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Business Best Practices: Have Truck, Will Travel

Posted By Administration, Monday, September 23, 2013
By Barbra Pushies and Maridee Nelson, Yarnover Truck

Note: Barbra Pushies and Maridee Nelson co-own the Los Angeles-based Yarnover Truck, which was a winner in the 2013 TNNA Needlearts Business Innovation Awards program. The program is a joint project of TNNA and Hart Business Research.

Yarnover Truck is a brick-and-mortar local yarn store on wheels, committed to selling yarn as well as increasing awareness and providing needlearts education, with a focus on knitting and crocheting. We are a new species of local yarn store that is taking yarn to places it couldn't go before, dedicated to working with other small businesses to provide locally made products and working with a lower overhead than that of the average brick-and-mortar yarn store.

The Yarnover Truck is housed in a renovated 1993 Step Van, a former Little Debbie delivery truck. We refer to her as Debbie, and she is the third member of our team!

We worked very hard to make the truck feel like a small and cozy traditional boutique. The entrance is up the steps at the back into the truck, which is lined with white shelves that are filled to the brim with beautiful yarns. There is ample natural light from the skylight, providing a roomier feel to the space. Where the passenger seat would normally be is the checkout counter, which also features an attached grid wall holding hooks and needles.

The Yarnover Truck takes the local yarn store (LYS) to areas that don't currently have one, providing quality merchandise that crafters can't normally find without a LYS close by. We are bringing the truck to a variety of local events, including street fairs, craft fairs, art and music festivals, food truck events, and Farmer's Markets throughout Southern California. Our presence at such events allows us to put our crafts in front of a new audience, and share knitting and crocheting with a broader array of people. The mobility of our business allows us to build and maintain a larger customer base. Our current range is Los Angeles to San Diego, but the possibilities are endless.

With the Yarnover Truck, we are able to keep changing our locations and finding new customers wherever we go. A geographical area may not be able to sustain a full-time LYS, but we are able to come in once or twice a month and provide the yarns and services the area is looking for. Los Angeles County is a highly populated area with approximately 9 million residents, with at least 9,000 of them currently on Ravelry. While there are many yarn stores in the LA area, there are still large pockets of the region without a local yarn store, and the Yarnover Truck is able to travel to each individual area to provide residents with their own local yarn store for a day.

In addition to attending existing events, we are also bringing the truck to private parties. The Yarnover Truck becomes the featured entertainment at bridal and baby showers, birthday parties, or just an afternoon of shopping with friends. We currently offer two types of parties: Project Parties and Shopping Parties. For Project Parties, we teach new techniques or have a specific project already planned out for all attendees to make. The party size can range from six to 12 people depending on the project or technique being taught. For this type of party, we will focus the project on either knitting or crocheting. This also provides an opportunity for a second party if a group wants to learn both crafts.

For Shopping Parties, we ask for a minimum of 15 guests, but can accommodate as many people as they can get to come and enjoy shopping in the truck. We also created a discount program for the party hostess, who receives a discount on her Yarnover Truck purchase based on the total gross sales generated at the party. These private events are innovative because most people typically have to travel to their local yarn store in order to take classes, whereas we bring the class and the store to them, providing the unique opportunity for people to lean a needlecraft in the comfort of their own space and with their own friends.

Our other key area of innovation is variety: The Yarnover Truck carries a wide array of yarns and needlearts accessories, with a strong focus on locally made products. Carrying products made within the LA communities is extremely important to the Yarnover Truck, as we serve to provide yarns for locals. We are currently carrying four different lines of locally dyed yarns from California based companies: Anzula, Baah Yarns, Forbidden Woolery and Ewe Ewe Yarns. We carry patterns by two local designers—Michelle Miller, a.k.a. "The Fickle Knitter," and Stephannie Tallent—and project bags created by Slipped Stitch Studios, also based here in California. Our customers are thrilled with the high volume of local products available, and we have found that it helps tremendously in our marketing efforts.

We also have a strong concentration on exclusive products. We knew we needed to offer our customers things that they wouldn't be able to find at any other local yarn stores as we needed to give them a reason to come and find the truck in our different locations. Anzula and Baah Yarns agreed to work with us to create colors that are currently exclusive to the Yarnover Truck. We offer these colors in several different yarn bases. Additionally, the project bags we carry, by Slipped Stitch Studios, are all in fabrics that are exclusive to the Yarnover Truck. These products are particularly helpful in setting us apart from the other stores.

Customer attraction

One of the "Obstacles to Growth" listed in the The State of Specialty NeedleArts 2010 report is a lack of consumer interest; in contrast, we have found just the opposite in our interaction with our ever-growing customer base. Because we are mobile and only visit areas for a limited amount of time, it is easier for us to hold consumer interest for a shorter period of time than permanent stores. Additionally, we always have something new to share with our customers: specifically where the truck will be in the upcoming weeks. We are continuously in dialogue with our customers, sharing our location information with them; in turn, they reach out to us all the time, telling us about upcoming events in their areas or recommending places where they feel the truck should visit.

In fact, the biggest trend we're following isn't needlearts-related, but rather retail-related: We are among the growing trend of mobile retail businesses. According to the American Mobile Retail Association (AMRA), approximately 200 mobile boutiques have launched across the US since 2010.

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Tags:  best practices  BIA  business  Business Innovation Awards  crochet  Hart Business Research  knitting  retail  TNNA  yarn  Yarnover 

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