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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

...Become an "Inspiration Destination" to get your Share of the Craft Dollar!

There are certain people who emanate creative light---you know the sort  I mean---each idea is more inventive than the last, their humor is infectious, filling the world with laughter, and the day is just a tad sunnier for having encountered them.  Steven Berg is that guy for me.     I met him at a TNNA trade show a few years back and have spoken to him only a few times since.   He probably doesn't have a clue that  I am a groupie because our contact has been infrequent.

Nonetheless, I have followed his career with interest.  I yam what I yam----a  Steven Be groupie.

Steven grew up around yarn.  His mother, Christina, owned a yarn shop and taught Steven to knit at an early age.   The shop was in a charming turn of the century building, that was evocative of Ike's General Store from The Waltons television show, replete with dome glass counters.  Steven learned the importance of ambiance at an early age.  He had an eye for fashion and was designing elaborate Barbie clothes by age eight. His love of design brought him to the fashion industry where he had an international career throughout Hong Kong, Milan, Paris and Miami.   However, corporate settings have a way of putting distance between the artist and the artistic process, leaving Steven clamoring for a more creative experience.

After 30 years in the fashion industry, Steven moved to  Rosemount, Minnesota and went into business with his sister, Monika.  The pair founded The Yarn Garage in 2003.  The endeavor proved to be an immediate success and he branched out with his latest venture,  Steven Be, located in Minneapolis.   The store is housed in an old firehouse that Steven lovingly restored.  It is off the beaten path in a not quite "up and coming" neighborhood, but Steven figured that someone had to start the gentrification process and decided he was going to be the one. 

He has created something special and he has the cash register receipts to prove it.  In a location with little visibility, in a city that has its share of economic challenges, Steven Be is growing.  The store is profitable and revenues are increasing every year.  Impressive, indeed, at a time when craft stores are shutting the doors with depressing regularity.

So what is Steven Berg doing right?

Lots!  He is warm, talented, engaging, confident and delightfully eccentric, with hints of vulnerability peeking through when you least expect it.  Frankly, his complete and utter humanity is enchanting.  He clearly has a great deal going for him,  but the key to his success lies with his ability to truly inspire others. He makes magic. Where the average knitter might see a ball of yarn as nothing more than a  pretty possibility, Steven sees the MAGIC of its potential.  Hang with him long enough and you see the magic, too.   He is infectious and inspiring.  In Steven's world "There are no mistakes, only variations."   I like that is easier to try something new if you can't fail and Steven makes you think that failure is damn near impossible. 

His store is overflowing with delightful fiber confections.  His has an eye for the best and most unusual in fibers, earning him the nickname the "Glitter Knitter."  There are fanciful  and luxurious samples everywhere!  Do you want diaper bag trimmed in Possum Fur for your daughter in law?  No problem...he will whip one up!  Rocker Son desires a shirt made from VHS tape for his American Idol debut?  Easy enough!  His advice to new knitters....Don't make something that you can buy in a department store.  His customers quickly develop pride in, and an appreciation for, the art of fiber craft.  Lucky them!

Steven is an artist with a keen eye for business.  He has an incredible staff to handle Social Media as well as some of the more annoying "process oriented" tasks that seem to plague us artistic types.  His space is a mecca for other yarn artists---beautifully appointed, with comfortable chairs throughout to encourage communal knitting.  The show stopper is an amazingly opulent chandelier that is delightfully decadent.  He even has a stage that is used on Sundays and for special events, where he features musicians, artists, and other creative types to entertain his customers. He is all about giving back to the local community---offering up-and-coming artists a place to showcase their work, seeking out and paying young fiber artists the price that they need (and deserve)  for the beautiful yarn that they dye and spin for him.  As is often the case with those who give without expectation of a return, Steven's generous heart has cultivated a cult like following.  You know, the whole karma thing.

He believes that it his job to educate himself and to bring his customers along with him on the journey.  He spends a lot of time on research, although he admitted that he orders inventory with his heart, rather than his head.  Steven noted that although he is not impervious to the effects of the recession,  he believes that if you inspire your clientele, the spending will follow.  True that!  The stores that have devolved into little more than a place to warehouse product are going to be hard pressed to survive.  Every crafty retailer knows that virtually any product can be purchased more cheaply online than at the local craft store.  It is what does or dos not happen at the store that will drive customer in---or away.  Steven worked seven days a week for two years to bring Steven Be from a gleam in his eye to the destination shop that is has become.

