Creative People: Yarn Shop Owner!9:05 AM
I'm starting a new Confetti Casserole blog feature where I interview creative people to uncover the secrets of their success and glean helpful advice on various aspects of living a creative life. My first interviewee is my all-time favorite person, my mom. My mom, Lisa Dexheimer, owns a yarn shop called Uncommon Threads in York, PA. When she heard that the shop's previous owners were thinking of selling, she realized she was ready to start a second career in yarn sales. She moved Uncommon Threads from its inner city location not far from reports of crime to a newly refurbished suburban shopping center that made patrons feel much safer. She added lots of seating to allow customers to sit and work on projects together. Armed with small business savvy from helping to manage her husband's office, as well as planning and organizational skills from over 20 years as a teacher of young children, she threw herself headlong into learning the ins and outs of owning and operating a small yarn shop. She makes running a business look effortless, but it's really a lot of hard work!
Abby: What makes your business unique?
Lisa: Many crafters today shop online or at "big box" stores for their supplies. A local yarn shop offers more than yarn and knitting needles. We offer classes for beginners and advanced knitters to learn many different techniques. I often help customers begin their next project by finding them a pattern and helping them choose the perfect yarn and needles.
I have a large table in the center of the shop and most days we have a group of knitters gathered, some seeking help with their current work in progress and others to knit and talk. The table overflows with current projects, possible yarn purchases, mugs of tea, water bottles and baked goods from the deli next door. The women who gather are more than customers, many have become good friends. We often refer to our time around the table as our therapy—the knitting and sharing help us deal with life's stresses.
Abby: What is it like to run a small business, and how do you generate sales during seasonal slumps?
Lisa: Sharing my love of knitting and helping others is the easy part of running a small business. I work 5–7 days a week. I rarely have a weekend off. I am constantly looking for new projects to make that will sell specific yarn and knit every day. During our slow time ( spring and summer) I still have to pay rent, utilities taxes, insurance, etc. I try to have sales to bring in customers during slow times. I regularly have a "knit-along" to generate sales. A knit-along is when a small group of knitters knit the same or similar project at the same time and offer help and encouragement as we work. Some of our recent knit-along projects were cabled mittens and a hat with a row of sheep around the brim.
Abby: How do you use social media to connect with customers?
Lisa: I send regular e-mails to our loyal customers—I have over 700 subscribers to my weekly e-mail. I post a photo and info about what I am knitting. I also use this to announce sales, schedule changes, and upcoming classes.
I have recently started to post on Instagram and Facebook. These are great free ways to market a small business. On Instagram I follow lots of other knitters and their postings are great inspiration! I try to see what is trending that would work for my customers. I post about a wide variety of projects on different skill levels. Right now I am posting about small items that would make great gifts. I often feature a specific yarn that I am trying to sell. I knit something in an unusual color that hasn't sold, since some people will only want the color pictured! My small Etsy Shop also sells some of our more unusual yarns.
I use Ravelry, which is a free database for knitters that has links to over 500,000 patterns for knitters and crocheters. I store my own collection of patterns from Ravelry on my iPad, so I can help customers find and print patterns.
Abby: What business advice would you give to others trying to start a creative business?
Lisa: Start with something part-time. Don't give up your day job! Always have a plan B. But don't be afraid to take a risk to see what works. Then, if something's not working, go in a different direction.
Do a lot of research and talk to other business owners. Figure out what your market is and how to cater to them. And don't be afraid to go after new business! Customers won't just come to you—you have to work to get the word about your business out there!
My other advice is to remember that you have to be patient to get where you want to be. Most people don't start being a success right away with little effort. We hear about Mark Zuckerberg getting rich very quickly very young, but that's not the reality for most people. Being successful takes time and lots of hard work!