Ask Kat: Wholesale or Retail Show? What’s the Difference?

(This post is part of a new series we’ve started in an attempt to publicly answer some of the mostly commonly asked questions we receive.)

This new question & answer series has been just great and today’s question is fun to talk about!

What’s the difference between a wholesale show and a retail show?

As most of you know, the sewing industry has two wholesale trade shows per year…the Spring and the Fall Quilt Markets, and I often get asked, “Why can’t the general public come to the Quilt Market?” As a matter of fact, until I got into this business, I really didn’t understand the fundamental differences between a wholesale and retail show either, and here’s the deal… to the naked eye, the differences are not readily apparent. As a matter of fact, if I showed you a picture of a random show floor, you would be hard-pressed to find a visual cue as to whether it was a wholesale or a retail show! So what are the differences?

  • Attendees– In order to attend a wholesale show as a buyer, one must present a valid resale license or certificate.  Some trade shows allow employees to attend along with an approved buyer or store owner, (even though they do not possess the required credentials), however, these non-approved buyers are generally not permitted to make purchases.
  • Prices– And speaking of prices, this is a MAJOR difference indeed! Generally speaking, at a wholesale show, one can expect to find prices roughly 50% of the retail price, which makes sense since these buyers are resellers who will be looking to make a profit when they resell the items in their own venue.
  • Taxes– So far at least, Uncle Sam only requires that sales tax be paid ONE time per item. In this country its generally assumed that the end-user gets this honor. So with this in mind, sales tax is not collected at wholesale shows, but if attend a retail show, someone MUST pay sales tax. So… if we decide to vend at an out-of-state retail show, we’ll need to get a Tax ID# from that state and pay the appropriate tax to that entity afterward. 
  • Sales– Since the attendees at wholesale shows are retailers (for the most part), they generally are not interested in buying single patterns and many would rather just have their order shipped to them after we all go home. Not so at retail shows. It would be a rare sale indeed that included more than one of a particular pattern here, and almost every customer wants to take their purchase home that day, which means that we should plan on bringing a lot more product with us to our first retail show.
  • Attendance– There’s no doubt about it, the attendance at retail shows blow the wholesale shows out of the water! For example, the attendance at the Quilt Market in Houston last fall was over 10,000, but guess what the attendance was just one week later at the Quilt Festival (in the very same venue)? 61,116
  • Customer Contact-One of the things I enjoy the most about the trade shows we’ve attended is the customer contact. It’s great to get out in the public and hear the comments and suggestions straight from our buyers. The wholesale shows give us a good idea what the retailers like to have on hand in their stores, but I feel like a retail show would give us more of a grass roots reaction to our products. Both are good points of view to tap into.

  • As you know, so far our only real vending experience has been at wholesale show venues, but guess what? We’ve committed to branching out and trying our hand at our very 1st retail show in 2013. 

    We’re REALLY excited about it and we’ll give you more details about when and where this retail show is taking place in our next post in this series, so stay tuned!

    So…have you ever attended a wholesale or a retail show?
    If so, which show did you attend?
    Please feel free to leave your comments in the space provided below 

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    8 Comments So Far, You're Next!

    1. Thanks for sharing this information! I was always very curious about the “bigger” shows 🙂 I attended my first retail quilt/craft show over the weekend in Lakeland, FL. It was so much fun and made me want to go find more! With my business just starting out, doing a retail show is on my future goals list. So this was a great way to get ideas on what was visually pleasing, what product people gravitated towards, etc. Cindy

    2. Just being a “regular” citizen, have only attended retail shows for paper crafting and the (totally fabulous) SewExpo in Puyallup, WA. And, yes, for the most part, I do expect to be able to purchase items and take them with me. The exception at the SewExpo is if you buy a machine or cabinetry — those vendors work with you find a local retailer to ship the machine (sewing, embroidery, serger) or to determine where and when to deliver the cabinets. Fer sure that makes sense — who wants to lug a sewing machine back to the hotel room, on to the plane, etc.

      I have lusted in my heart to attend some wholesale shows, like CHA (also twice a year) and QuiltMart and others, just because I’m nosy and want to know what’s new. There’s even a trade show for candy! Wouldn’t that be a hoot to visit? CHA has the same rules — need to be either a provider company (like Graphic 45) or be the owner or procurement person for a store or a certified trainer. Employees can attend but can’t buy.

      So until I figure out a way to “get in”, I rely on reports from folks like you (always love the pix you take and your observations) or the owner of my local scrapbook store, who posted mini videos of her finds at CHA, or hunting on youtube.

    3. I’m also a “regular” citizen and always attend the Sewing and Stitchery Expo in Puyallup, WA. There’s so much to see, as well as classes and seminars to attend. I would love to see you there! You and your great bags would be a wonderful addition.

    4. I have attended both wholesale and retail shows. I have had booths at retail shows and I have a booth at an antique/craft mall now. I love both types of shows. Meeting the people that make the things and also the people that want to buy the items is always interesting.


    5. I have only attended retail shows–I like them because the shop booths give me a good feel for whether or not I would seek out that retail shop, especially ones not located in my area. You get to see lots of the latest products and fabrics under one roof, and some booths offer great “show special” deals. While I am not usually one to buy a lot of kits, (but some of my sewing friends certainly are!) I have observed that kits seem to sell like crazy at these shows. I actually bought one at the most recent show we went to, because for once I liked all the fabrics in the kit, and it was the only way to get the pattern involved. While you would be there to sell patterns, some kind of exclusive show-only kit that you could team up on with a fabric company might be a hit.