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ikkivan Posted - 06/18/2013 : 2:33:13 PM
I have some questions on behalf of a friend who is hell-bent on opening a yarn shop in an area where I just don't think it will be successful. This is a rural area with no REAL yarn shops around ... nasty synthetic stuff at the Walmart nearby are what folks around here think is yarn. To my knowledge, there are few knitters but many who crochet, from the looks at the entries in the local fairs (piles and piles of crocheted baby items that all look alike, all of synthetic yarn, and only my knitted socks for knitting entries).

I think she will have a hard time convincing local folks to pay for good, natural-fiber yarns and is going to have a major educational campaign ahead of her. She is a beginning knitter herself, although catching on really quickly. She has crocheted for years, and just recently discovered natural fibers, which she loves.

As I recall, there was a small yarn shop in the nearby county seat back around 1980, in a "store" in the front room of a woman's home. When she became ill and closed it up, there was never a replacement because (I am reasonably certain) there was no demand.

Can this work? Any ideas? I want my friend to succeed, but don't want to see her heartbroken (not to mention broke!). I can't be her only customer if this is to turn out well.

Donna, with intentions always bigger than her available time. (OkieDokieKnitter on Ravelry)
20   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
eldergirl Posted - 09/27/2013 : 10:23:38 PM
All power to her, Donna! Let's hope things go very well for her, and she can keep her running shoes on!

Best wishes to her,


Life is beautiful.
ikkivan Posted - 09/27/2013 : 6:04:34 PM
Update: my friend has obtained her wholesale license and is contacting different distributors. She has ordered some sample yarns ... so she's sticking with it. I'm still not sure of her actual plan for selling yarn, and figure that is still awhile off. I know she is teaching a few people to knit, so that could be the start of a customer base, hopefully. I'm sure eager for a source of good yarn in my area!

Donna, with intentions always bigger than her available time. (OkieDokieKnitter on Ravelry)
purlewe Posted - 07/16/2013 : 08:14:59 AM
a friend opened her yarn shop a year ago in my town. Now we have at least 4 major yarn shops and many minor ones here and in the burbs.. and she is coming up on her first yr anniversary. These are just my observations.

1. she does not carry (in general) what any of her competitors carry. she was VERY specific about that when she went into the business. yes, they are competitors, but she feels as if she carries something different then customers have a reason to drop by. also. she talked to these competitors and told them she isn't a threat. Sometimes owners see each other so much as competition they can't have a decent conversations together and then badmouth each other. that doesn't help anyone. She is on friendly speaking terms with her competitors.

2. she has a web presence, but she does not sell on the web. This was a decision she might change her mind about in the future, but it keeps her focused on her store. she is on FB and Twitter and her own site. She has a Rav group. They talk about KALs and what is new in the shop.

2.5 she is on the rav group for yarn store owners so that she can talk about ideas and see what others are doing. talking shop with someone who is in the same situation is very helpful for new owners.

3. she has classes. she feels that this is a way to grow a customer base as well as helping people with new skills. she decided early on that she is not a patient enough person to teach these classes and she has hired friends for that. friends she pays in checks and not yarn. She has friends who make shop samples for her. These friends she pays in yarn.

4. she had a business plan, she worked with the local community business association regarding location and negotiating rent. She advertises in the local mag. she attend the local business association meetings.

5. she has retail experience and she is a very good manager. She uses a local textile school for student workers. but she rarely has a day off. I think she takes 1 day off every 2 weeks. She just started this practice in the last 2 months. So before that I think she took off 1 day every 3 months. she is working on that life balance thing.

6. b'c she is very specific about not having the same yarns as her local competitors she had to find other vendors.. and she did not let the vendors choose her products. it is very easy to get bowled over by a vendor. esp if you are a new business owner and they tell you that you "have to have" products x, y, and z. she did have 1 or 2 vendors who were very forward and pushy, but knowing her business plan and her vision and aesthetic she told them NO. sometimes more than once and sometimes quite forcibly. They tell you they know what sells. they tell you they know how to run this business.. and sometimes they tell you if you don't carry x, y, and z that you won't make it. And maybe it is true.. but if it isn't in your business plan stick to your guns. getting stuck with their contract and their product that won't sell won't help you in the long run.

there are always things we wish she would do. But it isn't our store. And it is true many a rude customer will be able to ruin your day. if your friend isn't a people person, someone who can let it roll off her back and go on to the next customer. or someone who likes to gossip about the last customer. or someone who can't stop an extremely pushy person from grabbing things out of someone's hands and claiming it is theirs. (yes totally happens) if your friend isn't someone who can ask her friends for help, or who has a small friend base to get her started (she had an army of knitters who washed and painted her store and set up all her store furniture so she could display yarn) then I suggest she try working in walmart/michaels/joann fabric/ac moore. see if she can handle the customers and how it works from the retail side of things for awhile.

