Friday, November 23, 2012

An Interview with...Carol and Barb of Never Enough Wool

Carol and Barb

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. I met the ladies of Never Enough Wool at KnitTrade over a shared lunch and we had a great conversation.

You can find Carol and Barb here and here on Ravelry..

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store?

CAROL: Years ago, my favourite yarn shop closed.  I visited every wool shop within a 60-minute drive of my home.  None of them offered everything I wanted in a yarn shop.  So I wrote up a business plan, and the rest is history. 

BARB: I had just moved to the area and was looking for a place to meet folks and make friends.  Carol invited me to her first Thursday Knit Night ... then she needed some part-time help ... then I decided that this shop would be a good investment opportunity.

CAROL: She claims that I can't get rid of her ... and I just tell her that Ididn't even try.  I knew a good friend when I saw one!

How long have you been in business?

BARB and CAROL: We just celebrated our sixth anniversary!  Yahoo!

Do you run the store by yourselves or do you have employees, if you do how many people work at your shop?

BARB: We run the shop ourselves between the two of us.

CAROL: Except for the two "Say Hi to Doug" days.  Those are the days when my husband runs the shop so that we can go to the Knitters' Fair and Knitters' Frolic.  Doug is great at reading patterns and helping to select the appropriate yarn.  Just don't ask him a knitting technique question, because he'll give you the biggest deer-in-the-headlights look you've ever seen. 

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?

CAROL: I started by selecting yarns that I thought the community would like and appreciate.

BARB: From there, we have expanded to include yarns that we love but they must be reasonably priced. 

CAROL: Definitely reasonably priced.  We have been bringing in some more higher-end yarns that we absolutely adore, and the ladies are enjoying them as well.  

What have done to create a sense of community in your store?

CAROL: That sense of community was one of the most important things I wanted to create in my store when I opened.  We started by offering afternoon knitting group and knitting night.  With tea and baked goodies.  I also had a policy of people being able to drop by with their questions and get help any time.

BARB: We also have a happy (happy!) friendly atmosphere.  In fact, we have ladies who drop their car at the service station and wait at the store for the work to be done.  

The mug wall.  The mugs belong to some of the ladies who come to knit at the shop and have tea.

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn shop has taught you?

CAROL: That we don't get to sit and knit all day!  Really, there is so much to do, but we also make a point of spending time every day at the table and working on projects.

BARB: Keeping track of the bottom line!

BARB: Helping customers fix a problem or to learn a new technique.

CAROL: Having people actually listen to my advice!  (This, after raising children, is such a novelty!)  Seriously, the best parts of running the shop are the people, the wools, the people, and the wools.  

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?

BARB and CAROL: We see a retrenchment happening, especially in the specialty yarns.  The ruffle yarns have  been fun, but they've been around for three years now.

Did you do a formal business plan?

CAROL: That was part of the decision to open the shop.  My university degree is in Business Administration, so writing up the plan wasn't a problem.  I was shocked at how nicely it all fell together.  Then when I found a storefront that fit the budget, I was in business.  Literally.

BARB: We sit down regularly to look it over and make improvements. 

CAROL: Seriously, most folks think that a business plan is a once-in-a-lifetime endeavour.  But you have to regularly look at it and look ahead in order to stay in business.  If you lose focus, you're in big trouble. 

Do you have a mentor?

CAROL: I participate in a couple of on-line discussion groups.  It's great because we all learn from each other.  

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

CAROL: We like to claim that Debbie Macomber modeled her "Shop on Blossom Street" after us.  That book came out just before we opened, but I hadn't read it.  I found it a little spooky how similar things in the book were to things that we were doing.

BARB: I've been told that we are like the shop in The Friday  Night Knitting Club.  

Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you opened?

CAROL: My Bachelor's degree is in Business Administration with a specialty in Management of Organizations.  When I was studying, I was managing a law office.  Now I manage a different organization, but the principles are the same.  We're just doing it on a smaller scale.

BARB: Nope! I am winging it. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

CAROL: It's really interesting.  I have a blog that was started before the shop, and so some of my readers were excited to be able to visit the shop and meet me in person.  We created a website for the store, which has also drawn in a fair number of people.  Last year we started advertising on the Internet and saw an instant increase in business.

BARB: Yarn is such a tactile thing.  It's hard to buy yarn off the Internet. 

CAROL: It's really great to have people come in with print-outs of the website, anxious to pet the wools.  So I'd say that the Internet has greatly expanded our advertising reach, with not nearly the expense as print. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

CAROL: Is there such a thing?

BARB: What work/life balance?!?  I try to limit the number of hours at work and thinking about work.  And when I'm at home, I'm AT home.

CAROL: And THAT, my friend, is hard work.  I find that even on our "days off" I'm thinking about work, or doing work.  What's scary is when I start dreaming about work.

BARB: Having said that, work is so much fun that it's not really work.

CAROL AND BARB: Don't tell our families that.  Please!

CAROL: Having said all this, we've spent the last little while creating a 2013 calendar which features 13 original designs.  That took a lot of "days off" to put together.

BARB: Don't forget our own hand-dyed sock yarn.  We dedicate one Monday a month to creating two or three brand new colourways, and that takes a lot of work too. Fun, fun, fun, but a lot of work too. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store?

BARB: Love what you do, and don't expect to make millions of dollars.

CAROL: I'd add do your research, and do it again.  Know your market, know what the market can support.  There's nothing worse than opening a store, and having no one come to see it.  

Carol and Barb with their own sock yarn

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