Saturday, June 23, 2012

Going Out of Business

Dear Knitters:

It is with regret that I announce that I am closing the Knitting Asylum as a yarn shop.

I will continue to offer my handspun and hand-dyed wares at the monthly Arts Market.  I will certainly post to let you know when I expect that to happen.

But my endeavor in retail must come to an end.  Come August 1, 2012, there will be no more Knitting Asylum in the form of a shop, with doors, shelves and business hours.

I've learned some things in the past few years, things I should have known already by watching other people try to turn a thing they do for love into a business:

1.  It is the rare person indeed who can make this work.  To keep even the smallest craft-oriented retail business alive in the United States of America requires a sound business head ... far more capital than you thought you had ... the ability to maintain a passionate interest in your craft while simultaneously cranking out shop samples ... the inexhaustible spirit both to show up for the retail part of your business and also to perform the spinning-and-dyeing-of-yarn part of that business ... boundless creativity ... and the energy to do nearly all of the work yourself for 60, 70 or more hours a week, including bookkeeping, tax forms, advertising, promotions, and the staggering amount of daily paperwork required to run any business of any size in the United States.  To run a small craft business requires all that in one person, with help from a part-time employee to mind the store while I do other shop-related things.  

It is a rare person who can perform that juggling act, and ...

I am not that rare person.

2.  It was foolhardy of me to think that reasonably good sales at a monthly arts market would readily translate into robust daily business in a small shop.

3.  It was also foolhardy of me to think that because I have managed businesses in which I kept regular hours and performed all the work ... well, at work ... that I could translate this specifically into a knitting business.  Even more foolhardy of me to think that I could accomplish this on a shoestring starter budget, because...

4.  Yarn shops are among the most expensive small businesses to keep alive. Cost of inventory is high, buy-ins to prove that you are a "real" business are high, and you must find the fine and elusive line that allows you to keep your costs within reasonable profit margins while simultaneously trying (and failing) to compete with big-box craft retailers who sell made-in-China merino superwash sock yarn for $3.99.  Not to mention competing with outsourced, bargain-basement yarn catalogs and Internet websites.

5.  Unlike a bartender, you can't please (almost) everyone.  (Once a bartender, always a bartender, I say.)  If I have at hand twenty popular spirits, a dozen mixers, half a dozen kinds of wine, a dozen good beers and some fruit, milk, ice and a blender, I can please all but the most persnickety customer -- after all, a bartender can make  an excellent gin and tonic with only one decent gin to choose from, can't she?  But a yarn shop owner cannot carry an inventory every color, weight, texture and type of every brand of yarn from every yarn company cranking out yarn everywhere and anywhere in the yarn universe.  That is more akin to expecting a bartender to have one of every conceivable cocktail in the world already made up and garnished in frosty glasses for you to choose from, before you even stroll into the tavern. And just like it's tricky to guess what beverage the next person who walks into your bar might want to drink, it's hard to know what the next knitter coming through your door is looking for.  Unfortunately, I can't just put a few things in a blender and come up with three skeins of Italian designer eyelash yarn on demand.  

I would if I could.

In spite of the vast majority of very nice customers who are quite reasonably disappointed, but who understand and comprehend, when you cannot stock everything, a small but unfortunately vocal representation of people out there seem to take it quite personally when you do not have an account with XYZ yarn company, and they do not accept, even with the most polite and careful explanation, why you cannot order "just one ball" of Special Edition Sock Yarn from XYZ Yarn Company.  And these very few people can turn away more customers than you might imagine.  "She couldn't order XYZ yarn" becomes "she refused to order XYZ yarn," depending on who's in charge of the grapevine.  

6.  I do not have the energy for entrepreneurship anymore.  That one was hard to admit, but it's true.  There simply is not enough of me to go around to function as manager, clerk, accountant, cheerleader, knitting instructor and direct manufacturer of goods.

7.  I need a job with benefits -- health insurance in particular -- and at this point I realize that I will not be able to pull that particularly reticent rabbit out of a hat all by myself.  I simply cannot make myself enough money selling yarn to pull that off.  

