Wow, I really touched a nerve with my post yesterday. I've long felt like I "didn't belong" in many quilting related venues but didn't realize that I wasn't the only one.
I wanted to respond to all of your comments but Nancy's really hit home for me. For many years I had very little money to spend on fabric. I would squirrel away small amounts and look forward to Christmas and my birthday when my folks were always great about giving me cash gifts. Even now, when it isn't as much of a problem, I still like cash for my birthday so I can go out and buy what I want without it bending my budget out of whack.
There were many times I felt like the purple bra and panty gal above, if it wasn't that I took up a little space and maybe shut off some of the glow from their more treasured customers I'd never get waited on. Or, I'd feel so intimidated by all of the personal chatter that I felt like I was intruding on a private conversation. Of course these were the days before cell phones so I wasn't used to hearing people's private converstions, (the other morning I was forced to overhear all the details of a stranger's visit to the gynecologist...in the checkout line!). Still, I was often made to feel like I wasn't welcome and when I say "made" to feel that way I mean it. It seemed like there were some shopkeepers, (or their employees), who didn't care if I shopped in their store or not.
Of course not all quilt stores are like that. I know a couple in my area that aren't, but whenever I travel I encounter the "unwelcome" vibe and it really bugs me. Whenever I hear or read of quilt shop owners complaining about us quilters buying online or from the chains it makes me see red. Don't they realize that they are their own worst enemy? Their lack of customer service is what drives people away, and once they've lost someone it's hard to get them back again. I know I don't go into stores where I feel unwelcome, and I'm sure you don't either.
I worked for many years as a Customer Service Manager and was responsible for training many Customer Service Reps. The main thing I told them is that every customer is valuable, no matter how small the purchase or how annoying they might be. You never know who they know or how much damage treating that one customer badly can do to your business.
Nowadays with sites like Yelp, and bloggers like me it's even more important to provide great service. Some stores seem to think that if they wait on you and cut your fabric evenly that they've done their job. Maybe so, but no one forgets waiting around while you fuss over one customer without even recognizing that you're waiting. Or how you engage in conversation with one of your "faves" while you're waiting on them.
Now, I understand how the "special" customers become special. They attend classes, they're active guild members, and they spend a lot of money in the shop. I get why the shop owners cater to them. However, it is possible to cater to them and to your other customers as well. I know it can happen because I know shops where it does happen; where I'm always recognized, when if there's a conversation going on at the cutting table I'm included, where my small purchase is handled as well as if it was a large one. I think that's all any of us want.
My hope is that if there are any quilt shop owners out there reading this post that they take my feelings, and Nancy's, to heart. It's easy to blame others for falling sales but perhaps if you did a better job on your end and made sure that every customer was made to feel welcome your business would improve. You might honestly believe that you are, but hang around and observe how your employees interact with the customers, you might be surprised to find out that they're the ones driving your customer's away. It takes a lot for someone who loves fabric as much as I do to turn my back on a great selection of quilt fabric. But, I do it all the time. I have several shops within a short distance from me that I never go into ... because I'm not welcome.
I'd love to read your comments. You guys inspire me and make me feel less like a quilting freak.