Friday, August 9, 2013

An Interview with Kath Kilburn Of Three Bags Full

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 Kath here and here on Ravelry.

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store? 
I flirted with the idea of opening a yarn store over twenty years ago in the same building our shop is in now. Then I found I was pregnant... After bringing up the family and many years working in a variety of part-time jobs, I re-visited the idea. I’m pleased now that I had all the experience from the other jobs in-between.

How long have you been in business? 

Three years.

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

I run the shop myself. My husband, who’s retired, helps occasionally in the shop and is also invaluable in posting web orders, collecting stock and doing a host of other behind the scenes jobs.

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop? 
I aim to stock a variety of yarns at a good range of price points. There’s another shop in town which sells acrylic, so I concentrate on wools and wool mixes as well as cotton and alpaca. We stock mostly classic yarns, but try to also have something a bit different.

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

We have two knit groups running weekly and we’ve hosted knitathons, workshops, charity events, a yarn tasting...

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

That I'm not a very business-oriented person!

What is your favorite part of what you do running the shop? 
Serving people and the inevitable chats about wool and projects.

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? 

Knitting and crochet are both definitely on the up! Locally we also have weaving classes and many people are showing an interest in spinning. At the same time, there’s the grassroots move to use smaller, independent shops rather than the big chains. So, we’re definitely in an improving phase. But things have changed. People don’t knit for economy now so much as for pleasure and entertainment. How brilliant is it to have a hobby that is reasonably priced (per hour) and at the same time allows you to produce a series of virtually unique, high quality garments, gifts or whatever you choose?

Did you do a formal business plan? 

Yes. The man at the bank looked at it for about two seconds.

Do you have a mentor? 

No, not really.


Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 
I have my own personal business model but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone because, if we’re judging by the profits, it’s not hugely successful. We don’t even have a till.

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

I attended a local Silver Entrepreneurs course, which was interesting and helpful to some extent.

What impact has the Internet had on your business? 

We opened the webshop about a year after the bricks and mortar shop. It means we’re always open, which is fantastic – I love the feeling that the online shop’s doing the work for us while we sleep. But other aspects of the web are also helpful – ravelry, for instance, offers so much information and help, and Knitty and several other sites with free patterns are wonderful for knitters.

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
I don’t. I’m pretty one-dimensional! It’s something I’m working on... 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? 
I was able to take a small salary from the shop after being open two and a half years.

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

Unless prospective yarn store owners have a sizable chunk of money that they can invest, I think I’d be advising starting small – either as a concession in a bigger shop or as a mobile yarn shop or online while working part-time at a day job - just some way that doesn’t involve committing yourself wholeheartedly to a huge rent on a long lease before you know if the idea’s a goer.

Kath has written an ebook on opening a yarn shop. You can find it here.

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