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