Saturday, July 23, 2005

Fiberarts Market at the Oakland Convention Center

This weekend the Crochet Guild Of America and The Knitting Guild Of America (CGOA & TKGA) jointly held the Fiberarts Market. Much like Stitches, one can take a boatload of classes and shop at the market. Not nearly as big as Stitches (nor as heavily advertised), it was still very fun to go. I hung out much of the time with Darlene Hayes of Hand Jive Knits at her booth (see my post about her yarn here). I brought a new project with me (which I will talk about in a future post): my first attempt at a neck-down seamless sweater. I ended up being a bit of a showstopper at the show as I sat at the back of Darlene's booth knitting away. Random people would come in to watch a guy knit. One very nice lady said “I know a lot of guys knit, but I’ve never actually seen one!” Several people were fascinated by my knitting technique, which is a modified version of continental knitting. In a word, I knit fast. One lady exclaimed: ‘Oh my gosh, come here! Look at how fast this guy can knit! I hate you!’ All the attention was a bit embarassing but fun. The plus side was that I had ample opportunity to plug my store opening. Heh.

The best part of the day was when I found out that word about my store is already spreading. Darlene has many friends in the Bay area, many of which stopped at her booth to say ‘Hi’. Darlene kindly introduced me to everyone who stopped: ‘And this is Warren Agee... he’s opening a yarn shop in San Rafael!’ I met several people from the local knitting guild who, after being introduced to me, exclaimed 'Oh yes, we've heard about you!' How cool is that? I bet they heard from my posts on Knitters Review.

Being at this show, just as an attendee, brought back fond memories of my days working art fairs. In a former life I was an artist making polymer clay boxes and jewelry, traveling around the Midwest and East Coast. The people you meet at these kinds of shows - shows where creative artistic types congregate and sell their wares - are of a special breed. Down to earth, real, and very, very special.

Thanks to Darlene of Hand Jive Knits for helping promote my future store. I just wish I could have told people exactly when I’m opening!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

City Hall: Argh

There is a delay in getting the work done on my space in downtown San Rafael. Apparently the head of the Building Inspection department retired a week before the plans for my space were submitted by the contractor. This is creating added delays to the permit process. Prior to this, ‘my’ contractor was able to start work before the final permits had been issued because the inspector had a long relationship with the contractor and trusted their work. Not so with the new guy; he is not allowing any work to be done ahead of official permits. So all I can do is wait. Impatiently wait. And stare at 650 pounds of yarn.

Friday, July 15, 2005

650 Pounds of Yarn

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been birthing a store... producing children in the form of yarn. Shipments have been arriving from JCA, Lorna’s Laces, Blue Sky Alpacas, and Muench. Next week I expect Bryson Distributing (needles & patterns) and Goddess Yarns.

Yarn doesn’t weigh that much so 650 pounds takes up quite a bit of space, as you can see from the photo above. Fortunately I have a sizeable unused area in my living room that has conveniently turned into my stockroom.

My first shipment came from Lorna’s Laces, makers of some of the best hand-dyed yarn available. This shipment was a little traumatic because 150 pounds of yarn came in only two boxes - one of which was 107 pounds! The box was so large that the UPS guy didn’t want to drag it up the outdoor concrete steps (I live in a second-floor condo) for fear of ruining the stairs (or perhaps his dolly). So we left the box at the foot of the stairs and I carried armloads of yarn (in plastic bags) up the stairs (under a hot 90 degree sun no less).

I worried that further shipments would come this way; fortunately, everyone else (so far) is packing the yarn much more sensibly - the average weight is 35 pounds.

After I get a shipment, I go through all the boxes and reconcile the packing slip - marking off everything I received. Above you see Adrienne Vittadini's Trina being unpacked and checked in. If there are discrepancies (and there have been a few), I call up the company to request the missing yarn. After checking everything in, I take the packing slip to the computer and enter all the yarn into my POS/Inventory system, which I have set up on my Mac. I’m using a commercially-produced POS package called Shopkeeper.

Friday, July 08, 2005

I Got Yarn!

Yay. My very first shipment of yarn arrived today! Mr. UPS handed me a small but heavy box of Nature's Palette fingering weight 100% merino wool in 30 colors. This beautiful yarn is hand-dyed using all natural dyes by Darlene Hayes at Hand Jive Knits, a very small company in Sacramento, CA. I like the idea of buying from local companies, especially ones that are environmentally conscious. This yarn is extremely similar (but not identical I'm told) to the yarn Koigu uses. Hand Jive dyes primarily solid colors (with those wonderful variations and striations common to hand-dyed fiber) using all-natural dyes, but is also experimenting with some very pretty and subtle multis, too. The colors are incredible - some are very vibrant while others are incredibly subtle - just like the colors found in nature. This yarn is for my sock knitters. It's also great for shawls, scarves, gloves, & mittens, too. I aim to have the best collection of sock yarn around. I also received a bunch of great patterns for this yarn: socks, shawls, scarves, a purse, and some great fingerless gloves.

I spent the evening checking in the yarn and entering it into my inventory/POS software.

More yarn arrives next week, including Lorna's Laces and Goddess Yarns.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Musing: Knitting in Silence

Since today is my birthday, I'm posting something a little different. Not about the store, it's a little essay about knitting and creativity.

What is it about silence that scares people? Most knitters I know knit while watching TV; some knit while listening to music. Whenever I mention that I usually knit in total silence, people’s eyes go wide. “Why would you do that? Don’t you get bored?”