8.  I maintained a good relationship with the other yarn shop in town, Knits by Nana, and I continue to wish them well.  We often referred customers to one another when one of us didn't carry a particular yarn (see number five on this list). But I simply cannot compete with the Internet and Knitpicks.  In addition to my own bitter awareness of online and big-league competition,  it is very disheartening to hear a knitter in my shop comment to another customer, "you can get that online for fifty cents cheaper per ball," or, "Knitpicks needles are cheaper." Note that such ill-mannered knitters are few, but they do exist in numbers sufficient for at least a handful per week to pass through my doors. (Please note that it is not the mere mention of the bargain that troubles this storekeeper; it is the mention of the bargain, right in front of her at the checkout, resulting in the other customer returning merchandise to the shelf, that troubles this storekeeper.  There, I feel better now.)

9.  Almost all knitters are absolutely stellar human beings.  I already knew that, of course.  I know that some knitters dug into their pockets till it hurt in order to support a small local business, and for that, I am grateful, because I kept my prices as low as possible.  But even people with the best intentions may shun their local shops when the economy sucks.  And I can't afford to run a shop that barely meets expenses, just to have a place to hang out with other knitters.  There are coffee shops to fill that particular void. 

10.  Sole proprietors have no life outside of the shop.  By the time basic family obligations are filled in the few hours not spent at the shop or doing shop-related business, there is no time -- truly, almost none at all -- in which to knit something for one's self, to read a book, to spin for one's own pleasure, or -- as you no doubt have noticed -- to post to one's blog.  And I miss doing those things.

So here I stand.  I officially stopped being a "retailer" when I joined a co-op and moved the Knitting Asylum into that co-op toward the end of last year.  I thought that having my goods on straight consignment might mean a significantly smaller commitment of time and money, but that commitment has not been small enough for me to seek a proper, full-time job with benefits, while still maintaining a presence and image at the co-op.  And I can't be in both places at once.

Thank you -- thank you so very, very much -- to all the knitters, spinners and crocheters, and a few weavers out there as well -- who bought needles, yarn, roving, hooks, spindles, wheels and notions.  I've made some amazing new friends and for that, I am more grateful than you can possibly imagine. 

I hate to disappoint anyone.  I deeply appreciate those customers and employees who have stuck by me through thick and thin.  You know who you are.  I have made some wonderful new friends through the Knitting Asylum as a shop, and the whole experience has truly been an adventure. But I simply cannot do this anymore. 

I will still be at the Arts Market every month, and I will now be able to attend knit nights at various locations.  I am looking forward to that very much.

Meanwhile:  I am conducting a going-out-of-business sale through the end of July:  

20% off all hand-dyed and handspun yarn, and all spinning fiber.

20% off needles and crochet hooks

40% off any remaining manufacturer's yarn: Opal, Brown Sheep, Tofutsies, Mission Falls, etc.

50% off all books.

Remember, we are at 447 Third Street in downtown Baton Rouge, LA, inside "Fleur Du Jour."

"Fleur du Jour" is open from 9-5 weekdays and from 9-noon on Saturdays.  

Thanks to everyone who has been along for the ride.  

See you at the Arts Market in the future, and hopefully, see you here, more often, here on the blog. 



At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dez - I ran across your blog while shopping for yarn on the internet. Unfortunately for me the closest yarn shop is an hour away so I am forced to shop online most of the time. What caught my interest and moved my inner soul was hearing your pain at having to close your shop and thinking that you were foolhardy in trying to open a "dream" shop to promote your artistic flair. I am so sorry to hear of your struggles and do sympathize as I have done the same thing myself. (I echo a lot of your sentiments) I do want to encourage you however to understand that you did NOT FAIL and you were not FOOLHARDY. The people in this life that fail are those who DO NOT TRY. It's easy to be a naysayer or discourager from the sidelines. It is NOT easy to step out on faith to fulfill a dream. I say to you.... BRAVO for trying. And I APPLAUD the strength of character you have to step out there and strive for something instead of sitting on the sidelines dreaming but never trying. So stand up and applaud yourself for being a person of infinite strength. For being not only a dreamer but a doer. Good for you Girl. I'm proud of you for trying. Keep moving forward and pursuing your dreams. May God bless you and all your talents. Marie from Millersburg, Ohio

At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Celtic Memory Yarns said...

Darling Dez, I'm so sorry. No I'm not, now that I think about it. It was a wonderful thing you did, opening your shop, and you made so many people's lives brighter, both with the actual shop and with your blog posts about it. You went through some pretty tough times, and now you are closing that particular door and looking to the next stage. It's experience, it's part of life, and it hurts. But you're still here, still surrounded by friends. Business is dreadful for everyone, all over the world right now. Relax a tiny bit, let the world carry you for a while instead of the other way round, and think of that lighthouse in Ireland with sheep and goats clustering around the door.


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