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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Encourage Crafty Community to Build a Loyal Retail Following

Every Tuesday I host an Open Studio from 10 - 2.  The second Wednesday night of the month is reserved for a specific fiber project that never costs more than $15.   Fiber minded women settle in to chat and craft together.  The youngest is 28 and the oldest is well into her sixties.  We eat and we crochet...or knit...or embroider...or even felt.  I do not sell product.  I do not talk about selling product.  We laugh.  We have show and tell.  We exchange recipes.  My four dogs are petted and fussed over, even when the puppy grabs a ball of yarn and heads out the door.  One wonderful lady drives almost two hours to get here!   No doubt about it....we have created a real community and Tuesdays have become one of my favorite days of the week.

A side benefit of my little group is that I get to hear the women talk about their projects and their plans for future projects.  I get to see what ignites their creativity and what they want to learn next. We inspire and encourage one another.  They even put my upcoming Swarovski workshop project through an intensive beta test that resulted in some important changes.     I get a whole lot of benefit from these soirees and so do the participants.  .

So....what is the problem?

The problem is that they are not hanging out at their local yarn stores!  Most of the women are members of several other fibery groups and each of those groups meet at restaurants or libraries.  They are connecting with other crafters several times a week-- through and through Ravelry--while totally sidestepping the  brick and mortar retailers in the community!    These gals are clearly seeking a connection that they are not finding at their LYS.  I have been to both local stores and they are lovely.  They are well stocked and are staffed by capable, personable women.  Where was the disconnect?  Not being one to keep a thought bubble a thought bubble, I had to ask...."Why aren't you meeting at the yarn shop?"

The answer surprised me.   It seems that the area shopkeepers have a sitting and sharing if the yarn in your hand was not purchased from this shop, period.  The rule stands even if you are a regular customer and the yarn is not carried by the shop.   WTF?  Seriously?


Uh Oh...  I hear huffing and puffing from those of you out there in Retailer land....I think I might have touched a nerve. You can't pay the rent if customers are buying everything on-line.  You are burnt out from customers who want something for nothing.  Free doesn't get the bills paid.  When customers get together all they do is trade online sources and talk about your competitor.  I get it, really, I do!


....the one advantage a Brick and Mortar store has over the lower priced internet store is the ability to offer kick ass, real, live, honest-to-goodness customer service, to be more than a place that simply warehouses skeins of yarns or buckets of beads.  Rather, you have the opportunity to build a FANATICAL FAN BASE. Store owners are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to connect with potential customers and build a stronger database by not encouraging this sort of crafty community.   Frankly, when consumers are able to bypass your store in the quest for creativity, your business is on the road to irrelevance.

Use the opportunity to glean information. Check your ego and ASK QUESTIONS! Your customers are a goldmine of information and will save hours of research if you take the time to inquire.

Where else do you shop?
What are your favorite online stores?
Why do you like them?
What blogs do you  read?
What other crafts do you enjoy?
What do you want to learn next?
What sort of events would you  like to see?
What would you like me to carry that I do not currently carry?
and so on and so on!

Today's consumer is savvy.  She absolutely, positively knows where to find the yarn/bead/rubber stamp at a better price.  Ever check out the Google Shopping Search?  It will give you sweaty palms, but give it a try.  Go now.  Seriously.  Google "Berroco Pure Pima cotton yarn" and you will find page after page featuring internet stores selling first quality Berroco yarn for a few dollars less than the local yarn store.

Mind you, I owned a brick and mortar shop.  I understand that the overhead of a brick and mortar store greatly exceeds that of a web store, where the yarn/beads/rubber stamps might be warehoused in a guest bedroom.  My clear understanding of the burdens facing brick and mortar retail notwithstanding, the economy sucks and money is tight.   The harsh reality is that there could be a serious price difference for the Money Challenged Crafter contemplating a 10 skein project.  An online purchase could mean a $20 savings  in yarn as well as another 7-10% in sales tax.     Many web stores offer free shipping, as well.  Why should a working gal spend her hard earned money in a brick and mortar retail store?

The answer lies with the retailer.  I am generally willing to pay more --with smile-- if I feel invested in the success of the store.  I get that feeling when I am part of the store's community.  So welcome me, make me feel at home. Better yet, teach me something new and invite me to your "Sit and Stitch."  I may want to use a skein from my stash this week, but I promise you that I will be back to purchase another skein from you next week!  I will probably even bring a friend....

In other news:
The product has shipped and I am packing my bags....I am heading to Tucson!  I skipped last year due to family/dog related stuff and I am tickled to be a part of  Swarovski's Create-Your-Style event this year!

