Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Advice to Local Yarn Shops

**Don't forget to enter the Wonderful WEBS giveaway and the Just Ice Hammered Silver Earrings Giveaway. Giveaways end soon - so enter today!!**

I am a firm believer in supporting our local yarn shops. I personally support my LYS. {Enter shameless plug for Knit One here.} Let's face it - any small business really needs community support if they are to survive. Local yarn shops are a terrific place for beautiful yarns, terrific notions, and community. A friend of mine who works in a yarn shop in Ohio asked me what other yarn shops do to attract customers as her poor little yarn shop is in danger of closing. This got me thinking about the specific needs of today's knitters. So here is my advice. You can take it or leave it. And it is just one person's perspective.

  • In this economy, knitter's are stretching their dollar. Some knitters cannot afford to continue buying yarns as they had before. So don't get defensive or hurt if some of their yarn is from an online store or a discount craft store. KnitPicks, Yarn Market, WEBS and the like are not the enemy.
  • DON'T display jealousy if a knitter has visited another local yarn shop. It's very unprofessional. It makes knitters feel uncomfortable. And uncomfortable or embarrassed customers aren't likely to return.
  • Do not make fun of a knitter's supplies/yarn/notions. If a knitter is using a cheaper yarn or notion but STILL coming into your shop - then keep your opinions to yourself. Again, an embarrassed customer isn't a returning customer. (Newsflash: knitter's LOVE KnitPicks needles. Don't make them feel like criminals for having them!)
  • Offer ways for the knitter to save money while helping your shop. Offer a swap day. Have knitters bring all of their unused yarn and display it for swap with other knitters in the community. This shows the knitters that you are concerned with their bottom line. Their bottom line counts too. If they have money to spend and they are coming to your shop, they will buy from you.
  • Host giveaways, retreats, and fun activities that don't cost the shop money but may save the knitter money. Some yarn shops host retreats where they buy as a package and get a discount for X amount of people attending. The yarn shop then passes this discount onto the knitter and forms bonds. Your shop will not make any money off this deal but will reap the benefits because knitters will be flocking to your shop to see what activities are next. They can't buy anything if you can't get them to the shop.
  • Host KALs, CALs, and non-cost demos. This encourages yarn sales and forms relationships with potential buyers.
  • Tap your resources. Have a knitter with a blog? Host a giveaway on it.
  • Host a treasure hunt in conjunction with other local businesses. Small businesses helping other small businesses helps everyone. Get people into your shop who wouldn't otherwise have visited.
  • Take advantage of holidays and special events. Host sit 'n knits during sporting events. Participate in the World Wide Knit in Public Day. Have special classes that coincide with holidays: knitted chicks for Easter; knitted flag for 4th of July; felted baskets for Easter or Mother's Day...
  • Team up with a local artisan to provide hand-dyed yarns. These specialty yarns will make your store stand out.
  • Host a related money-saving class. Example: a LYS I used to visit hosted a class on making your own stitch markers. Ladies from the local bead shop taught it. Then a yarn shop teacher held a class on knitting with beads. Knitters bought specialty yarns from the shop and jumped over to the bead shop to buy beads!
  • NEVER pressure a knitter to buy something at your shop. Be helpful, but don't pressure.
  • Don't discount word of mouth. Knitters LOVE to share their experiences, finds, and community. Be good to your loyal customers and they'll be good to you. (Anger a knitter and you can be sure she'll tell her entire network of fiber-enthusiasts how you've wronged her. A knitter scorned = drop in business.)
  • Give discounts for large quantity buying. A knitter needs 10 skeins of cotton for a sweater? Offer a discount for purchases over a certain amount. This is how larger stores stay in business. It can be a small discount. But a discount is a discount and will make your customer feel like a queen.
  • MARKET-MARKET-MARKET! Get your name out there! Blog, Podcast (so easy nowadays), Tweet, have a group on Facebook. Ravelry and webpages are not the end-all, be-all of internet marketing. There is alot you can do to reach out to potential buyers. Be accessible to your customers. Yarn shops that only have websites and close their doors at 4p, don't have as much communication.
  • Borrow ideas from other craft stores, not just yarn shops. If you must close early, host a midnight knit once a month. I used to go to midnight crops (I'm a scrapbooker). We'd make a reservation (they only accepted so many) and pay $8/person to attend. Then we could use the supplies in the shop and we got 2 slices of pizza and a can of pop out of it. Why not do something similar? We cropped and shopped until Midnight once a month! I LOVED IT! I went to Girls' Night Out at the Art Center (in Ohio). We'd craft until midnight. We all brought our own things to work on. We paid $5 for the pleasure of 2 slices of pizza and a can of pop and an evening of fun! I've also been to a Spring Fling - which was an all night craft-in (like a sit-in). It was $15 and we got dinner and snacks as well as had oodles of fun! BE CREATIVE!
The point is.. people do not shop at local yarn shops because they are getting good deals. The yarn is typically more expensive. The notions and books are almost ALWAYS more expensive. Knitters have so many resources nowadays. Why buy a higher-end yarn from you for $15/skein when they can get it online for $10/skein with free shipping? They come to feel the fibers. They come for the personalized attention. They come for the community. Promote those things. Don't spew negatives. Always promote positives. Don't belittle a knitter for shopping elsewhere. Highlight the fabulous finds they'll only find at your shop. Negativity breeds negativity. And in today's climate, people are feeling down and disconnected. Offer a positive, personal experience and they'll shop as often as they can afford at your shop. Can you afford to alienate potential customers?

