Among the many and wide-ranging impacts of the COVID pandemic has been the postponement, cancellation or virtualization of events and live gatherings. We’ve seen the impact span from family birthday parties and weddings to major meetings like the recent Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
Among the organizations affected is Original Sewing & Quilt Expo, a nearly 25-year-old company with the mission of promoting and instructing in the needle arts. You might not think of an organization related to sewing and quilting as being on the cutting edge, but these aren’t typical times.
OSQE normally holds at least eight shows annually across the country, where enthusiasts and practitioners of the needle arts gather to learn, network and immerse themselves in their craft. When COVID derailed plans for many of those, OSQE made the “pivot” as they say.
“Attendees and students [of our shows] were still looking for ways to connect,” explained Liz Frederick, Sales Manager of OSQE. Like many other organizations that typically rely on live shows and events, OSQE quickly moved into virtual classrooms. It’s fair to say the pivot has been a welcome success for all involved.
“The online classes have really been ideal,” Frederick said, taking pride to explain how OSQE excels compared to other online education for creative needle arts by offering live, interactive classes facilitated by helpful customer service that ensures everyone has a high quality experience.
At the core of OSQE’s classes is the quality education that live show participants have come to expect. A moderator in each online class helps answer questions and facilitate the students’ experience. Kits containing the necessary materials for each of the hands-on classes are purchased and delivered as part of the registration, so students aren’t forced to search for what they need.
Another advantage of the OSQE virtual program is that class recordings are stored on a private webpage. They can be accessed on-demand and re-watched for a full year afterward by students who purchased the class.
“Those who sew and quilt know that when you’re learning something new, you’re not going to get it totally the first pass,” Frederick said. “There are videos that I have watched many times. It just takes a few repetitions of new techniques to get it right.”
New Audiences, New Opportunities
Another positive consequence of OSQE’s online classes has been the opportunity to reach an even wider audience than with the live shows alone.
“Even though we feel we have covered the country with our live shows, the truth of the matter is that there’s a substantial population that is not within a day drive of any of the cities in which we appear,” Frederick explained. “There are people who have never come to our show, probably couldn’t come to our show because they are far afield, but now can enjoy the benefits of an organization that is really tuned in with excellent education.”
It has also been an opportunity for the teachers of the classes to expand their own student base.
“They have been thrilled with the opportunity to get online,” Frederick said. “Many of them have done videos [before] that they have put up on their websites or that they sell. That’s a wonderful thing but can be expensive to produce.”
The experiences through OSQE’s virtual classes are helping these teachers understand and hone their own online teaching skills, which can differ from traditional in-person environments, as well as how to market the classes. “There are teachers learning a lot about how to find their students out there,” Frederick added.
New opportunities aren’t limited to teachers, though. It’s important to remember that sponsors and vendors play important and critical roles in live shows, so OSQE has made a conscious effort to ensure they are also part of the experience online.
Vendors can advertise in email correspondence related to each of the classes, and can even get a live, 60-second pop-in during a class to promote their products. In many respects, it’s literally back to the future – virtual classrooms on the internet featuring live commercials like the original TV shows of the 1950s.
“It’s a big win-win,” Frederick said. “We are engaging our customers, providing them with quality education. And we’re giving our vendors a new way to reach customers.”
A winning formula for a winning future
We’re all working off the assumption that life will someday return to a sense of normalcy as it relates to social gathering and interactions. OSQE will be returning to its full schedule of live shows. With the success of the online classes, it’s hard to think that genie can be stuffed back into the bottle.
“We have received wonderful, heart-warming emails from people who have taken the classes, found something fun and creative to learn and do,” Frederick said. “Some of these folks are socially distancing and will probably continue to do so for another year or until vaccinations become widespread. They are very excited to have this.”
OSQE is hoping to continue online classes as a permanent part of its educational offerings. The plan is to move forward with both live in-person events and online classes.