Friday, July 22, 2011

An Interview with...Karen Crouch

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 everyone makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. 

You can find Karen of Shall we Knit? here

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store? 
I had talked about having a yarn shop for close to 20 years and in 2006 my husband basically said to put up or shut up - in the nicest way, of course.  Like most knitters we would always scout out yarn shops in our travels so I knew what I wanted and liked.  It’s not just about the product but about the atmosphere.  I wanted my customers to have a good time while they were here. 

Just as we were starting to get in gear to ponder a location a beautiful old Victorian house went up for sale 3 doors away from where we were living in New Hamburg.  We bought it planning on renovating the upstairs for an apartment for us
and have the shop on the main level.  We had a few hurdles with the township for various reasons and I had been starting to order stock and getting the shop ready when we realized that it wasn’t going to work in that location.  And, as they say,
timing is everything – just about that time an old building right on the main downtown corner in New Hamburg was sold and the owner was bringing it back to its former glory.  We rented a spot right away.  The location was originally a bank for 140 years but the whole corner had been a bar for the last 30 years and then had sat empty for 3 years with loose cats in the building.  Needless to say the renovation was extensive!

How long have you been in business?  

We officially opened in August of 2007 so this August is our 4th anniversary.  Wow is it only 4 years?  


Do you run the store by yourself or do you have employees, if you do how many people work at your shop?  
I worked by myself for the first year and then I hired Lynne who is my right hand and the other half of my brain most days.  Since then we have hired 4 more and they are all still with me.  We have an amazingly talented staff and they are all a lot of fun.

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?  
I like natural fibres so that was one of the things I focused on originally.  Also, because we were a little off the beaten track with the shop being in New Hamburg we wanted something to make the trip worthwhile.  So I really wanted yarns that were a little different or that you wouldn’t see regularly.  It’s really hard to sell a yarn that we aren’t excited about so we tend to LOVE our stock and stock what we love.

What have done to create a sense of community in your store?  
Every Friday night is Knit & Chat night and we might have 3 people out or we might have 20.  At our new location in Waterloo we have a lovely front porch so quite often we have 2 groups going.  We have always told our customers that if there isn’t a class going on in the classroom they are more than welcome to pull out their knitting and relax and we have a coffee station set up so they can be even more comfortable.

Classes – we get knitters coming back regularly for classes and then they come back to show off what they have made.

We also like doing events!  World Wide Knit in Public is one of our big ones.  

Some years we do a Breast Cancer fundraiser with knitting contests with our 6 foot bright pink knitting needles – that’s a lot of fun.

We also have a Knitting Registry – it works like a Bridal registry.  Customers can fill out a card to help us help their family and friends get them the perfect gift for birthdays, Christmas or maybe just because it’s Thursday.  We also have had different contests – socks, Baby Surprise, even Tea Cozies.  Then there is the bag draw – any time a customer doesn’t need a plastic bag they get in our monthly draw.

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn shop has taught you?  
I can’t do it all.  I have been very fortunate with the people that are on my team (and the unofficial team too) so I need to delegate and let them do it.  Letting go has been one of the hardest lessons, it is my baby after all.

What is your favourite part of what you do running the shop?   

I love the light-bulb moments we see in our classes.  Whether it is a brand new knitter who thought she would never be able to knit or someone who has knit for years and just learned something new. LOVE those moments and love hearing my teachers relating the stories after class and seeing the joy the teachers get from those moments too.
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?  
It’s exciting to see how knitters are braver than they used to be.  We are no longer handcuffed to the patterns. Knitters are changing, adapting, designing.  I think as we get busier and busier knitting is one of the things that gives us a bit of control of our time.  And because our time is so precious, knitters are using better quality products so that our time is totally enjoyable – it’s all about the right tools.

Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor but I have been very fortunate in having people come alongside me to answer my questions, make suggestions or just let me brainstorm. Some of these people are other yarn shop owners, designers and friends.  

Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you opened?
I didn’t take any courses besides some basic accounting courses but I had managed a variety store and they did a lot of management training that has come in very handy.  We do go to the trade shows every year and take advantage of any classes that may pertain to us.

I also am blessed with an amazing partner and husband.  He works full-time but is my tech guy evenings and weekends.   He does all of my website stuff as well as looking after set up of books and is my question guy too.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?

The Internet is huge! The majority of our knitters are very internet savvy so it really makes us work hard to stay on top of what is going on out there.  We have always had access in the shop to look up things for customers and now with Ravelry and other vendors doing the online PDF sales to shops it is changing some of our pattern thinking.  We have an extra computer and an iPad to get on line in case the main computer is busy.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?  
Things always work out for a reason.  I live 20 minutes away from the shop now and that is perfect.  It is really hard when you are self-employed to keep that separation but having the distance helps.  I think if our original plan to live above the shop had happened I would have had a real problem keeping life and work separate. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store?
Have patience and have fun!

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