There is currently a discussion going on at Ravelry regarding this post. There are some terrific insights and great suggestions there by other yarnies! Check it out!



  1. I'm not usually a big comment-er, but I think this is a great blog post. I totally agree that we need to support our LYS.

    My key piece of advice:

    One of the advantages that a brick and mortar store is that of personal interaction. Yarn store employees can make themselves indispensable to local knitters by offering advice and help. Hopefully that will endear us knitters to them and encourage us to go to their store to buy yummy yarn. There is something irresistible about the tactile feel of a good yarn.

    However, I cannot tell you how many yarn store OWNERS are just plain rude, scary, and unhelpful. A certain yarn store in Chicago comes to mind, that almost put me off yarn for good. A friend in San Diego lives in fear of having to deal with her LYS owner.

    So my simple advice: BE NICE. Offer your expertise, you have a service that knitters, particularly new knitters need. And new knitters are going to be your lifeblood.

  2. Hey there! I'm a new self-taught knitter and I couldnt agree with your tips more. I went to a LYS and will NOT return. The sales woman was very judgmental (even though I had made it clear that I was new to knitting) and to make the matter worst none of the yarn was priced. So I had to ask the "charming" saleswoman the price of each yarn I was interested in. It made for a very unpleasant shopping experience.

  3. I agree with both of you! I had visited a yarn shop in Akron, OH where everyone said I MUST go. No one was available to help, but it was fairly busy, so I didn't think much of it. When I was surfing Ravelry, I found the name of the shop as a user. I messaged the user and asked if that user was the owner of this shop I was at in Akron. Her very rude response was, "Of course I am. Who else would I be?" Not, I'm glad you've stopped by the store.. or some other pleasantry. Although her store was gorgeous, I NEVER went back. Another LYS owner asked me, "Where did you get THOSE needles?" When I replied that I had gotten them at JoAnn's (I was brand new to knitting), she rolled her eyes and walked away. I never went back. I've had more personal experiences online than with those two shops. I shop at my LYS to support them because I LOVE having a second home and the feeling of community with my fellow knitters. But if you treat me like crud, don't expect me to patronize your establishment. OH- and expect I'll tell every knitter within a 25 mile radius!

  4. Due to health reasons I have yet to step in a LYS, but as I get healthier I am looking forward to it. What a great blog post today

  5. This is a fabulous post--because, yes, LYS owners are hurting (like everyone else), but there are things they can do to help. I don't recall ever seeing a list quite like this, and it's pure gold.

    (Hmm, so, if I forward it on to the yarn shop owners I know, will that seem insulting, like I think they need help? Or thoughtful and helpful?) (grin)

  6. Bravo! Excellent post and great list that every LYS owner and employee should read and heed. I live 75 miles from my LYS, so most of my yarn purchases are made online, but when I do make it to the LYS, they are supportive and responsive 80% of the time.

  7. Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights, very useful ideas for LYS and online shops too.
    Sandra Singh

  8. Great post!

    I've been to several LYS in my area, and only one has been pleasant enough to return.

    This shop offers twice-a-week free knit-ins, with about 10-15 knitters each session. Many buy yarn, needles and accessories while there, but there is no obligation to buy.

    The owners offer advice and pattern help if asked, and they even make coffee and tea available. Their work area is as comfortable as my living room, with recliners, two sofas, side tables and a large work table plus a kitchen. Some of us even bring cookies to share with everyone.

    These are women who are friendly and sharing, and though I've only been going for about a month, I'm hooked. I've bought yarn and a sweater kit from this shop, and I'd buy more but their charge card system doesn't accept Mastercard gift cards, so I am limited in buying from them.

