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!