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Business Best Practices: Higher Education

Posted By Administration, Friday, March 29, 2013

Note: Stephanie Steinhaus, owner of Unwind, Burbank, CA, was a finalist in the 2012 TNNA Needlearts Business Innovation Awards program. The program is a joint project of TNNA and Hart Business Research.

When Unwind opened for business in 2004, we were at the beginning of the end of the ubiquitous "scarf craze." It became apparent immediately that without fad-driven scarf projects, long-term customer development would be required to build and maintain a loyal customer base and revenue stream. Additionally, we became aware that customers longed for a sense of community. In far-flung Los Angeles, there were few places where people could bond.

While Unwind had implemented a class calendar that grew its customers' skills, these one-time classes built little sense of group and did not enhance sales or develop loyal customers.

By 2010, we realized that "open knitting time" had become wildly popular. As Unwind never charges to sit and knit, it became clear that combining the camaraderie of these sessions with the structure of a class could be a way to accomplish the goals mentioned above. Greatly enhancing customers' skills in-house would not only make them better knitters, but expand their brand loyalty to Unwind.

We know from our customers that helping to improve their knitting skills keeps them shopping for yarn. With the help of my staff, I was able to develop and implement "Knitting University," featuring a curriculum that addresses the stated needs of customers:

• To become confident knitters

• To attempt and master a variety of knitting skills

• To become self-sufficient knitters

• To become adventurous knitters

Knitting University students enroll in a 10-month curriculum consisting of a minimum 20 hours of instruction. The seminars initially focus on knowledge that is rarely covered in beginning level courses, but is necessary to attain a holistic mastery of knitting. Sessions move from "Construction of a Stitch" to "Combined Continental Technique," and on to "Controlling your Fabric." Aspects include finishing skills, cable knitting, various sock techniques, and how to select yarns to create specific fabrics.

Besides the benefits of their new skill sets, Knitting University students are encouraged by one another to continue with increasingly difficult projects.

Students have formed their own ad-hoc knit groups at Unwind, which continues their interest in knitting as well as their need to purchase materials at the shop.

Another venture under the Knitting University umbrella is the Design Seminar. Instructors teach basic design techniques and work one-on-one with students. Participants design three sweaters over 10 months. This includes the adaptation of a commercial pattern to their own personal style, and a creation entirely of their own design. One participant, Michele Knepp, had her tank pattern (pictured at left) purchased by Classic Elite Yarns and prominently featured in its Spring 2012 catalog.

Yet another Knitting University innovation has been the introduction of a Fashion Knitwear and Style seminar. Students learn to evaluate their project choices to ensure that they knit what they will wear. The lifestyles and fashion preferences of the participants are determined by having them bring in photos and discuss their personal aspirations. Instructors help them to select and knit a product that can specifically fit into their everyday lives. Not only do students gain a measure of independence by adapting what is available to their own preferences, they come away building a wardrobe of knitwear as opposed to a drawer full of sweaters.

Knitting University's overall effect has been dramatic, both in terms of Unwind's customer satisfaction and its bottom line. Those who take Knitting University become not only better knitters, but more eager ones as well: Whereas the majority of participants spent virtually nothing at Unwind prior to signing up, each seminar alone has generated an average of $7,500 in merchandise sales over the course of 10 months.

Moreover, we were able to move knitters in the $0-$400 annual purchase categories (which represents 40 percent of all knitters) into the more rarefied $400+ category. In fact, 25 percent of Knitting University students moved into the $1,200+ category. This boosted Unwind's overall annual revenue by approximately 15 percent, and helped it weather what has been a protracted recession.

In short, Unwind's Knitting University is an original and innovation program that has helped grow and sustain our customer base during a difficult economic time.

Tags:  business  education  Hart  knit  Knitting University  Steinhaus  TNNA  Unwind  yarn 

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