My Design It/Sell It workshop with Nick Regine has sold out, but I still have a few more spaces in the Felted Flower/Crochet Necklace workshop on February 1st.  I will be in the Swarovski Ambassador room when I am not teaching, so  please stop by and say hello if you are going to be in town for the show!

In the Studio:
This last month has been all about show preparations...fine tuning tutorials, dyeing fibers, putting together kits and the like.  However, I have been noodling around an idea for a project that has me VERY excited.  In fact, this might be the perfect vehicle for stores to build that crafty community we have been talking about.  Swarovski is sponsoring an Art Quilt Contest.   You can find the details at  The deadline isn't until June, so there is I said, I am only  "noodling" the concept in my head at this point.  The idea won't actually become a gleam in my eye until at least late February.  But I digress.....

There theme is broad...the contestants simply need to use Swaovski elements to to design an original quilt using music as an inspiration. Perfect!   See, for several years I have had this weird obsession with  Bette Midler's rendition of Rosemary Clooney's "This Ole House."    I tend to play it during the holidays.  If you are middle aged and feeling old, with children who have flown the coop, this is THE PERFECT song to make you weep copiously as you prepare the holiday meal in preparation of the arrival of the young 'uns.  Or so I have been told.
I am also playing around with the idea of a quilt based upon "Big Rock Candy Mountain."  The imagery is just  too perfect and I can see a Rock Candy Mountain felted with Swarovski stones embedded in the fibers.  Happy sigh.  I think I know which way to go....


  1. Right on ... I do not have that rule at my shop ... the only problem I have noticed is running out of chairs on sit and stitch day :-)

    Does that Swarovski link not work or is it just my ipad?

  2. Erica:
    I am not surprised that you operate a full house on sit and stitch are funny and gracious and warm! Re the link...all better now!

  3. Hey Pat - I heartily agree! I have always welcomed folks who attend our weekly Friday night open beading to bring supplies from their stash to bead with. These folks are my most loyal customers, and they choose to buy with me when I have what they want. I always say that a beader needs to shop as many bead shops as she can. Even I am not immune when I travel!

    I look forward to those Friday nights for all the reasons you mention, except instead of a yarn toting puppy, we swap out a cat named Gypsy who likes to lay on your beadwork while you are working. And then there's the wine.....

    I get to see what other beautiful things people have in their stashes. That doesn't mean I don't get steamed when someone asks me for a Swarovski Pearl color chart to use to sort through a bag of assorted pearls she got at a "deal" from that huge online retailer that shall remain unnamed here. I keep my scream in my head, put on a smile and politely comment about the annoyances of online shopping while she ruefully agrees that it wasn't one of her smartest purchases.

    And, I am ever more careful with what I say about online shopping as I plan a shopping cart addition to my own web site. For almost 6 years I have been touting the advantages of in-person shopping, so now I have to come up with a kick-ass shopping cart that won't contradict everything we stand for as a bricks and mortar. More on that later.....

    Thanks for a wonderful blog - again!
    White Fox Bead Studio

  4. Congratulations on the move toward an online shop, Gail! It is critical in today's market to give your customers --and potential customers--an easy way to shop with you.

  5. ok let me be the dissenter. we have that rule in my shop: no outside yarn. I don't buy that it builds community: there are many much more relevant ways to build community rather than erasing necessary business boundaries. Outside yarn creates demands and expectations that can't be met: why invite the problem in? And btw, that stuff you're knitting with is not the vision of my shop/brand, or may not even be available for me to stock (hello, indie dyer). So say what you will about all the love-peace-tie dye community and fan base but since we as LYSOs take all the risk, there have to be some fair and decent rules by which a shop, a business, operates. And honestly having people sit around the shop, not shopping, just hanging out, isn't actually really helpful to a business. It just tells me that that shop a) has a lot of space, b) caters to a demographic with lots of free time c) doesn't actually understand what propels the bottom line: SALES. So yeah, no outside yarn in my shop: and btw, you can't bring Dunkin Donuts into Starbucks and then just sit there and hangout. I cringe every time I see a post like this because it puts further pressure on small retailers to accommodate an unsustainable and ultimately unprofitable approach. what a pity.

  6. Anonymous:
    We have different perspectives, but rest assured, you have lots of company in the brick and mortar community! Many, many retailers find that the "no outside bead/yarn/paper" rule is important to their bottom line. Thank you for providing a voice for those retailers! I don't have all the answers...I am just another gal in the gerbil wheel trying to keep up! Just as there are some consumers who will suck the life blood from a generous store owner, there are many other high spending crafters who avoid certain stores because they do not feel comfortable. We all need to do what works for our business, period.