Sunday, April 10, 2011

What Makes a Good Yarn Store

Some time ago I posted a blog about online yarn stores and why I love them so much.  It goes without saying that OPYF is my most favorite!  I haven't changed my mind.  But, to be fair, I thought I should write a few things about what I think makes a good local yarn store.
The Fiber Factory- Mesa, AZ

Here in the Phoenix area we have seen many yarn stores come and go over the years.  In the last 6-8 months we lost two yarn stores that have been around for a long time and another store is up for sale.  This seems to be the same everywhere.   I was talking to my mom in Canada the other day and she told me that a little yarn store I loved  near her home also closed recently.  It's so sad and  it got me thinking about what makes a good yarn store, how do they stand the test of time and why do knitters stay loyal to them?  I hope you let me know your thoughts on this as well.  Why do you love your LYS?

I think that the past few years have been exceedingly difficult for yarn stores.  As with other small businesses the recession has been brutal.  People that used to buy lots of yarn started cutting back.  I remember working in a store seven years ago when novelty yarn was such a big craze.  This yarn was not cheap and people bought tons of it.  Three, four, five hundred dollar sales for one customer was not unusual at all. Often customers would buy enough yarn for one or two sweaters, plus needles, bags, patterns, books.  As the economy slowed down we watched customers scaling way back on what they bought.  Instead of buying yarn for a whole sweater, customers would take one or two balls home and then buy a ball or two when they could afford it.  So often I would hear customers say they would have to use up their stash rather than buy new yarn. Of course stores were left with plenty of stock and ordering new yarns was not a viable option.

With customers spending less money stores had to think of other ways of attracting customers and keep them coming back.  A store that is friendly and welcoming is one of the most important factors in a customer's making a decision to come to a store and return.  I have been in many stores that, frankly, make you feel like more of a nuisance.  You've been there.  Usually there is a table or two of knitters busily working away.  No one looks up.  No one gives you a second look.  No one greets you.  You walk in and wonder if there is some "private event" going on that you are interrupting.  You kind of wander around aimlessly and it seems no one really cares that you are there or not.  So you leave, unhappy and vowing never to return.

When you come into a store within a few minutes you should be greeted and made to feel welcome.  You are encouraged to ask questions and if you need help the staff should make it easy for you to ask.  No question is too dumb.  Having said that, there is nothing worse than someone following you around "chomping at your heels" or making you feel that you might take something if they don't stay on top of you.  For staff, it is a fine balancing act, but good staff does keep an eye on you - see that you maybe in need of help and are there when you need them.
Tempe Yarn and Fiber - Tempe, AZ
Good experienced staff is crucial in a yarn store and they are harder to find than you might think.  These people must have great interpersonal skills, they have to be extraordinary knitters, have enormous amounts of patience, have a good knowledge of yarns and fibers and have an ability to share their knowledge with customers.   Once you find someone like that in a store you will go back again and again.

Yarn stores must keep up with the times - especially in today's economy. Stores must offer an abundance of classes covering all kinds of topics from beginner to advanced techniques.  In my opinion, stores can no longer be one trick ponies -  just knitting and crochet stores.  Stores need to cover all kinds of fiber arts - weaving, spinning, and dying for example.    Stores should bring in speakers, work with guilds in their area and set up special workshops.

Finally stores need to have a strong presence on the internet and take advantage of social media.  Today's knitter is becoming more and more computer savvy.  Look at all the "apps" out there, the blogs, the podcasts. Ravelry for goodness sake.  Stores need to be reaching all these customers by playing an active role in social media.
OPYF - Scottsdale, AZ

It just occurred to me that I really haven't talked that much about the yarn.   That's what we all go to the yarn store for isn't it?  Sure, we all want to see the latest and greatest yarn, but is that what keeps us coming back to a particular store?  I don't think so.  I would rather go somewhere where the yarn selection is not as good but where I feel comfortable.  Where people are friendly and willing to help.  Where I can sit down and have a good laugh.  Where no one judges my knitting and where everyone is willing to help.  Where staff are knowledgeable, friendly and patient.  That's what makes a good yarn store.  That's what keeps us coming back.

Send us your thoughts and comments.

Mary Glendinning

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