Special events rule the day at Steven Be.  Steven's customers go to him for community, inspiration, and excitement and he makes certain that there is something going on ALL of the time....catered lunches, concerts, knit-a-longs, specialty classes, fashion shows, live demonstrations, even Skype interviews with industry stars.  Steven is a believer in technology and has made it a friend rather than a foe.  Customers are encouraged to use the store computer to find patterns and crafty inspiration. He identifies a niche and fills it.  For example, Steven is aware that many yarn store owners look down on crochet and has therefore vowed to become a crochet Mecca, using fibers not traditionally associated with crochet to craft fuzzy masterpieces.

He is quick to give kudos to industry giant Jennifer Hanson of Stitch Diva Studios for her role in the current crochet revival.  Jennifer's sexy and contemporary designs have brought crochet a long way since your mom's granny square toaster cover.  Her designs feature sophisticated stitches such as broomstick, tunisian, and hairpin lace crochet.  Really yummy stuff....I used her Baroque pattern a few years ago and trimmed it with Swarovski crystal yarn.  It is a special piece, for sure!

One of Steven's epic wins is his marketing of Store Memberships, which are available in a broad range, from the  $19 "Glitteroti Day Pass" to the "Glitter Diva Lifetime Membership."  The high end membership costs $459 and entitles the recipient to 10% off all merchandise, reduced class and event fees, and 40 hours of month of Steven Be-Inn time.  I wasn't surprised to learn that he has more than 50 Glitter Diva members.  The man is a marketing genius with a genuine interest in making his customers happy.

Steven told me that he surrounds himself with youth and I urge you not to underestimate the importance of maintaining a youthful vibe.  No matter how hip we are at 50, lets face it, we are talking being "hip" at "50."  My kids would say that the two are mutually exclusive.  The meanest of them would also add that he had just thrown up in his mouth.   Whatever.  There is definitely a cool version of 50, 60, 70, 80 and beyond, so long as the folks who are judging are equally age endowed.  Am I right?

That being said, retailers need to stay relevant.  There is a HUGE group of crafters in the under 30 category.  Despite what you think, many of them are big spenders because they have real jobs and no kids.  Do not overlook this market!   The best way to know what is "cool" is to surround yourself with cool!  Pick the brains of the young crafters and artists in your market.   I recently took a tatting class at a relatively staid "typical" yarn store.  The gal who taught the class was a generously pierced and colorfully tattooed young woman who shared with the class that she had only recently taught herself to tat by watching hours and hours of You Tube Videos.   True Confession:  I was expecting to be taught by a 107 year old European woman who had learned at the feet of her whiskered grandmother.  Go figure...serves me right for assuming.  The tatting instructor was a store employee with true passion for fiber crafts.   No one in the area has offered a tatting class before and I have been wanting to learn, but lacked the desire to spend hours and hours watching You Tube videos.  The young teacher has an obvious desire to learn new skills and Store Owner was smart to have hired her even though she did not fit the store customer demographic.   She adds a different perspective to the "classic" yarn store.

But I digress....

Steven likes a youthful vibe in the shop, but he is intractable in his quest to hire staff members who are very strong technically, well versed in the craft and art of fiber.   He cares less about past retail experience than love of fiber, noting that he considers himself a "Fiber Mixologist."

The passion shows.  He is selling an experience and stressed the importance of  maintaining a stage face, because, in his words

....It is a wonderful day everyday at Steven Be!

I am a believer.

Steven Be
A Yarn Garage Workshop
3448 Chicago Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55407
Email  Steven here.
Sign up for his newsletter here.

I happened upon this adorable knitting glassware during my daily web travels.  BreadandBadger is owned by Amanda and Sean Siska, a husband and wife team on Etsy.  They create a variety of gift  items for the knitting enthusiast, including a soap dispenser, various containers, and assorted bar ware.  Best part...they offer wholesale pricing.  Check them out if you are interested in adding some gift items to the sales floor this holiday season!

