Saturday, May 14, 2005

Oh, the fun: buying yarn.

The funnest part (as well as the hardest part) of opening a yarn store is buying the yarn. There are soooo many choices!
Early on I decided to approach yarn buying as a business person first, a yarn addict second. Since startup funds are limited and I'm depending on the store to generate an income for myself, I need to be able to stock shelves quickly as things sell out. In other words, I need companies that can deliver yarn quickly, which rules out some wonderful companies. Rowan for example takes roughly 3-4 months to ship an order (if you're lucky). Some companies take even longer. At least in the beginning, I simply cannot run a business where inventory takes FOUR MONTHS to arrive! That means I basically need to have four months worth of inventory on the shelves at all times. That's a lotta balls o' yarn and requires a lotta cash (which I don't have).

Happily, the yarn world is pretty large and competitve, and many companies have established great track records for delivery. One of them is Cascade Yarns, out of Washington. Not only are they on the West Coast, yarn orders take only a few days (a week at most) to reach you. Their yarns are of very good quality and reasonably priced. One of their yarns is wildly popular... Cascade 220, which is a nice soft wool that has legendary felting properties (and it comes in three trimillion colors). Cascade also distributes other higher-end lines that caught my attention: Dive', a brand that has been around a long time, and Bollicini, a new 'luxury' label created by Cascade. The folks as Cascade are super-nice, and called me up personally to answer my initial questions. Most yarn companies referred me to local reps - more on that later. Due to their great delivery reputation and super-niceness, Cascade became my first supplier.

Another major company I've chosen to work with is Muench Yarns, located right in my backyard in Petaluma, CA (15 miles from my front door). Muench sells their own line of yarns a (which are primarily frilly, fluffy and glitzy novelty yarns) which to be quite honest, isn't my bag. I just don't get excited over the furry novelty yarns. What I *do* get excited about are soft, luxurious and colorful "basic" yarns - merino wool, alpaca, cashmere, cotton/wool blends, silk blends, etc. Muench distributes yarns made by GGH, a German company that produces a huge range of novelties AND basics. The color range offered by this company is wonderful, as well. I love color. Muench/GGH is my second major supplier.

The third company I'm investing a lot of money in is Goddess Yarns out of Little Rock, Arkansas. They are a newish company, very small, that offers a terrific selection of high-quality basic yarns in a great range of colors at extremely reasonable prices. Their slogan is 'Created for knitters by knitters.' I just finished a sweather made out of Ellen, their cotton & wool blend. Fabulous!

Two small 'luxury' fiber companies that are high on my list are Blue Sky Alpacas (specializing in, duh, alpaca and alpaca blends) and Lorna's Laces (IMHO the best hand-dyed company out there).

This brings me to a philosophy that's been crystallizing in my brain since this journey began. Rather than 'cherry pick' yarn - buying samplings of yarn from many, many different companies - I'm going with fewer high-quality companies and carrying a wide selection of yarns in a wide range of colors. You'll be hard-pressed to find a single yarn in my store in only 4 or 5 colors; more likely you'll see something like Pima Tencel from Cascade Yarns, a super-soft and silky cotton blend, stocked in 16 colors - all the colors they offer. The logic behind this is pretty sound: five colors of one yarn can't get noticed in a well-stocked yarn store. They just sit on the shelf all sad and lonely. 16 colors of one yarn, however, scream "ooh! look at me!" and also shows customers that the owner believes in and stands behind this particular yarn.

I also have some rather unique ideas for merchandising the store. I'll get to that later.

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