitors had different views.  Most continued to attend a mix of both companies.  The easiest way to tell the two apart is that the Expertise Quilt and Craft Shows are all run in conjunction with your State Quilters Guild annual exhibition.

In my view Expertise have always been very good at market research and listening to what the consumers want.  They picked up a need for a series of specialised shows and set up the Australasian Quilt Convention (AQC) in Melbourne, the Scrapbook and Papercraft Expo in Brisbane and most recently the Textile Art Festival in Brisbane.  These three have been fabulous shows and the specialisation means we can attract International tutors and exhibitors that would normally not do the full show circuit. 

Whilst all this is going on, Stitches have lost customers, more exhibitors have pulled out and for some the Stitches shows were becoming a greater liability, though most persevered hoping for a turn around.  Eventually Reeds decided they would no longer run the Stitches and Craft Shows and put the brand on the market.  It was a good brand.  How many of you refer to every craft Show as ‘Stitches’?  I hear it all the time.  Anyway the show was sold and new owners took over.  Unfortunately, many of you had lost faith in the brand by then or were over craft shows and felt that ‘they were all the same’.  Over the next few years, Stitches and Craft changed hands a couple of times and eventually ceased running all together.  Unfortunately, in that time significant damage had been done to the shows.  I still hear about the Melbourne show that was cancelled without notice and of the buses of people who were very disappointed and the shows without carpets.  Oh my goodness, that has stuck in peoples memories hasn’t it?

Whilst the Stitches shows were running down, Gary at Expertise had been doing more market research and decided that there needed to be a new format for some shows which was fresher, younger, funkier.  That would attract younger, new to craft craftspeople as well as offer something different for the die hard quilter and crafter.  So, the Quiltfest now called Quilt Expos were born.  These shows started in Sydney in Homebush and Melbourne at the Exhibition Centre in Carlton.  There are now 6 Craft Expo’s being held around the country and in New Zealand.  The Sydney Craft Expo will be at Rose Hill for the first time this year.  This will cause some confusion after over 20 plus years of Stitches being run there by Reeds and others.    Allthough the venue is the same as the old shows, these will be very different.  Different organiser, different format, back to the best they can be.

I am now attending most of the Quilt and Craft Shows, some of the Craft Expos and all of the specialist shows.  I still don’t like to come to one city more than twice in a year.  I think you would get sick of me if I did.  Also, as a very small business, I can’t be every where.  I think Expertise has got a good balance of shows, something for everyone and I hope you continue to join me at them.

Leave a comment or email me if you would like further information on this post.




4 responses

13 02 2011
pat dwyer

Hey Cecile thanks for trying to sort out that confusion about the shows. I would like to hear your thought as to the drop in quilts at shows like Darling Habour..NSW guilds annual show..they where down about 100 quilts last show and I am waiting to see this years show.I still haven’t decided if I am entering this year as yet, haven’t missed one for many years but just not inspired …Yet!! I run a long arm quilting business in Sydney and have done for 10 years, personally I feel its due to the economic down turn also and the fact that more people quilt on their domestic machines. I would also like an opinion on why there are sponsors and prizes for excellence for hand and domestic quilting but now none for longarm quilters, we had one the 3 years ago and none for the last 2 years. That is another reason I think corresponds with what you have posted about too many quilts show up in too many shows all around the country, also why can interstate quilters join our state guild and enter our shows, would make more sense to enter your own states shows so you can help etc..thought thats what guilds where all about. I would have also thought being notified of wins in competitions important , as a finalist in one of expertise events challenges and asking several times for the winners, joe blogs public quilt show attendees knew who won before the entrants did, another reason I have not bothered to go thru it again. I dont know if everyone shares my nerves waiting for the winners to be announced but that really turned me off entering last year and this years challenge.Personally think there are too many shows now to attend all of them…it all comes back to the dollar, not a pensioner yet so still paying full price to get in, to see quilts that I dont think should have won…maybe better to enter one good quilt every few years rather than a mediocre quilt every year… ..thought you might be able to throw some light on my questions as you seem to be a finger on the pulse sort of gal and in touch with our state guilds..thanks cheers sorry for the long post

13 02 2011
Jan Knight

Thanks for that very interesting information Cecile. Having lived in FNQ for about 20 years I was never able to attend any of the shows but, after moving south about 13 months ago I’ve been to all the shows in Brisbane which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Absolutel LOVE the Textile Art Show and looking forward to this years. Surfing the net and buying online is good but actually be able to SEE the products and talk to the shop owners is much better. I’ll certainly be saving my pennies for this years Textile! 🙂 Jan

13 02 2011

I look forward to seeing you there AND you can meet Lesley Riley. The shows are great because you get so much choice in one place. See you there.

15 02 2011
Joy V

A great article Cecile. One the main reasons I stopped going to the Reeds Stitches shows was (from a consumer) the lack of professionalism in how the shows were put on. To me they were not a patch on how the Expertise shows were run. Again from a consumer’s point of view I felt the Expertise shows just had that something extra, not sure what it was, maybe the way the stalls were arranged; but mainly where they were held had a big impact. Caulfield Racecourse was very congested and trying to get from one floor to the next was a nightmare at times. Jeff’s Shed (as we call it) and the Exhibition Buildings are so much better suited to exhibitions as they were and are purposely built for this kind of function.
I would love it if they brought the Textile show to Melbourne, say every 2nd year. Being retired now, I have to watch what I spend, and that is another reason I only go to 2 shows a year.
I also agree with Pat (above) about interstate quilters being allowed to put quilts in other State’s shows. Personally I would like to see more of what the everyday quilter does, rather than all of the ‘professional’ quilts. I find them rather daunting, although beautiful, but not what myself or others quilters would even think of aspiring too. There should be a separate event/category for the truly professional quilter, instead of allotting the word ‘professional’ to someone who does not earn their living from quilting, but has in the past won some type of award for their work.
Apologies for the long comment, hope to able to say hello at AQC – I’m on White Glove duty on Thursday.

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