“People have told me that this shop should be a TV sitcom. We’ve had very spirited conversations on all sorts of things, and discussions about politics would get especially heated. That’s one thing I really miss, because we used to do it every week.”
You really don’t want to see this…
“Once we were talking about tattoos, and one of the knitters who worked for us said: “You gotta see this!” He went to the computer in the middle of our store and opened a big photo of a p____ that was fully tattooed. So all the knitters crowded around the computer to see this tattoo and, just then, two old ladies walked in to get some yarn. I said: “Minimize it! Minimize it!!!” But the ladies heard me and asked, “What are you all looking at?” I warned them that it wasn’t PG, but they insisted and said, “Oh, come on, show it to us!” As soon as they saw it, they giggled, and one of them said to the other: “No wonder she got ‘Best in Baltimore’.”
Wanted it. Couldn’t find it. Made it.
Where are we? Lovely Yarns, where knitters have traditionally gathered to “Stitch-and-Bitch” with Sue Caldwell, the owner of the store. “I’ve been knitting since I was 8 or 9 years old. This business started when I wanted a particular color for knitting, but couldn’t find it anywhere, so I blended it myself using brown and black chenille and started selling it on eBay.”
Sue explains that running a business comes with a “steep learning curve”. To celebrate their 1st anniversary, a vendor promised to bring a truckload of yarn for their party.
“It was getting dark, but the vendor still hadn’t arrived and the rain started coming down fast, so we put up some tarps outside when, suddenly, the rain slid off the edge and completely drenched me! We still have a picture of this. I had to change into an old t-shirt and my hair was a wet mess for the rest of the party, but everyone was happy with their wine and cupcakes, and the vendor finally arrived after a few hours. Now, we always set-up the tents the night before, and we invite 10-15 vendors so we’re not dependent on just one person.”
The anniversary party that launched with “chaos and bedlam” is now an annual ritual with 400-600 people turning up to socialize and get their fill of yarn.
Walking a tightrope
One of the challenges is not getting burnt out. “It’s a very social business. You have to be upbeat, friendly and social every day. You have to be a knowledgeable knitter, a business person, and a retail person who is social. It’s a tightrope of balancing all 3.”
Keeping a friendly atmosphere is her top priority, and her employees have infused a playful energy into her business.
“Once a lady walked in and asked, “Do you have any use for doll parts? I’d like to sell them.” She showed us the trunk of her car which was filled with the heads of dolls, Cabbage Patch dolls. At the time, we had a grad student working for us, and he said, “Sure, we’ll take them!” I asked, “But what on earth are we going to do with all these heads?!” He said, “Leave it to me, you’ll see.” The next day, we discovered that he had put the doll heads in baskets all around the shop, so when customers were looking through the baskets of yarn, they’d suddenly see a baby’s head peering out at them!”
Slow & Steady
Her advice to business owners: “Start with what you have, and grow it.” Over the past 8 years, Lovely Yarns has moved locations twice with each store bigger than the previous one. “When you’re starting out, it’s difficult to do it all in one fell swoop. It’s been a slow, gradual growth. Start small and grow steadily. There isn’t a lot of money in this business, but I do it because I love it.”
Get connected @ www.lovelyarns.com