I am NOT trying to be discouraging. I think my friend is doing an amazing job. but then I also think it is one of the hardest jobs and that even tho I know a lot of the background, it isn't easy to be the person with all that weight on your shoulders.

friendliness. consistency. large knowledge base. business sense. being a strong individual who is able to set a plan and stick to it, but also flexible enough to see when it isn't working and bend to something new. It is a very hard job. I wish your friend luck.

Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming. ~Myrna Loy
ikkivan Posted - 07/15/2013 : 10:47:33 AM
Wow, so many good suggestions/observations for my friend to ponder. I so appreciate all the response! I'll try to update on this endeavor as it unfolds.

Donna, with intentions always bigger than her available time. (OkieDokieKnitter on Ravelry)
Lynne604 Posted - 07/14/2013 : 4:47:53 PM
Lots of good advice for your friend. My LYS is soon to celebrate its 10th year. That's a long time for any small business. I used to spend a lot of time at the shop and observed how busy the owner was. She received FedEx deliveries daily which had to be inventoried and put on the shelves. The displays had to be changed often and made to look attractive. She cleaned the shop herself and her husband did the landscaping. But it wasn't just the physical labor.

First and foremost, she had to be a people person. Each customer has different needs. Most are nice, but some are rude and a few downright hateful. One issue that crops up frequently is people needing help with knitting projects not from her shop (yarn purchased elsewhere). Some LYS owners will not provide help if the yarn didn't come from their shop. Others will help for a fee. My LYS owner will provide help free of charge because she sees everyone as a potential customer. She recently started charging $1.00 a skein to wind yarn not from her shop.

She can't afford to hire help, so a few of her close friends who are expert knitters assist in the shop in exchange for discounted yarn. But their availability varies, so she can't absolutely depend on them.

Her beginning knitting class is held on Saturday mornings. Customers can pay as they go or purchase a block of lessons for a cheaper rate. I was there when a woman rudely demanded to "sit in" on the class. She had learned to knit as a child and was sure if she could observe, it would all come back to her. Politely, the owner explained that it would not be fair to the others who had paid to be there.

People think nothing of interrupting her when she is assisting others. "Could you just look at this and tell me if it's right?" Waiting their turn seems to be a lesson they failed to learn in kindergarten.

For quite a while, the owner did not accept credit or debit cards because she had to pay a fee. No notice was posted, so the customer didn't know this until checkout. Sometimes they left to get money from the ATM and never came back, thus a purchase was lost.

Facebook and website had to be kept updated. Since the owner, by her own admission, is "computer challenged", these sites are often months out of date. She listens to suggestions but rarely acts on them.

People sometimes ask her if the shop pays its way. It usually doesn't. She was barely hanging on during the recent recession. I don't know if she pays rent or not since the building is owned by her parents. But the heating/air conditioning bills are high.

Sorry to ramble, but I wanted to share a few observations and ideas.
Robyn Becker Posted - 07/14/2013 : 10:47:36 AM
I did exactly what your friend is thinking about-purchased a shop 2 years ago. The shop is very successful - up 50% each year in sales, but there is little profitability since in order to keep a work/life balance I've had to employ 2 part-time folks for the shop and several part-time instructors since a huge part of the business is classes. And yes you really need to be an expert knitter and crocheter yourself if you want to have satisfied customers. Love of fiber will not be enough. Since your friend is not an expert herself in both crafts, perhaps she might partner with someone who is- achieving two things at once-needed expertise and potentially a work/life balance. If she is not willing to or able to form a partnership she might consider working in a yarn shop or for Michael's or Jo-Ann's to gain the expertise needed. Whatever she decides I wish her every success. Robyn-VA
phlame Posted - 06/22/2013 : 10:02:47 AM
I suggest that she should check and see if there is a SCORE organization, counseling program, she could consult with locally. These are retired business people who volunteer their time to help people set up new businesses or advise them whether it is feasible. If there is not one locally, she can go online and they will help her there. It is all free. Here is the online URL. It's a really good thing. My husband volunteered there for a long time.