    Overall, I'd give them an A-, and they'd get an A+ if they could accept gift cards (my family/friends give them to me to buy yarn, which makes my knitting affordable).

  9. Beth - My LYS is pretty awesome! {shameless plug for Knit One here} They have FREE sit 'n knits virtually all week long. It is quite addicting to go and socialize ( I usually bring treats as well as another knitter) and enjoy each other's company. I spend most of my mad money there. Okay, I spend ALL of my mad money there. ;P

  10. I had one more tip to add. Don't shun crocheters! Carry crochet hooks and patterns. Offer crochet classes. Don't look down on crochet or treat it as secondary craft. Money from a crocheter is just as green as money from a knitter! :)

  11. I totally agree with this. We used to have TWO LYS's in my small town, now we have none. One of them I guess just wasn't too good at financial management, but the other one was one of those notorious for having ups-and-downs when it came to the staff. I knew some lovely staff people there, but some others weren't so great, and I gather the owner just plain lost interest after awhile.

    I miss buying yarn in person. Sigh.

  12. THis is just a general comment about how your blog looks.. It is a little hard to read with the yellow frabric texture behind the posts, and there isn't enough contrast between the titles and the background. Otherwise, you have great information. Please just make it easier for older readers to read.

  13. Thanks for the tip, Nora. I will darken up the colors! :D

  14. Knit Purl Gurl...I couldn't agree with your post more. These LYS plus their workers need to be a little bit more friendly with their customers. I know a profit is important but they need to realize that they need to build rapport with people, too.

    I wish many LYSs luck during this economy and not to go out of business due to bad business practices. Believe me...Fiber friends talk to fiber friends about rude LYSs.

    Thanks for the post. Love it!!!

  15. Do not suggest an inappropriate yarn as a substitute just to make a sale. A baby sweater that fits the mother or a man's hat that will only fit a baby can make a beginner give up knitting. Lace weight cashmere is not a substitute for Wool-Ease,even if they both have the same number of yards in a skein.

  16. I don't even think that my LYS workers even know how to do yarn substitions.

    Hello...Hire people who know what they are doing and not people who work for Yarn or knitting books!

    This doesn't pay the bills.

  17. I find it amazing how many times I've visited an LYS and had the employees be nice and the owner be rude and unfriendly.

    I don't know if it's more of a problem with LYS's because people get into it thinking it would be a fun business and don't realize that small businesses are part skill and part talent, and they are definitely hard work. If you have no ability to keep the books, or you really are not good with people, it will end up showing. I want every LYS to be successful but I am amazed at how many stores need the owners to go back to Business 101.

    I have a similar problem with a mom and daughter run pet supply store in my neighborhood where the mom clearly retired to start the business as a retirement career. Both of them are v. flakey and don't seem to have any idea how to run a business. Getting help in there is difficult and they subject you to their opinions -- much like what is seen in a not-so-good LYS.

  18. The biggest reason that would take me to an LYS is to ask for advice on a knitting problem, or when I know I'm doing something wrong but can't figure out what. Once in the store, I'm likely to buy something too.

    Unfortunately, I've just about given this up after bad experiences. Of the fair number of yarn stores in my area, most will be nasty to you if you come in with a question on a project you didn't buy there (this is true even if you buy lots of other yarn there on other days). OK, maybe this makes good sense in business terms, but it represents a lost opportunity to make friends and attract knitters. Of the yarn stores in my area, one made a big thing about not helping except with their own yarn; and another, where I HAD bought the yarn, didn't have the ability to help on smallish things. I was struggling with a Cobblestone, and took it to the store where I'd bought the yarn; the staffer told me she had no idea how to pick up wraps in short rows. In the same store on another day, another staffer said no, she couldn't help me tink back a scarf in brioche stitch; she said the owner would do it for me if I left it there--for $35! (That time I was so incensed that I went home and figured out how to do it myself--in about 30 seconds.)
    That same store (a local chain) offers classes and knit nights, but prominently states on its announcements that people are only welcome if they buy the materials at the store. Again, OK, fine, but what's going to take me in there? I'm a big shopper, but sometimes I'm not ready to start a new project--at least not on purpose--ya know?

  19. Love the post. I've been to the LYS close to my college now 2 times in the first two days. The first time I had a great time, there were a few other people there and the owner was really nice, but the second time I was in there the owner just seemed completely different, being almost insulting.

    I'd brought a bunch of my needles to show her my storage of them, as I'd mentioned that the tool she was praising wasn't something I needed, but she practically called me an idiot and said I shouldn't bring all my stuff with me, as people would take them just to take them. It wasn't like the store was packed with people wandering around, it was just the two of us there.

