Friday, July 12, 2013

An Interview with... Mary Cullen


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 Mary here and here and here (sock knitters) on Ravelry

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store?
That's a funny question because I should be able to answer it…..but I really don't remember. It had been a dream for years and anytime I was out for a drive..I would envision just about any property I saw, as a yarn shop.

One day an old building on Main Street , Unionville became available and before I knew it…….I was on my way to opening a yarn shop. Truthfully, it was Easter weekend and I think I was a bit preoccupied with getting a big dinner and hiding the eggs!
How long have you been in business?
I got the property in June 2002, but didn't open until the end of February, 2003.  The old house (built in 1876) was a disaster and needed painting…top to bottom. We also landscaped, etc….then I started buying inventory, so I have been open for just over ten years.

Do you run the store by yourself or do you have employees, if you do how many people work at your shop?
My daughter, Lynn joined me 4 years after I opened. The two of us run it…..but we have 3 delightful part-time employees.

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop? 
How do we choose?……"rapid fire"……..we know very quickly if it "feels" right. That doesn't mean we always make the right decision…but we don't spend too much time thinking about it.  Price is a big factor and Lynn and I each choose half of the colours we order…she likes the brights…while I tend to go for the earthier tones.  After being in business for ten years….you do start to have a feel for what your clientele will like. 

What have done to create a sense of community in your store?
….a sense of community comes from doing our best to remember people and being truly interested in their stories. We like to introduce knitters to one another if we feel they have a common bond…we also have a group that meet in the upstairs room at the shop , every other Wednesday afternoon. 

Our classes and special events tend to bring out many of the same people… eventually they get to know one another. It's fun to hear two customers making plans to meet at one another's homes….to knit. Helping friendships form, can only help a community.

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn shop has taught you?
The biggest lesson….not everybody shops like me!     Seriously……I am intrigued by all of the different ways people approach a project, so I must keep that in mind when buying.

What is your favorite part of what you do running the shop?
Organizing and merchandising.  I love tidying the yarns and lining them up in such a way that people are drawn to the colours and the textures…..but I love the interaction with the customers…and suppliers……it's fun to find a deal and pass it along to customers…or a new yarn……I honestly love everything about "running" a yarn shop……..

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 we're in a better place than we've been in many years because so many people have gotten into knitting in the past 15 years……it's beyond being a fad and while it may have some dips….I don't think we'll see it get anywhere close to disappearing in our lifetime……..especially if Rowan keep putting out their beautiful books! 

Did you do a formal business plan?
No formal business plan.  

Do you have a mentor? 
Ah yes….my husband is my #1 mentor. It's all we talk about….retail...……and both of our fathers were in retail…so I often stop and run questions by them in my mind…as they have both passed away…and I try and guess what they would say. My kids are also wonderful for being honest and up to date… their opinions matter a lot to me. 

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not really…….maybe snippets of one store and snippets of another……I love to watch some of the larger stores, but their conditions are so different from mine….that emulating is not really an option.

Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you opened? 
Not recently, but I did major in Home Ec  at Guelph..thinking that I wanted to become a sewing/cooking teacher.  After a year in the course and the trend away from teaching Home Ec in the schools…I switched to Consumer Studies. This course supplied me with much of the basic info I needed for running a shop…otherwise…it's a gut feeling and a great mentor! 

What impact has the Internet had on your business? 
The Internet…….I was more aware of it when I opened 10 years ago……people were discovering the Internet and me at about the same time…. 

I guess it's safe to say that I felt threatened by the Internet when I first opened…but honestly…I think we have it to thank for the huge increase in the number of knitters. It's so great to be able to refer to You Tube or Ravelry when we're stuck.  It's so much easier to help a customer find the right yarn now that we have Ravelry at our fingertips… sure beats saving all of the old yarn catalogues for reference!!  It's a "win/win". 

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
Work/Life balance…….does anyone have the answer for that?  My 4 kids are getting older and moving out…so that makes it a bit easier…….but now there are new challenges….so I really can't advise on that. Funny thing….I am actually more relaxed at the shop…..I go there to chill. 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? 
Support myself……or my yarn habit?  Thankfully, my family is not counting on my income from the shop…….but we are finally in a spot where one of us can take home a decent pay cheque. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store? 
Advice?  Not really….every person and every yarn shop/location is so different…….that's what makes it all so interesting…

Be patient in the early years…….it does take some time to see your business generate a positive cash flow.

Do your best to be friends with  neighbouring yarn shops……'s so much nicer if everyone can work together.

It's hard work…….but we love it.

Thanks Robin for inviting me to answer these questions. It's a great exercise and only reinforces how happy I am that I decided to open the shop. I've had my moments……but overall, it's been a joy. My biggest fear before I opened was that I would lose my love of knitting. That has not happened for even a fraction of a second….it's been wonderful to meet so many knitters…see their projects and hear their stories.

Lynn, Mary and Karen

No comments:

Post a Comment