Well, this is a rather difficult blog to write as I decided to close the doors for DocKnits storefront in Port Elgin. We opened 5 years ago and it has been an amazing experience. Not only did I learn a lot about retail (!), but I met some of the most amazing women, many of whom will remain good friends. The decision was made to maintain the online store at www.docknits.com and arrange to meet for Knit & Chat locally at homes and coffee shops. I think this suits our community better as one really needs to have a niche store in a very large city to make it successful.
One of the things for which I am most proud is the number of women and men who have started knitting and crocheting again after a long hiatus. Needles were brushed off, new yarns tried ( and a few conversions to yarn snobs made) and I think we all regained that wonderful sense of relaxation, creation, community and sensual pleasure that comes with fiber arts. AND WE ARE ARTISTS!! We managed to get some new knitters and crocheters started on this wonderful craft that will see them through the years. I think, between all of us, we have enough of a yarn stash to see us through an apocalypse!! I am pretty sure we could outfit the entire community if we had to keep them warm. I think we also became a center for a group of women who needed us as much as we needed them. They have laughed, cried and provided support for those going through difficult times. I have made many, many friends, some of whom have become quite special to me (and you know who you are).
I must say that it is a bit of a relief to close the store. I love to knit, crochet and rug hook but I really haven’t had the time to do what I wanted to do with my yarn. I have had an amazing group of knitters (Peggy, Jeffi, Ingrid, Shelley, Rona and Stephanie) who have knit for free, for wool or just for display out of kindness, but knitting samples 24/7 is a bit of a chore sometimes!!! Now I have a lot to show for it and several lucky people picked up some great bargains with our sample knits which were on sale in-store as most were at or below the cost of the yarn, but I can settle into some projects which have been waiting a long time for completion. And, please don’t look at my queue in Ravelry as it is really quite unbelievable. Also, the term “sandwich generation” is becoming real for me as I want to be more available for my aging parents (and yes Mom, I know you don’t want to live with me EVER) and kids….I mean young men, who seem to need me pretty much all of the time still (and I do love it, really).
Things I have learned about retail in a small town and I am sure applicable to larger centers:
- Do your research first. I was fortunate to have a lovely woman, who owned Sweet Yarns in Sudbury, sit down and coach me on how to begin. The only thing she asked in return, was for me to “pay it forward” someday. So if you are ever wanting to open a shop, talk to me. I can tell you what not to do and how not to spend too much money just because of all of the pretty colours! Honestly, I think I was a Magpie in another life. How many shades of red does one need to satisfy the customer!! I just picked all of them and applied this principle to everything I purchased for the store.
- Know your customer base. This is a really tough one to admit, but just because I like yarn that is $25 a ball and made of silk from Imperial worms, handspun by Tibetan princesses and hand delivered by Sherpas to my store, doesn’t mean that everyone else will!! We joke about being yarn snobs, but it is such a kinesthetic experience when you knit. Colours + texture + stitches= Yarngasm! I know that people heard us complain about acrylic yarns, but it wasn’t out of snobbery. Rather, we want you to experience what we do! There is definitely a place for cheaper, acrylic products….the unknitworthy, children, young men who throw everything in a heap for weeks….I use them too for that reason. But, when you can knit for yourself or someone you really, really love, knitting with really wonderful fibers is an experience in and of itself. Money is a factor for sure, but there are some awesome sale yarns that fit the bill and are often cheaper than the Bernat Chunky you got at a big box store. (watch those yardages!).
- Shop locally whenever possible. I would be lying if I said I have never slipped down to the US to shop, or ordered online. We live in rural Ontario and let’s face it, the selection is limited sometimes! But, until I had a store myself, I had NO IDEA how much shopping locally matters. Even the small purchases can make a difference between breaking even or losing. And, when you factor in the costs of travel, meals and accommodations, local shopping is usually at least as economical. I am proud to say that I did all of my shopping in Saugeen Shores this year, outside of a few items that I could not get locally. Shopping here maintains a lovely main street for tourists and to encourage business (how many service shops do we really need without an equal number of retail shops??) We give people jobs! We pay taxes and believe me, the government charges HST on a fart. We contribute to local charities through donations and raising awareness. We create a sense of community, particularly in the crafting industry, wherein people can get together socially and enjoy each other’s company. SO, the next time you think of fitting your children out at Beckers for shoes and boots and then going home and ordering online, please give it another thought. When you have the bra fitted at the local lingerie shop, don’t go home and order it online. If we spend an hour with you showing you how to do a pattern with the yarn you got at Walmart, please consider making a purchase. Rant complete!
- Get a good bookkeeper or accountant When my bookkeeper bailed on me, (auggggggh!!), I was fortunate to get help from Peggy and another employee’s husband who is a CA. He was a Godsend as he not only explained what was happening in my business, but offered suggestions for improvement! What a novel idea!! This brings up another point….Have a working knowledge of how to keep books and assess your business regularly. I cannot tell you how much money I wasted thinking I had a “mental” handle on what was happening. A significant math phobia did not help
- Hire great staff and pay them well. The recent upset with the raise in minimum wage is a moot point if you TRY and pay your staff what they are worth. They have a skill set and they represent your place of business. If you treat them shabbily and don’t say thanks (either verbally or with some sort of reward), they lose interest in the success of the business. I wish I could have paid my staff more, but I did my best. I could not have asked for better staff. Peggy, who was with me from the start, through thick and thin, menopausal mood swings, hope and despair, but I digress. Jeffi, who became a calm presence of knowledge and possessing a very dry sense of humour which kept me going. Darlene, the ultimate saleslady and “closer” who helped me finish up at DocKnits, Steph who helped us out when we needed her and Janice who arrived like manna from the heavens when we were short-staffed for weekends.
I could go on, but that is a good start.
So, onwards and upwards my friends! The online store will continue for a while. If, by some miracle of God, it thrives, I can keep it open. If not, you will all benefit from some great sales over the next few months.