- A few weeks ago I attended a Four Day Digital Marketing Session in hopes of learning a better way to communicate for many reasons.
- America's Knitting recently published a series of supportive articles about how important Local Yarn Shops are to the knitting world, asking us to re assess our businesses and think how to best serve our customers.
- A few days ago I read the article that made me really think. Why? Why are people not coming to take classes at the shops anymore? Are Online Classes destroying us like online sales? Are the festivals really taking students away from us? Are people sooooooooooo busy that they cannot commit? Maybe. But just maybe it's lack of clear communication.
Let me tell you a story.
20 years ago I started my farm with two sheep. A few years into it, I learned to spin and then dye my own hand-spun yarns and am selling them from my little garden shed on my farm. No facebook, no instagram, not much email either. I hand painted drop cloth that says YARNS, draped it over a sawhorse and set it on the side of the road. People came. And they came in droves. And they shared their purchases with their knitting friends in conversations and at their local knitting guilds and at thieir knit nights in libraries and at their local yarn shops. They came and they bought my yarns and they appreciated that their purchase included conversation, education and a chance to meet the animals that created the yarns. When winter came and I had to close my shop because I had no heat. So I would travel to local shows and some folks would come to my house to pick up yarn. Either way I was out with people and we were talking and learning, laughing and sharing. And it was good. Good for all of us. My farm grew to 36 sheep, 3 angora goats, a rag-tag flock of chickens and my sales supported my endeavors.
One of the things we talked a lot about was the work involved in the production of my yarns. Back then it involved a daily farm life of hauling hay and grain and filling water buckets. It involved daily interaction and observation of my flock, fence repair, moving animals to fresh pasture and so on and so on and so much more. It involved taking wool to the mill after shearing then picking it up and then dyeing the skeins, drying, tagging, packing up for shows and eventually packing up for mailing. After my flock had grown considerably and the internet had grown too, I decided to up my game by purchasing thousands of pounds of wool to spin into different weights and fiber combinations. I toyed around with a website ... then built one. Things changed. People e-mailed me more ...instead of calling. But they bought my yarns on line because of the beginning reasons and many of them still visited my farm every summer religiously. We talked, we laughed, we shared, we learned ... in person.
Today I continue to do much the same on a different scale. I do not have a farm to maintain, but from that 20 years of farming ...I have knowledge. Lots and lots of knowledge and I have experience. And I have wool sources that continue to excite me as my medium. So it occurs to me that maybe an understanding of what a knitting, felting, dyeing, etc. class is giving you is a very important part of the conversation.
So let's break it down.
- Processing yarn is not cheap for a small farm or a small business who buys wool. I have done and still do both.
- Remember, what goes in is what comes out. Healthy sheep = beautiful fleece.
- Hay and grain are quite pricey. Unless you are willing to ride on tractors and stack hay in the heat of July to save a few bucks a bale. I had done that for years and loved it.
- Sheep produce one fleece a year. Some shear twice, but ultimately you get one shearing.
- You have to pay the shearer. You may have to have a vet come from time to time.
- You have to produce a lot of fleece to make it work. But ohhhhhhhh the beautiful yarns you can make!
- How about paying yourself for your time?
So this helps you to understand a little of what goes into a farm yarn. Let's not forget the yarns we purchase from mills that are spun and ready to be dyed.
- Most mills require minimums which is only fair -for some we pay for the cost of shipping as well.
- Then the cost of dye and printing the product tags.
- How about getting paid for your time?
Now let's talk about advertising and shows and festivals.
- If you do not pay rent for a shop space, you pay fees to be in a shows and events.
- You may pay to stay in hotels, you must put gas in your tank, and of course you have to eat and drink copious amounts of coffee.
- you might run an ad in the festival books.
AND LET"S NOT FORGET THE HOURS OF PROMOTION DONE ON SOCIAL MEDIA! :)
Why do we do it? Each of us has our own reasons, but passion for our work is a big part of it.
Now let's talk about classes from a shop's point of view.
Classes help keep us open. They bring folks in to learn a new skill which, hopefully, brings them back after they are bitten by the "creativity bug". Classes help keep our designer's designing by supplementing their incomes as they do the math and write the patterns that we love. Classes form a community. They introduce experienced with inexperienced, they are a place for conversation of all skills and all ages and all walks of life. In the fiber industry I have yet to meet a teacher without patience and enthusiasm and a genuine loooooove to teach and share. Its a fun and happy experience. But in all honesty, it is the bread and butter that plays a major roll in keeping the doors open.
In my shop I do not carry commercial brands. I create and carry Romney Ridge Yarns, Knitting Kits and Needle Felting Kits. I round out what I do not create with Dirty Water Dyeworks' beautiful hand-dyed yarns in lighter weights than what I dye. When I offer a class I work with my teachers to choose a Romney Ridge Yarn that is appropriate for the project. I dye the yarn for the class and the teacher creates a sample with the yarn you will be using. We work together to create an experience and project that is truly unique. If I am teaching the class I I create the materials for the specific projects whether it is knitting or felting. Shops that do not produce their own brand I am sure do much the same.
So now that you have read my ramblings and I hope have a better idea of some of what goes on behind the scenes, what can you do to help? The answer is simple. Talk, attend and share.
- Talk. It isn't the same as it was even 10 years ago. Talk on your social media platforms when you have a good experience at a class or shop. If you don't have a good experience, talk directly to the owner and/or teacher. Don't bash. We are all in this business with pride for our work and offerings. Let's talk out and fix a problem.
- Attend. Come to a class once a month. Come to Knit Night once a month. Bring a friend, bring your daughter, son or husband. Learn together! All are welcome! COMMIT -this one is big. If you sign up for a class ... come to the class. Canceling costs us time and money. Some shops offer refunds. It really is not fair. We put a lot of time in behind the scenes to make these classes happen and when you cancel it its frustrating as many times it has been last minute for me. This leaves spaces open that we can rarely fill last minute. All stores have different policies, I tey to be considerate, but am leaning towards a no refund policy.
- SHARE!!!!! This one is HUGE! :) Share your experience on social media yes, but more importantly share the love of your LYS, small farm, small business by WRITING REVIEWS on Facebook, on Google, on Yelp. I learned in my class that that 90% of all consumers read reviews before they purchase of commit. I know I do! This helps your fav business soar to higher places in so many ways! Even if you just give them 5 stars. Its such and easy thing to do! ....much like pushing the LIKE button ... but I will save that for the next post! :):