By Brooke Nico, Kirkwood Knittery
Note: The Kirkwood Knittery team, which includes
co-owners Brooke Nico and Robyn Schrager, as well as marketing consultant
Catherine Collett and sales team members Nadine Sokol, Franni Goette and Rachel
Bowler, were recognized at the June 2012 NeedleArts Trade Show as a TNNA
Needlearts Business Innovation Awards winner. The program is a joint project of
TNNA and Hart
its opening in November 2006, Kirkwood Knittery has been known as the go-to
shop in St. Louis for interesting fibers and textures, hand-dyes, and other
exclusive fibers. We stocked the
staples (worsted weight wool, cottons and assorted options for scarves and baby
items), but did not focus on those in our store display or customer
recent years, though, we were seeing our primary customers—upper middle-class
Baby Boomers—have less disposable income, as portfolios decreased and early
retirement was encouraged. We began to feel the need to expand our brand, so
that Kirkwood Knittery was approachable for knitters and crocheters of all
skill and income levels.
the same time, we did not want to abandon the concept of a fashion-forward
boutique. This decision not only was reflected in inventory choices, but in
communications with our customers, events offered at Kirkwood Knittery, and
alternative purchasing solutions.
follows are seven facets of our basic strategy for achieving both goals:
We noticed that the project choices of our customers changed—from
indulgent accessories and garments, to more utilitarian baby items, afghans,
and charity projects, as well as one- or two-skein accessory items.
Working with our vendors, we sought out options for washable wools
and high-quality acrylics. We wanted less-expensive, unusual yarns from our
existing vendors; we were specifically looking for yarn with a high-yardage,
Once we had identified new inventory items to bring in, we began
to rearrange our store layout. Flying in the face of accepted retail
merchandising practices, we now place much of our lower-priced inventory in the front of the store. We want to
ensure that all customers know as soon as they walk in that there is yarn available
for purchase here for less than $5 per ball.
We also focus our shop models on simple projects that use yarn of
all price points. Several models feature ways to incorporate one splurge skein
into a staple yarn.
even offer destination areas within the store layout. The entire sales floor is
grounded by a large center table, for example. Again, bucking tradition, we
encourage all knitters and crocheters to sit and stay, regardless of whose yarn they are using. Our experience is, that
level of hospitality encourages positive word-of-mouth exposure.
course, it was important to communicate to all our existing and new customers
that we were aware of the challenges they were facing, and that we were on
their side. We trained our sales team to incorporate the question "What is the
budget on this project?” in their interaction with customers.
it in this manner, rather than "How much do you want to spend?” eliminates an apologetic
response from the customer, and lets them see that we understand budgets are a
part of everyday life, and we're prepared to meet their budgetary needs.
also encouraged customers to bring in their stash, and worked with them to find
options to turn that idle yarn into working yarn.
4. New policy
most important change we made was in our teaching policy. Previously, we had a
fee scale for all learning opportunities, from $5 for a help session to
$30/hour for a lesson. We found that customers felt that we were "nickel and
diming them to death.” One of the great strengths that Kirkwood Knittery has is
the incredible skill and talent of all our staff, and our ability to teach and
empower our customers. By allowing all stitchers in the St. Louis area to take
advantage of this, we expanded our customer base and eliminated that negative
image we had gained.
was decided that we no longer would charge to help people with their knitting or
crocheting, regardless of where they had purchased the yarn. Our policy is now
We will help you with any problem you have for no fee.
We ask that you understand that as a retail store, our time
together may be interrupted as we help shopping customers.
If you would prefer to have one-on-one assistance, with no
interruptions, we will happily schedule a private lesson at $30/hour.
5. Marketing plans
we tried in-house to increase our presence through Ravelry, Facebook, e-mail,
and our redesigned website. While this was effective, we soon discovered that
our expertise was better utilized in working with yarn and design! We made the
decision to hire a marketing consultant to coordinate our customer and
community outreach efforts. Each month,
we work with our consultant on updating our marketing plan—and try to schedule
at least three months out.
When Groupon approached us about
offering a deal, we saw this as an opportunity to expand our customer base
further. Taking into consideration the experiences of other yarn shop owners
with Groupon, we chose to offer a service rather than a product. By offering
the Groupon for "Beginning Knit Classes” only, we ensured that the majority of
purchasers would be new customers.
Our first Groupon sold 250 beginning
knit classes, with a gain of $2,500 for the store. In addition, most of the
students purchased yarn and needles at the store, with an average
sale of $13. At press time, we are
running our second Groupon—with expected total sales of 350 students.
In the past, we had held sporadic
events at Kirkwood Knittery. Our new goal was to hold at least one event per month. We also made a
concerted effort to ensure that these events were not focused on sales.
To that end, we held several
meet-and-greets with assorted members of the fiber community, including Kara
Gott Warner, editor of Creative Knitting magazine, and Ron and Theresa
Miskin with Buffalo Wool Co. These events averaged between 20 and 30 customers.
Our most successful events have been
our Networking Nights. These events came about as a result of the conversations
that occurred around our knitting table. We noticed that often, customers would
make connections while sitting at our table, and opportunities developed. We
decided to create an evening to take advantage of these connections. At
Networking Night, customers are encouraged to come by, bring their own resumes,
small business brochures, recommendations (handyman, babysitter, etc.) and
network. We make it explicitly clear that the cash register is closed: This
evening is about our customer.
During the Happy Hour portion of
Networking Night, we have time to browse the literature on the table during
drinks and nibbles. We then move to tables arranged throughout the store, with one
staff member seated at each to facilitate conversation. Several times throughout
the evening, we encourage people to switch tables in order to expand their
networks. In addition, we keep the resumes, business cards and other materials
in the shop for 30 days after the event. We have learned that several of our
customers found employment through these events.
7. Alternative purchasing options
Last, but certainly not least, is
the topic of customer cash flow. We were finding that customers could come up
with an extra $20 to splurge, but not $120. This meant that they were limited
to accessory projects.
We began offering a layaway
program to allow our customers the opportunity to access larger projects. The
terms are fairly simple:
We will hold your yarn for up to
You will purchase at least one
skein every 14 days.
Because our return policy allows
for 90 days, this in reality had no additional negative impact on our
inventory. At press time, we have gained $700 in sales because of layaway.
We also offer a gift registry,
allowing customers the opportunity to request splurge items as gifts, and
allowing significant others to enter the store with confidence.
Since implementing this plan about 18
months ago, our average number of sales per month has increased by 10 percent.
Our average ticket sale amount has decreased, but as our inventory costs have
also decreased, our net profitability is the same.
In addition, our mailing list has
increased by 100 subscribers, indicating an increase in customers who plan
Our enhanced reputation, visibility and
networking has led to several unique editorial and advertising opportunities.
Most recently, we were quoted in two issues of Yarn Market News, and
were the featured inspirational yarn shop in the Early Fall 2012 Vogue
Knitting. Because of this exposure, we often have out-of-town customers who
were referred to us by their LYS.
Overall, the changes we made have
created a welcoming, accepting environment at Kirkwood Knittery for stitchers
of all skill levels and economic conditions. We frequently hear from new and returning customers how improved their
shopping experience with us was. We plan to keep that momentum going in 2013.