    I love the yarn there (the store is the only option for yarn nearby except Jo-Ann's and Hobby Lobby), but the second experience there makes me hesitant to go back. Right now I'd rather wait until I can go home, where there's an awesome LYS (Woolie Ewe, Plano,TX) since they have a better selection and super nice employees.

  20. I have one further comment or suggestion: offering a lay away plan for large purchases that are just hard to make all at one time. For instance; there's a sweater I want to make but right now coming up with over $150 for the yarn is not going to happen. If I could select the yarns and pay a third this month and a third the next or how ever much it would be(over a 3 to 4 month period) would allow me to make the sweater I want in the more expensive fibers and give you the business you deserve. I have noticed that there are larger retailers that are bringing back the concept of layaway, and are helping their bottom line by giving their customers the opportunity to make larger purchases over an acceptable period of time. People will go back to these merchants first. As credit gets tights,the needs are still there and the merchants that will work with their customers will keep them.

  21. I think it is important for all owners to recognize that their employees are the best advertising around.... I have bought a lot of yarn from a local craft store because they have had great employees in the yarn department. Sadly they have downsized the store and removed all their knowledgeable yarn people from the area and are leaving it un-maned. They still have great yarn and good prices(and it's not all RH or LB) so I will continue to shop there,but I will miss the Yarn parties and pleasant interaction with their employees.

  22. Excellent post! I agree 100%. I have been treated like the "newbie" too many times when I go into the LYS here... I don't like the snobby attitude. Hopefully when I move back home the LYS there will be better and I'll feel like shopping there.

  23. I am so with you on this post. I have quit going to my favorite LYS due to many of the reasons listed above. They make me feel guilty for having items not bought there. One of the employees actually said I was not loyal. I was so mad, that I will never go back. I referred many friends and fellow knitters to this yarn shop and easily spent $100/month there myself. Well...they can be sure that I will tell everyone not to shop there any longer.

  24. I have to say I think that TNNA needs to offer more in the way of customer service courses for their members. I write a little more about this at KnitLuck today.

    Thanks KnitPurlGirl for the inspiration!

  25. I drove 20 miles to a LYS. I saw a clipboard with hot pink paper on the counter in front of the register and mistakenly assumed (my bad) that it was a mailing list. As I was writing down my name & email address a store employee (I think the owner) shouted out "What are you doing, don't do that!" I said "I'm sorry, I thought it was a mailing list." She rolled her eyes and proceeded to ignore me.

    Another employee saw what was going on and said it was there because the credit card receipts don't write well on the glass. She rushed to the register and said "I can enter your information right her on the register". She tried to make up for the rude lady.

    All the yarn was 25% off and I ended up spending $150. However, I don't know that I will go back.

  26. Love this post! A friend of mine says, it's not the store that sells the yarn, it's the people. This should be mailed to every LYS on KnitMap!

  27. agree x 10000! i'm thinking of printing this out and anonymously sending it to a few yarn stores i've been to. really wonderful suggestions you have here. :)

  28. new haven knitterMay 3, 2009 at 2:49 PM

    My LYS experience---I had shopped for several years at a well stocked store, despite being a little put off by the owner's rather astringent personality. But now I drive to another town, or order online. I had completed a sweater (in under 2 months) and had one skein left. I couldn't find the receipt, but approached the owner, who had waited on me when I bought the yarn, and asked if she would accept the yarn back. She claimed not to remember me. I suggested she check her mailing list in the computer, pointing out that she had an alternate spelling of my name on her mailing labels. She tapped on her computer and said neither my name nor my mispelled name were there. I asked if she could just check her stock to see if she had the same lot number of the yarn I'd brought back. She refused. At that point I felt as though my hair would catch on fire, and just walked out. One week later, yet another postcard arrives from her shop, with the mispelled name she couldn't find on her computer. Another week later, I found the bag with the receipt in the back of the closet. I mailed it, and the yarn back, pointed out that I make a minimum of 8 projects a year, and that I wouldn't be needing the refund. And as others have noted, I certainly did tell my knitting friends! The shop I drive 40 minutes to reach is the diametric opposite---friendly staff, never a comment about yarn bought elsewhere, and a generally upbeat place.

  29. Great advice! I once met someone on a plane to NYC who happened to shop at the same LYS as me. A great LYS is worth its weight in sock yarn!

  30. Thank you all for your comments. I just bought a LYS this week and happened upon your blog. Fantastic input! I printed it out for future reference.


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