Friday, March 25, 2011

An Interview with Carol Tomany

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

You can find Carol here and here on Ravelry.

Tell me how you got into the wholesale knitting industry?
I started by trying to distribute kits for Knitted Teacups after I became infatuated with Debbie New's knitted teacups. We worked out a royalty arrangement and I did a mail out.

One store in SK said that she didn't need kits for knitted teacups but she did need a pattern for a Strawberry Hat. I used my network. Got a number for Ann Norling and then started distributing her patterns. She had about 50 patterns at that time.  I then asked Fiber Trends, if I could distribute her patterns and after a time, she said yes. Bev, had about 20 patterns at the time. I just kept adding designers and branched into Organic Cotton, because I found out that Sally Fox was spinning yarn in volume and I asked, if I could distribute her yarn in Canada. We grew from there.

How long have you been in business?

I have been in business 16 years.

Do you run the business by yourself or do you have employees, if you do how many people work for you?

I have mainly run the business myself with part timers.

How did you choose the yarns, patterns and notions that you supply to Knitters and retailers?
I see what is selling and then I look at who is doing this and try to get more of it. For example I sell almost no crochet patterns so I really don't take on crochet designers.  I distribute for Mary Beth Temple because she made the effort to come up to Canada from NJ to meet us.

Also I sell almost no sweater patterns, so I avoid designers who do a lot of sweater patterns. I sell mainly patterns for accessories. The yarns usually find me.
What is the biggest lesson running this business has taught you?
The biggest lesson that I have learned is FOCUS.

What is your favorite part of what you do?

The favourite of what I do is the people I meet.

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?
Everything that has been before will come again except that there will not be that 15year window where designers, like Bev Gelaskas of Fiber trends and a few others were able to earn a reasonable living from pattern sales alone. Free patterns on-line, Ravelry, etc have changed that.  We are still in the entertainment industry; but, people need more entertainment with their pattern purchases. They need blogs, videos on-line, learning camps, knit cafes,etc... Designers will now have to be not just good designers, they will have to be knitting stars.

Did you do a formal business plan?

I did not do a formal business plan. I evolved.  I am a cart before the horse person. I jump in and sort out.

Do you have a mentor?

I did join a woman's business group and I had a mentor whom I really liked; but she was an interior designer and took the idea of organic cotton and thought that I should expand into fabric.  I tried it for a while - but you had to order in so much and the inventory was very unwieldy and clothing designers don't pay and go out of business quicker.

I think that, in the beginning, networking with Ann Canon-Brown of Elann, Bev Gelaskas of Fiber Trends and Jim Bryson of Bryson Distributing was the best help.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

I am a distributor so I looked at what other distributor's do.

Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you started?
I taught English and Theater at the High School level. When I left teaching I did bookkeeping for my husband's company and a few other companies.  The accounting experience was a very good lesson.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?

The Internet has been great. I love websites. I've had mine since 1995. I love the blogs, e-mail, Facebook. It has really helped me to grow my business and I am looking at ways to do business almost exclusively on-line.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I can usually become very absorbed in what I do. My husband is very good at making me take time for family. I just cut off at 5:00pm - except for evening knitting.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself and what advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a business like yours?
Generally it takes 5 years to be self-supporting in any business. My advice to anyone going into business in the tiny niche market of knitting is - have a second income, or if you want to make a lot of money in knitting - start with a lot more money.  It is a very labour intensive industry, where photocopying is rampant, free patterns are the given. The end-user can't knit yarn fast enough to support the average designer or yarn supplier. There is already too much yarn out there and the industry changes every 3-5 years.

See another interview with Carol here, in which she works under her second identity as Anne Corcoran .

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