Shirley, Dana Point, CA

...I'm fairly certain that, given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world.

lcunitz Posted - 06/21/2013 : 3:44:57 PM
A lot of great advice here! I especially like the one about being able to teach and help knitters with questions. There is a new yarn "store" out here in California. It is the Yarn Truck. They outfitted a nice big van with shelves and bring the store to the knitters. Sound like it might be an alternative in a rural area (once she's ready.)
Thekla Posted - 06/21/2013 : 08:56:23 AM
Please also remember that crochet takes a lot of yarn, more than knitting many times. Yarn shop should not be either/or establishments, but ones that include all yarn users. We have some folks that use yarn for fly tying! Perhaps getting the established crochet community to upgrade their yarn tastes will keep this shop going.
ikkivan Posted - 06/20/2013 : 7:58:34 PM
So much food for thought (and thought for food, with Robinsteph's pies!) ... at this time, my friend doesn't have a computer, although she does have access elsewhere. I will certainly share ALL these comments with her, and/or have her over here to read them for herself. I am eager for her to hear as many ideas, pros and cons, as possible.

Donna, with intentions always bigger than her available time. (OkieDokieKnitter on Ravelry)
robinstephanie Posted - 06/20/2013 : 3:49:48 PM
I just thought of something else. Ciel reminded us you'd mentioned your friend is a new knitter. Ciel's point about it being too new a passion is a good one; some passions just don't stick.

But also, one thing I get from my LYS is help when I'm stuck or confused. And if it's a new shop, and your friend's the only one working there, and she's a new knitter, that might not be something she's able to offer much of.

I might consider honing my skills for a big handful of years, seeing if the idea remains and grows or fades, doing my reseach, including research on what makes a successful LYS successful and vice-versa, getting involved with the crafting community as others here have mentioned, educating myself as much as possible on the varieties and characteristics of yarns and fibers, and saving my money. (And practicing my pie-making skills, of course, but that's just me.)

There is nothing wrong with letting a dream marinate, and good planning helps in any endeavor.


Different is good. ~Matthew Hoover
Hez Posted - 06/20/2013 : 07:45:35 AM
In addition to the hours (24/7 no matter what you post on the door), the economy (getting better, but beautiful fiber is still low on the list of may who are struggling)and having to compete with the internet, please let your friend know that despite much press saying otherwise, the US Government is not an encouraging force behind small businesses. Between federal, state & possibly local government, she could get nickel & dimed to death in less than 3 years. And if she decides to hire someone to work in the shop while she goes to trade shows/takes a break etc., it's REALLY going to cost her. My mom owns a small business, as do my sister, & 2 of my brothers-in-law. We ONLY shop small businesses because we know how hard it is to make it and how important small business is to the future of our country. Good luck and blessings on her if she decides to the huge step.
flicka Posted - 06/20/2013 : 07:30:03 AM
It is so interesting to read this thread. I hope you will keep us posted on your friend's decision, Donna.

Yesterday I was in a small town in Washington state which has a lovely LYS that I visit whenever I am nearby. It is a puzzlement to me how it thrives in an area with a depressed economy (formerly based on logging). It has beautiful high-end yarns that tempt me every time. I have some guesses about its (seeming) success:

The owner has deep roots in the community, especially among crafters.
The clientele is not interested in relying on the internet.
It is a hub of social interaction in the crafting community.
The owner stocks a wide variety of yarns, including acrylics and locally produced yarns.

Whatever the real reasons for the shop's continued existence, it is certainly an unusual bright spot in the local economy.


Edited, because I called Donna by the wrong name. Sorry, Donna.

cutlermac Posted - 06/20/2013 : 07:25:42 AM
I had an elderly friend who owned a LYS for many years. She said you could not make a living from it. It paid the rent, it paid the car insurance, and a vacation.

Her motivation for keeping it open was, that it gave her something to do with her time and teach others how to knit.

I taught some classes for the store periodically. She provided a continually running 6 week series of classes and a strict return policy. Some individuals would try to return yarn that was 3 or 4 years old and not purchased from her. She was very cautious about purchasing inventory that was NOT in the chain stores.
Stiller1 Posted - 06/20/2013 : 06:48:10 AM
New knit shop might be just what the area needs. My advice to her would be to encourage knitters to sit and knit instead of charging. Knitters, crochet ears will usually buy something. I think it's a turn-off to pay to just sit and knit for an hour or so.
Ceil Posted - 06/20/2013 : 06:40:29 AM
As I read the first post, what struck me most is "beginning knitter." The passion is too new, imho. And the demographics sound dicey.

I only thought about opening a yarn shop, and probably never will (although there are MANY good suggestions in this thread to follow if I decide to pursue it some day!). But in thinking about it, I don't know that I'd make any money. Where I DO make money with yarn is teaching classes in yarn shops and knitting the occasional commission. That may be where I will stay.