I actually enjoy silence. The world is noisy. Traffic, loud music blaring from cars, piped-in smooth jazz over the loudspeakers in department stores, television & radio commercials, and my pet peeve, people talking just to fill up silent moments. With all that chatter, my own thoughts rarely surface. It’s like sensory overload; so many outside sounds influence and drown out my own inner voice.

Anyone involved in a creative pursuit knows something about the inner voice. Deep within us all is a tiny being, completely individual, trying to express itself through knitting, painting, writing, performing, doodling, or any other creative outet. This tiny voice has something to say - something unique and valuable. Most people are scared of this little voice inside us all. They don’t want their own thoughts to surface, for fear of being ‘original’. Yes, the fear of originality, of standing out from the crowd, of doing your own thing, of being different, is a very real fear for many. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this is what makes “creative people” different from those who are not: creative people are not afraid of their inner voice. In fact, they need to express their inner voice. I am such a person. If I go more than a week without expressing my inner voice, vague depression starts to fill me. I get restless. I become unhappy with my life. It grows worse and worse until I pick up a camera and go out shooting sunsets, or pick up the needles and click away.

Knitting in silence is a very good way to tap into your inner voice. As the needles click rhythmically away, stress dissapates and thoughts begin to surface. Memories coalesce. Usually I keep a notebook next to me while I knit, for often I’ll come up with a great idea for something spontaneously - not necessarily knitting related. Or I’ll remember that I need to do something that I keep forgetting about.

We all need some space in our lives. Each paragraph on this page is separated by white space. So too do we need a little space scattered througout our busy days. In between yoga sessions and soccer practice, after we get home from work, before we cook dinner, whenever: we need to sit down with a little silence and let ourselves be ourselves for a little while. We need our individuality to seep through our regimented days. It truly is healthy. And who knows, we may discover the great american novel within us (or at least a really cool pair of socks to knit up).

Friday, July 01, 2005

What is a Yarn Rep? Glad you asked!

Yarn reps are cool people. They travel the country, usually by car, with their trunks and back seats FILLED with yarn and pattern books. Some reps have smallish territories (CA, AZ, NV) while others have huge territories (West Coast, AK, HI). They act as salespeople for the yarn companies. Most reps have been in the business a very long time - 20 years or more. They know the business and their territory. Most reps handle more than one company. Most importantly, reps hold your hand. They reassure you that you haven't lost your mind - opening a yarn store is a good thing. You hear gossip about other yarn stores. Yarn reps tell you inspirational stores about successful yarn stores. You can ask them questions like "how well does the color peach sell in this area?" (Answer: not so good, apparently). Quite simply, yarn reps are your first line of support. They are on your team. If you need advice or help running your business, ask 'em. Need a special doo-hickey to display a thingie in the store? They'll ask around to find out where to get it. They are a tremendous resource. And they're good people, too. Have I earned enough brownie points yet? Hope so. :)

So how does buying from a yarn rep work? Well, some are willing to show you their lines without a commitment to buy (ie. "I'm just looking"). Others expect to write orders on the spot. You never pay money on the spot mind you, but you make a commitment. Anyways, the rep brings in case after case of yarn and shade cards. In my case, right to my kitchen table. We sit and talk a bit about the store, it's location, the business conditions, the local market, and your vision. The rep then goes through each yarn line one by one, showing you every yarn, handing you a sample ball (which you cannot keep! darn) and shade card, all the while talking about the yarn. This is the 'getting to know you' phase. You get to know the yarns and the rep, and the rep learns about you: your experience level and your style. You make mental notes of what you like and what you don't like. This process can take several hours. After going through all yarns, you need to make a final decision on what you want. In one case, I took the HUGE stack of GGH & Muench shade cards (8" x 11" folders w/yarn snippets pasted inside) and made three piles: yes, no, and maybe.

You now have to go through the 'yes' pile and rattle off color numbers. The rep writes them down. The rep will recommend how many bags (usually 10 balls per bag) are enough for a first order. Sometimes it's one bag, sometimes three. If the rep is real good, she will help you with color selection if you're unsure (as I was at first). A real good yarn rep will quickly size up your style and tastes and gently steer you in the right direction. Kerry, the Muench/GGH rep, was like that (and Kerry is super duper nice to boot). With another rep, I asked her to just choose the top 10 best selling colors for a given yarn - I couldn't make up my mind. That was awesome. Still other reps had no idea what the best-selling colors were; not as helpful. Prior to meeting with the rep, I determine how much I'm going to spend AND I try to get a good idea exactly which yarns I want. This helps narrow the choices - and there are SOOO many choices! I use a laptop to keep track of what I'm buying. I have a spreadsheet listing each yarn I'm buying, the number of colors, and the number of bags each, and calculates each yarn's cost as well as the running total. As I choose yarns and colors, I update the spreadsheet right then and there. I watch the totals to make sure I'm not going over budget. With almost every rep, I've had to go back and change things... either I ran over budget or realized my initial budget was too small. I've deleted yarns I thought I wanted, and I've added yarns I didn't think about, too.

After choosing colors and quantities, I fill out a credit application and we're done. Payment is usually made when the order ships, via credit card or COD. You also need to specify a ship date: right away or some time in the future.

The entire process takes anywhere from 3-5 hours. I am exhausted at the end... tired and hungry. But hell it sure is fun!