Friday, June 24, 2011

An Interview with...Barb Barone of River City Yarns

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 Barb here.

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store?  
The yarn store started as a result of people wanting to learn how to knit - I was selling handmade teddy bears and felted bags in a small artist's market.  Many of the people who came there wanted to learn how to knit and didn't have anyone to teach them - so I started up classes and bringing in supplies. Once people started learning how to knit the word spread and so did my business.....I started looking for a larger space where I could hold classes evening and weekends, and the business evolved out of that small group of customers.  Today we are the largest yarn retailer in our city and perhaps our province.

How long have you been in business?
All my life!  but nine years as River City Yarns.  I started the company in 2002 and my sister Cynthia (Hyslop) joined me as a partner in 2006.  We opened our second retail location in Edmonton in July of 2009.  My background is sales, marketing and training - I spent 27 years working in these areas for a large telecommunications company - as well as a number of other home based businesses I was involved in over the years.   When I left the corporate world I knew I wanted to start up a retail business of some kind.   It took a couple of years to figure out just what kind of store it would be.... 

Do you run the store by yourself or do you have employees, if you do how many people work at your shop?
Cynthia and I have a store manager, Susan,  at our new location and a team of about 14 part time retail staff and instructors that work at our two store locations.  

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?  
It is one of the most difficult decisions.  There is so much to choose from.  Budget certainly plays a big role, and so does the marketing behind each yarn, the pattern support, and the type and weight of each yarn – we try and have a great selection without a lot of overlap.   

What have done to create a sense of community in your store?  
We do a lot of activities - from our annual knitting retreat in the rockies, to monthly events in our stores – and our newsletter works very well to communicate and engage our customers.

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn shop has taught you?  
It is a retail business, not a need to continually be watching the bottom line.  It is easy to over spend in this business.

What is your favorite part of what you do running the shop?  
Merchandising - I love to tidy up a shelf, move yarns around, create a new display.......

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 think the business is strong - and it will get even better - People love to knit and crochet - they enjoy creating things and love to touch yarn....they also crave the social aspects a yarn store brings to the community... but retailers need to engage effectively with their customers - and that can be very challenging.  

Did you do a formal business plan?  

Do you have a mentor? 
My dad was my mentor......while he is no longer with us - I think of him all the time when I make decisions and choices for River City Yarns.  He gave me lots of "hands on" business experience and children we worked with him in his many businesses.  My sister and I are using that experience and knowledge in our business model for River City Yarns.....

Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you opened? 
No, I had lots of previous sales, marketing and retail experience. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?  Huge impact - I think the biggest impact the internet has had is that it has educated all of us - both as customers, and retailers - we are able to find information immediately - and that has made us all more knowledgeable

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Having a business partner really helps – someone who has the same vested interest in the business.  When I am away from the business I can totally relax  because I know that everything is being taken care of.   

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?   
A long time - I didn’t take a paycheck for the first three years – I put everything back into inventory for the business. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store?  
Work in a store first, and get a good feel for retail sales before you take the plunge.  

Barb also told me that she and Cynthia "strongly believe in self development and; education for ourselves, our staff and our customers and know that it is a key component to the success of our stores.   We offer our staff the opportunity to sit in on our store workshops so they can expand their knowledge and be more informed to be able to help customers. And each year we bring in a talented teacher or author to be our instructor on our annual train trip and knitting retreat to Jasper – it’s called Wool Wine and Wheels!"

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