(Ravelry: ceilr)
Time is never a factor when joy is involved.
sward Posted - 06/20/2013 : 05:52:31 AM
I agree with the comments. I live close to a city that has the largest knitting guild (over 300 members) in the country and there are two shops that do really well. Fifteen miles down the road, there are still plenty of members but good quality yarn is hard to sell. Some are being converted after they see how nice their new pieces turn out. And many buy from me or online. But there are plenty making the acrylic baby stuff that. like you say, all looks alike.

I would suggest your friend start a small knitting group and start introducing some of the better fibers to the group ... tell them why WOOL and wool blends are so important to knitting and to our environments. It really is soft and in many cases, the "I'm allergic" chant is a myth. Find them a nice shawl pattern and do a group KAL. Get a computer going and get them on Ravelry and to a place where they can all choose a good yarn. It is so much fun getting together with the ladies to knit, or shop, or gab - even in public. One of my groups meets at the cafe of a local grocery store. People are always coming up to see what we are doing and ask about why we are having so much fun.

Many of the new wools are so soft and you all know that some wools shouldn't be worn next to skin. But they are not made from petroleum products. I would also explain that while some of the new wools are machine washable, they are chemically treated to create that property. Real natural wool doesn't need to be washed that often. You're not going to roll around in the grass with it. Baby stuff is so small it can just be rinsed and rolled in a towel to clean.

Anyway - good luck to your friend and happy knitting.

Sharon Ward
Canandaigua, New York

Sharon in Canandaigua Posted - 06/20/2013 : 04:36:23 AM
I'm going to put this out there, largely because I know I will never do it. But I've thought about it. A lot. I believe there is still a place for the local sellers of goods, yarn or otherwise. But what is needed is a new model that makes use of the competition rather than fights it. What follows is my train of thought and rationale.

I had a friend who railed against the internet and the fact that I bought so much yarn and spinning fiber from the 'net. There are risks in that: can't see the actual color; can't feel the texture / hand of the fiber; can't be sure of the quality. On the other hand it is direct from individual mom-and-pop producers / dyers / spinners / small mills. It is often cheaper than from many brick-and-mortars.

Then I thought of the eBay shops that have sprung up in every nook and cranny for people who want to sell their stuff in that giant yard sale site of the 'net but are too petrified of e-commerce to take the risk. Why not merge the two ideas?

Do a sort of reverse eBay store. You, the vendor /shop-keeper of the brick and mortar take the risk and buy samples off line. Develop relationships with some online vendors (as I'm sure we all have) and showcase samples of their goods in your shop. Call it your stash. I would. People can drop by and take a look at what you have, have a feel, maybe even knit a sample. And, of course, place an order. You do the order fulfillment and tack on a handling fee.

You might choose to keep enough on hand to sell in an "emergency," but there is no need to spend the thousands of dollars for inventory that are otherwise required for wholesale contracts. I envision a comfy setting, big coffee table, sofa, chairs, pile of yarn in the middle. People chatting, making swatches, eating pie ( (or if it were my store, muffins).

Susan - on MDI
Jane Posted - 06/19/2013 : 4:48:56 PM
Originally posted by robinstephanie

I have this pipe dream of opening a yarn and pie shop (I make super=great pie) and was talking to a friend who's owned a small business for years. He took me seriously, and said a business plan drawn up by a professional is essential to giving the prospective owner an idea of how much money it will realistically take to make the idea float.

It's the job of this professional to take market, demographic, advertising, equipment, tax obligations, and I don't know what else because I am not a business planner, into account. Many people don't like to hire these specialists, because realistic analysis can puncture a dream, but better that than the dream get punctured more painfully later. Personally, I know so little about business that I didn't even know such a profession existed.


Different is good. ~Matthew Hoover

Excellent idea!


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Blog: Not Plain Jane
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robinstephanie Posted - 06/19/2013 : 08:43:04 AM
I have this pipe dream of opening a yarn and pie shop (I make super-great pie) and was talking to a friend who's owned a small business for years. He took me seriously, and said a business plan drawn up by a professional is essential to giving the prospective owner an idea of how much money it will realistically take to make the idea float.

It's the job of this professional to take market, demographic, advertising, equipment, tax obligations, and I don't know what else because I am not a business planner, into account. Many people don't like to hire these specialists, because realistic analysis can puncture a dream, but better that than the dream get punctured more painfully later. Personally, I know so little about business that I didn't even know such a profession existed.


Different is good. ~Matthew Hoover

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