Check out my stitching blog!  We are having an awesome give away featuring the hand dyed embroidery floss in Sunset, pictured in the martini glass above.  Your name will be entered in the drawing when you leave a comment on this weeks post,  Losing my Mojo, Rosie's Garden, and the Search for Tranquility.


  1. Reading your article has made me a fan of Steven, too! What boundless energy he has, not to mention forward thinking, and agililty in his responses to the marketplace. I imagine any room he enters starts vibrating!

    Good for Steven that he's playing to his strengths... inspiring people to be creative, not ignoring segments of his customer base, embracing technology... and his store memberships, marvelous idea... cash and loyalty in one easy step.

    I agree about surrounding yourself with younger employees. Their ideas, and creativity are great, plus it's best to hire them while they still know everything *wink*. I wish I were 'hip at 50', but when I look back I realize I wished I was hip at 20, 30, and 40. I guess I'll be like Huey Lewis and hold on to 'hip to be square.'

    Thank you, Pat for introducing us to Steven Berg! I really enjoyed reading the article.


  2. You hit the nail on the head, Carol. Steven turns anything into a party, which has an intoxicating effect on his clientele. ...and you? Hip to be Square? Not a chance! You are as cool as they come, pussycat!

  3. What an awesome story! It's great to read about someone so positive.

  4. ...positive AND profitable! A winning combination, to be sure!

  5. I'm both inspired and discouraged reading this. I admire Steven and his success. BUT is there no other path or vision for a successful yarn shop? It just seems to me he has a very specific set of talents that are uniquely his. How would other shop owners incorporate these ideas? For example, my customers would howl with laughter at the idea of a membership plan, esp. if it was $459. You have to be some level of minor celebrity to command that kind of fee and I would say that is unique to Steven Be, not necessarily a marketing concept that could executed by others. BTW 60 members translates to 30k. Depending where you are located, that is either a huge success or a months rent. So I'd say, a qualified success. Also I always wonder about a public claim of profitability. What's the purpose of that? Who opens their books to anyone else, in this industry? We know how quickly and how often LYSs close. Overnight literally. Would anyone ever tell you if they weren't profitable? That wouldn't seem to fit into the whole mystique of being a LYSO, esp. one with such a high profile. But I have seen some very high visibility larger than life yarn shops shutter over night with scary stories of monies owed, bad business practices etc. I can think of three I know of that closed recently and unceremoniously this way after years of hype and hoopla about their successes. It's a dangerous model to emulate and incomplete information to further when all the facts are not known. I'm not sure that does anyone in the industry any favors esp. when they are potentially committing themselves to an endeavor that may or may not turn out quite as fantastic as Steven Be's appears to be.

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Anonymous. Steven definitely brings with him a set of talents that probably ARE unique to him: a long and successful career in the fashion industry, an eye for what makes a garment "work", and a life long exposure to the knitting industry. There is little doubt that his prior life experience helped to shape his vision for the road to retail success that he chose. However, there are many different paths to the same destination. I would guess that it is his creativity, drive, work ethic, and superior customer service that REALLY make his store shine. Those attributes are shared by EVERY successful business person. My goal in showcasing the great Steven Be was to shine a spotlight on his version of success, not to suggest that his path is the only "right" way to achieve it.

    Finally, you mention that you always "wonder about a public claim of profitability" and I guess that I generally look at those things on a case by case basis. Frankly, I have been amazed by the degree of candor exhibited by most of the Crafty Retailers with whom I speak...the good, the bad, and the ugly. I certainly did not mean to imply that Steven was boasting in any way---the guy simply doesn't have that sort or ego. Rather, Steven was simply responding to my questions in what appeared to be an honest and forthright manner.

    The craft industry is filled with shopkeepers who are working seven days a week--with no salary. Accordingly, I always ask about profitability and many of my questions are designed to reveal actual business acumen. After all, lots of folks can throw a great party, purchase pretty inventory, etc. The key is to do it all while achieving some degree of profitability. Steven appears to have found a niche that is working for him---a pretty cool thing for Steven AND for the Minneapolis fiber community.