Friday, April 8, 2011

An Interview with...Joan Janes


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 Joan here.

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store?
I have loved knitting and yarns since my high school days when my first summer job was in a spinning mill and salesroom.  I’ve dreamt about my own shop for years.  In fact, the name of the shop, Little Red Mitten, has been my email address since 1999 - I wanted a name that was visual, easy to remember …and easy to spell.  While living south of the border, I immersed myself in knitting correspondence courses through TKGA.  It wasn’t until we moved back to our home town in 2008 that plans started to come together.  After the local yarn shop announced that it was closing, we found our dream location (an 1842 former tearoom in the historic district of the city) and made the decision to go ahead. 
Because of my early exposure to (factory) spinning and the years that I had waited for a chance to learn to spin at a wheel, I decided to carry spinning supplies and small looms for people with desire, but little opportunity.  

How long have you been in business?
Little Red Mitten opened in February 2009, so it has been just over two years.

Do you run the store by yourself or do you have employees, if you do how many people work at your shop?
I don’t think this is something that one could do all on her own.  I’ve been fortunate to find several good people to work in the shop, and my husband, Matt, helps look after the office, the computers and the building.

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?
My goal is to provide a selection that appeals to a wide range of people with different tastes, requirements and budgets.  I carry mostly natural fibres but also have good quality acrylic blends.  I have many standard, well-known yarns plus I love to carry exciting hand dyed yarns from smaller companies and individuals.  I discovered some of my favourites while working in a yarn shop in South Dakota (a few blocks from Knitter’s Magazine ‘headquarters’) and I’ve spent years absorbing ideas from books, magazines and the Internet.

What have you done to create a sense of community in your store?To encourage people to sit, knit and relax, Little Red Mitten has a comfortable, bright community room with lots of seating …and a coffee machine.  We have two very popular, weekly knitting groups on Wednesday afternoons and Friday evenings.  We regularly share info about knitting for various charities, and always seem to have something interesting on the go - we've even knitted a scarf for the Jumbo monument down the street from us!  To help customers plagued by “stash guilt,” we accept their bags of unwanted yarns and donate them to schools, seniors’ homes and charity knitters.  We also have occasional contests so that knitters can inspire each other, and show newer knitters what is possible with two sticks and some string.

Teddies for Tragedies

Mitten Contest

Jumbo with scarf

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn shop has taught you?
I have learned that it takes a lot of energy and a lot of different people to make a business successful.  Little Red Mitten is based on providing good service and good products so that customers can be successful and satisfied with their finished products.  We rely on our staff, teachers and suppliers to focus on making and keeping the customer happy.

What is your favorite part of what you do running the shop?
Teaching was my main reason for opening Little Red Mitten.  Helping knitters understand what they are doing, learn how to solve their problems and then see the logic in knitting always makes me smile inside.
Getting to know visitors and trying to brighten their day, just a bit, is a personal goal.  (Having lived in several communities for short periods, I know how nice it is to be recognized by a friendly person.)

Did you do a formal business plan?
Yes, my husband insisted on this!   
Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you opened?
Yes – a very brief one called “Starting Your Own Business” at the local Business Resource Centre.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Many people find and contact us because of the Internet but this is still a small portion of our business.  One of my goals is to have more of my patterns available online. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Is that possible?  I aspire to having more free time …to knit, design, plan classes and, oh yes, relax.  It’s great when you love your work!

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I am happy that I can employ some wonderful women …and my husband is my best supporter!
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store?
It can be a very fulfilling way to spend your time since knitters are such wonderful people.  If you are a very focused person, the shop can become your life.  So stay healthy and force yourself to take a break, maybe even doing something other than knitting …at least, once in a while.


  1. A nice article in the side.very good blog.....

    Aegan Industries

  2. I was just out teaching at this store and it's a wonderful place. As this was such a new biz at the time of the first interview, might a suggest a follow up to see what Joan's views are currently.