Friday, October 25, 2013

An Interview with ... Melissa McColl of LadeeBee

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Melissa here and here on Ravelry.

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store?
My path to having a bricks and mortar business was a bit of a winding road. Previously, I worked in the non-profit sector in a young parent resource centre. A few years into my job I was diagnosed with major depression and was ordered on leave by my doctor. During my medical leave I starting knitting almost all of my waking hours. I taught myself to crochet and to use knitting machines. I was in acquisition mode, buying up buttons, fabric, yarn, machines, and filling my home with things that made me happy. During my treatment I opened two Etsy shops. One called LadeeBee and the other Vintage Baby Revival. LadeeBee was focused on vintage buttons and for Vintage Baby Revival I designed and created knitware for babies and toddlers. I took my business a little further with the knitwear and exhibited at the One of a Kind Show and sold my items at local boutiques. Eventually, I decided not to return to my position at the young parent resource centre and to focus on crafting and creating for a living. An acquaintance of mine decided to do a big bead destash and gave me several bags of supplies free of charge. I started selling on a live auction website called Tophatter. The site was in its infancy and I was one of the first sellers to get on board. I sold off all of the supplies swiftly and at a massive profit and decided I wanted to do more of this. I sourced more jewelry supplies and began a steady business on Tophatter. 
I live in an up and coming neighbourhood called the Junction in Toronto and I always would say dreamily "I would love to open a yarn shop right here!" I never thought it possible because I lacked the finances to kick start a business so I never gave the idea any serious thought. By this time I had become friends with Mary Breen, the owner of Wise Daughters Craft Market, where I sold my baby knits on consignment and sometimes worked part-time. Wise Daughters had a gallery and workshop space in the lower level but Mary felt the space was underutilized. I suggested I could open a yarn shop and Mary agreed it would be a perfect fit with her locally handmade market. In fact many customers called her shop looking for craft supplies already. So in one serendipitous afternoon it was decided - I would have a yarn, bead and craft supplies shop in my beloved neighbourhood, the Junction. 

How long have you been in business?
I opened the bricks and mortar business in January 2013. 

Do you run the store by yourself or do you have employees, and if so, how many people work at your shop?
I mainly run the business on my own, but I have had occasional employees and even volunteers. 

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?
Truth be told, I am still choosing the yarns for my shop. I did not open the shop in a traditional way. I am growing slowly over time. I started off with a destash of the yarn from my own studio and now I carry Cascade 220 Superwash and 220 Superwash Sport, Cascade Magnum, Cascade Eco Duo, Manos Lace, and TurtlePurl Softshell Turtle Toes (a Canadian indie dyer). I purchased a lot of indie dyed sock yarn from a knitter who was destashing her own stash, and I am selling yarn on consignment for a local yarn shop that recently closed. As you can see I've had to be very creative in filling the shelves and also choosing a distributor with small opening order terms. I do want to have the best of the best and have my sights set on Sweet Fibre, another indie Canadian dyer, Socks that Rock, Malabrigo, and Noro. I love natural fibres and the beauty of hand dyed yarns.

What have done to create a sense of community in your store?
I am fortunate because much of the community was already built in when I opened my shop. Mary and I agreed that she would hold on to her workshops and borrow back the space to operate the classes. It is a pleasure to see so many activities, not just fibre related crafts, taking place in my space. I have also started a Sit N' Stitch I call a "Stitching Bee" on Sundays. Anyone can drop in during store hours on Sunday with their knitting, crochet, needlework, spinning, or beading project for a stitching social.  Together Mary and I plan special events for Worldwide Knit in Public Day and we participate in our local community events as well.

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn shop has taught you?
The biggest lessons are in patience and perseverance. Shelves don't fill up as quickly as I'd like and some days it feels like I'm spinning my wheels. You've got to be tough and focused and remain energetic as much as possible. 

What is your favourite part of what you do running the shop?
I feel so satisfied when I help someone find just the right thing for their project. I enjoy engaging my customers and finding out what they are working on and what materials make them happy. I am delighted when they find something in my shop that causes them to be excited and inspired. 

We've seen many cycles in the yarn industry of the market increasing and then falling again. What are your thoughts on where things might be headed now? 
I am really excited about the direction the industry is going. There is definitely a renaissance happening right now. The public is really becoming interested in doing things by hand again and connecting with the DIY spirit. I take personal responsibility for being an advocate for the crafts and sharing my passion with others. I feel if we all do our part we can see a long and prosperous future for the yarn industry. 

Do you have a mentor?
I do have two important mentors in my life. One is Mary Breen of Wise Daughters. She opened her bricks and mortar business four years prior to LadeeBee's arrival. She is a constant source of support, information, and comic relief. The other is Gloria Williams, a long time knitting expert. She has personally taken me under her wing to show me the ropes of teaching and has advised me in the nuances of yarn shop operations.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
None in particular. I have visited dozens of yarn shops across the country and the US and have picked up on some things that I have emulated or aspire to emulate. I adore Purl Soho's (NYC) online presence, their advertising and of course their physical shop. I love the representation of fabric, yarn and needlework crafts. The General Store in Brooklyn is also similar. There's a sweet little shop in Peterborough, Needle in the Hay, that I adore as well. I gain inspiration from a variety of shops. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The internet was really my jumping off point. Once I had a stable income from online sales I was confident I'd be able to open the bricks and mortar location. Now that I have a location I can expand my inventory that I offer online. I am no longer confined by the space of my home based business. I love the opportunities that the internet offers. I have shipped things all over the world, but  I am truly most excited when I have a new Canadian customer. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Work is life at the moment and I am happy with that. I come to the shop 7 days a week even though we are closed on Mondays. Because I live a block away from the shop I tend to live my life in a 1km radius and benefit from zero commute. Luckily, I am easily accessible to my family.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Right now the shop is self sustaining and all profit goes right back into reinvesting in inventory. I imagine this will be the cycle for some time.  It has taken five years to get here and I imagine it'll be another five before I can say I am supporting myself. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store? 
My advice is to recognize that everyone has their own path. Be open to yours.

If you enjoy reading my blog, I'd really appreciate it if you would tell your knitting friends or share links to your favourite posts online with Twitter, Ravelry or Facebook. Word of mouth is really helping to grow my business as knitters respect the views of other members of our community. Thanks!


  1. Great interview! I know Melissa and it was great reading about her journey.