Friday, June 20, 2014

An Interview with ... Dana Dodge of Got Yarn?

Prism's Foxy Cowl

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 Got Yarn? here. Dana is here on Ravelry. 

All items in the photos are available from Got Yarn?

Tell me how you ended up running a yarn business?
I worked as an advertising art director for a dozen years after college. In 1994 I decided to freelance and see if I could earn my own keep. I was enjoying the entrepreneurial side, as well as the creative side, of my business. Since I was set up as a business and already collecting sales tax, I started buying close-out yarn from a few of the venerable US hand-knitting distributors. I was reselling to friends and acquaintances in order to support my voracious knitting habit.

In '98 I discovered EBay and typed in “yarn” and I got 7,244 hits. {I just now repeated that and got 174,837 hits.} I got really excited, so I listed a bunch of yarns immediately and sold everything in five days. That lead me to search for websites selling yarn. The results were sparse. Most were informational one page sites for LYS and they were not selling products online. Within a few weeks, I designed my website and placed ads in Vogue Knitting magazine. I launched on July 1, 1999. The name Got Yarn?® is an homage to my background in advertising.

Do you run the shop by yourself or do you have employees? If you do how many people work for you?
For the past eight years I have been solo, wearing all the hats.

I ran a retail shop from 2000-2006. I opened the shop because Got Yarn outgrew my basement, and I saw it as an opportunity to buy yarn from the many retailers who would not sell to me, because I was only online. When I closed I had seven part-time employees, who were as good as gold to me, but it got to be too overwhelming, wearing way too many hats. So here I am back at my beginnings.

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?
I buy what I love; what I personally would knit if I have the time to knit it all! I gravitate to the high-end. I carry mostly natural fibers, and hand-dyed yarn. To be worth my time {and my customer’s time} it has to be top quality, exquisite and well-wearing.

Nicky Epstein's Koigu KPPPM Capelet

You focus on kits which include the yarn and pattern. Could you tell us about that?
Yes, kits are my specialty. I offer hundreds of combinations of projects and yarns in various colors, and I assemble them as they are ordered. A kit might include a single pattern, a back-issue of a knitting magazine, or a hardcover book with dozens of projects. The paradox of choice can make even buying yarn overwhelming. My customers love picking a project and knowing they are getting the right yarn for it. I offer a lot of kits from world famous designers. I get orders from all over the planet for Kaffe Fasset kits with umpteen colors of Rowan yarn, plus the pattern book. I special order custom kits too: a Prism sweater kit in their favorite hand-dyed colorway, a Jane Slicer-Smith coat in a choice of three lengths, one of Maie Landra's amazing garments for Koigu. I get a lot of special requests. Even if it's a vintage design, I will try to find them an appropriate substitute. I get a vicarious thrill helping them pick the next project to go on their needles.

I also kit some of my own designs, mainly simple sweaters and fun, no-gauge hats. I try to offer crochet as well, but there's never enough time for me to list everything I can offer.
Here’s a quote from a customer, Kathleen in Canada... "I really like the fact that you put together unique and interesting kits that are hard to come by myself. There is simplicity when you receive a kit in the mail. It sits ready for you whenever the creative juices arise."

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn business has taught you?
Just about every knitter I have ever met, emailed or spoken to on the phone is an honest, passionate person! I can't imagine a more positive business to be in. Every day, I am grateful I was given the gift of knitting to guide my life.

What is your favourite part of what you do running the business?
Buying the yarn – what else?

Kaffe Fasset's Fair Isle scarf and dress for Rowan

We've seen many cycles in the yarn industry with the market increasing and then falling again. What are your thoughts on where things might be headed now?
I am really happy that most of the suppliers I started out with are still going strong. It takes a lot of innovation and smarts to do what they do, season after season. That being said, along with everything else, the internet has created unlimited possibilities for knitting and crochet. No doubt, the business will continue to fragment. Now anyone can sell yarn to the smallest corner of the planet, designers can make a living selling their designs directly and wholesalers have created close ties to their end-users. The conventional wholesale-retail model will continue to evolve rapidly.

Did you do a formal business plan?
NO! I would have thrown in the towel years ago!

Do you have a mentor? 
My father ran his own business for 40 years, all by himself and he is now comfortably retired. He has always given me sound advice. Fortunately, he doesn't question me about all the yarn!

Lizard Ridge Afghan in Noro Yarn, designed by Laura Aylor

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
My mother taught me to be nice to everybody, value creativity and buy quality, not quantity. I see my business as a fusion of her wisdom.

I have never put that down on paper before, but it's obvious now that both my parents taught me how to run a yarn business!

Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you opened?
When I started my freelance business I took a course on consultative selling. That means listening to your customers and helping them figure out what they want. Just about everything else I do here is self-taught. I've never even taken a single computer class. I am a fast learner and I've always operated by observation and intuition, figuring things out as I go along. I can easily get overwhelmed by too much information. Fortunately for me that doesn’t apply to my knitting. I love taking knitting classes and there's no such thing as too much!

Dana's Favorite Merino Yarn (Aurora 8) in her design Aran Mitts

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
I try really hard not to answer the phone or check emails on weekends and holidays. Another plus about this business is that there are very few “yarn emergencies!” In advertising, the account executives treated everything like it was life or death.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I was lucky in that I caught the “new millennium scarf craze” while I had my shop. That helped me build a cushion. So that was seven years into it. After that I was a single, self-employed mom for six years. Just about any small business is all about cash flow. Anytime I needed money, I would send out an email blast to my customers!

Koigu Linen Stitch Scarf by Churchmouse

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn business?
Say goodbye to knitting something just because you want to. All your precious knitting time will be spent on projects that will be popular and move yarn. If you gravitate towards muted colors, get over it!

Debbie Bliss Baby Blanket

Debbie Bliss Cardigan


  1. This great grand mother would love to wear this, can you tell me where to find the pattern, please.
    always, adele

    1. It's right here on Dana's site.