Some shows will treat your precious quilts like you do and some won’t. Last week I received my quilt, Material Marquetry, back from the folks at Quilts, Inc., producers of the IQA Quilt Show in Houston, where it has been since August last year as part of the In the American Tradition VI special exhibit. So begins the promised rant about why IQA and Quilts Inc. are no longer on my list of “happy quilt shows.” First, a bit of background:
I’ve exhibited four quilts with Quilts Inc., either as finalists in the IQA Quilt Show, or through special traveling exhibits. The problems always begin when it comes time for them to return the quilts to me at my APO address. The standard process is for Quilts Inc. to ship the quilts back to exhibitors via Federal Express, using dimensional weighting, which means that they cram the quilt into the smallest box possible so that it costs less to ship. The bigger problem though, is that Federal Express doesn’t deliver to APO addresses, so I’ve had to ask them to return ship my quilts via US Postal Service Registered Mail which is where the problems start.
The first quilt I sent in, I decided to have return shipped to my mother in Utah, after speaking with the show personnel about the return shipping process, and having them tell me that they could do USPS Registered Mail, but they didn’t really know how, and couldn’t estimate the cost, etc., etc., etc. Since it just seemed too hard for them to handle the USPS thing, and I was going to be visiting my mother anyway that year, I just said fine, ship it there via the usual practice. This is how I know about the dimensional weighting/smallest box possible issue.
The second quilt I exhibited in Houston was returned to me via US Postal Service, but without any insurance or tracking information, and it was shipped Parcel Post, which takes 6-8 weeks to be delivered. I can tell you there were many phone calls to Quilts, Inc. about that quilt, and much worrying about whether it would ever show up at all. Without tracking information, if it was lost, it’s just lost with no way to find it, ever, and of course shipping without insurance is unacceptable in the extreme. And honestly, they weren’t even all that apologetic, and they acted like I was the one with the problem, since I had asked them to do something so totally out of their norm, and was then unhappy with the result.
After that debacle, I picked up the third quilt in person, since I was attending the show that year. But another interesting thing occurred at the show while I was there. That year, Quilts Inc. was providing a shipping service, so that you could mail all the loot you bought back home instead of cramming it in your suitcase. That would have been wonderful, especially considering the fact that I was carrying my quilt back home with me in my suitcase to be sure it arrived safely. I arrived at the booth with my goods in hand ready to have them packed up, and was told that, you guessed it, they would only ship the loot back to your home address via FedEx! They wouldn’t even begin to think about alternative shipping methods, that just might be cheaper as well.
Fast forward to the current issue: I mailed off Material Marquetry last August with special written instructions for return shipping the quilt via USPS Registered Mail, which they promised to honor. The quilt was exhibited at five or six Quilts Inc. produced venues over the last year, and it showed up at our APO box last week, without insurance or a tracking method, having been sent via Priority Mail. I was just astounded really. What happened to the instructions that I sent in with the quilt?
I emailed the special exhibits coordinator and her assistant to let them know that the quilt arrived safely, but that there were some issues that needed to be addressed. Why was the quilt not insured, and how could they send it without a tracking method? Their answer was that the quilt is insured under their Chubb Fine Arts Insurance Policy from the time it leaves my door until the time it’s returned. Okay, my bad, I didn’t see that in the original letter that I received about this exhibit. I am glad to know that if the quilt went missing, somebody would pay me the appraised value. (But that does beg the question, does that policy also cover quilts sent in for the regular show every year in Houston, and if so, why wasn’t I told about this policy when the other quilt went astray for six weeks without postal insurance? Interesting.)
As to the tracking method and the Registered Mail issue on this quilt, they insisted that they followed my request about Registered Mail (:?:), completed all the forms required by USPS for an APO address, Registered Mail, spent over an hour online with USPS shipping my quilt, and that it was shipped with a tracking method. First, they couldn’t possibly have followed my request or completed all the forms required by the USPS for Registered Mail, since there was no Registered Service on the box. We didn’t have to sign for the box to pick it up from the mail room (which we would have had to do had it been a registered mail package), and the tracking number they provided was the number off of the customs form attached to the box. When I put that number into the tracking system on the USPS website, the answer was “There is no record of this item.” Gee, I guess that’s not really a tracking number, is it, since if it was, it would show that the package was delivered to my APO and on which date it was delivered.
Actually, as I found out after a call to the Postal Service to check the facts, that number is able to be used to track the package if it is mailed to a true international destination, but not if the package is mailed to an APO Military address. In other words, if the package was lost, the only thing the Post Office could do is file a report, but there would be no way to find the lost quilt, ever. APO addresses are a grey area; mail is shipped to APO addresses as domestic service, but it requires a customs form because it’s technically an international destination.
I wrote them back and explained all that, and how the Registered Mail process really works and what forms are needed, again. I had provided all the Registered Mail information and instructions before when I sent the quilt to them last year. I do realize that shipping via USPS to APO addresses is outside the norm for Quilts, Inc., and I respect the time and extra effort it requires, which is why I included full written instructions as to how this should be done and what forms are required by the US Postal Service for Registered Mail, to make it as easy as possible for them to do.
You may be wondering why I don’t just use FedEx for all this, and have the quilts return shipped to my actual German address. Yes, I could do that, however, the last time I was investigating that method, I think it was going to cost me nearly $100 to have my quilt returned that way, as opposed to less than $40 to use USPS Registered Mail to my APO address, and that was for a not-even-twin-size quilt (not to mention that “dimensional weighting/smallest box possible” issue. Can you say “squished and wrinkled beyond recognition”?). Why should I spend $100 when I can spend $40? At just two shows a year, that’s $120 in fabric, or a trip out to dinner with the family, and some years, I send quilts to 4-6 shows. Other shows and museums don’t have this problem, and are happy to ship via USPS Registered Mail when I ask it of them. (There is one other notable exception, Quilters Heritage Celebration, and I don’t exhibit with them anymore either, after the first go round.) Heck, AQS even has “Registered Mail” as a return shipping option on their forms now, you don’t even have to write it in, or call ahead to ask if they’ll consider doing it for you as a favor.
Yes, the quilt is here, so all is good in the end, but I really think they need to understand that the method by which they shipped the quilt wasn’t “Registered Mail” or trackable either one. I’m afraid that I won’t be sharing my work through any venues sponsored or produced by Quilts Inc. in future. It’s fairly obvious that they just don’t care to do any little bit of extra work, no matter how easy and clear-cut you make it for them. Their system must be so finely honed that any minor deviation puts an instant nick in the blade. Seems like they like people because we all keep sending in fabulous quilts and spending our money at their shows, but they hate people when they actually have to deal with them or stoop to do anything out of the ordinary for anyone. I’m sorry, but they can’t give away enough prize money to make me take a chance with their mailing practices again.
Update: I received another reply from Quilts Inc. about this issue. They have acknowledged that they shipped the quilt incorrectly. Quilts Inc. has incorporated my instructions regarding Registered Mail shipping to APO addresses into their return shipping policies and disseminated the information to all staff involved in the return shipping process. They have also changed their contact policies and will email exhibit participants if Quilts Inc. has held the participant’s quilt longer than six months, to remind them of the return shipping schedule and check for address updates (I had that issue as well with my quilt, since I didn’t know it was time for return shipping and it was shipped to my old address). It’s been a seven year, three quilt battle, but perhaps it’s finally a victory.