Passion Spurs Success at Northeast Indiana Knitting Store
Regional Partnership Team Member Highlights Entrepreneurs' Story
I am a knitter. A ravenous, curious, relentless, tenacious, constant knitter. If you see me out and about, chances are very good I’ve got a knitting project hidden in my purse, just waiting to keep me occupied at an annoying red light or a long checkout line. I’m never, ever bored because I’m always knitting.
Terrible movie? Knit one, purl two. Conference call? Knit one, purl two. Kid’s sporting event? Knit one, purl two. I could go on and on.
One of my favorite things to knit is a pair of socks. And believe me, everybody wants my socks. Well, maybe not my nephew, but I digress.
I learned to knit socks back in 2005 at the Cass Street Yarn Depot, now the home of Fort Wayne Outfitters. I loved that yarn store and, at the time, it was the one and only place in Fort Wayne where you could buy high end, “luxury” yarn.
Unfortunately, the Yarn Depot closed its doors soon after and I was heartbroken. Where would I find beautiful, squishy, unique yarn for my socks, sweaters, hats & mittens?
I searched the internet and stumbled across Simply Socks Yarn Company (SSYC). What? How did I not know about this place before? And it’s based at home in Northeast Indiana! My heart began to knit itself back together.
I visited the store recently for their Holiday Open House and talked to the owner, Allison Van Zandt, about the growth and success of her business. Here’s a quick snippet of our conversation.
1. Amy: What made you decide to open a yarn store and what did that look like initially?
Allison: I developed my business plan based on what I wanted as a knitter. I couldn’t find all the sock yarn I wanted in one place online and would end up waiting months for yarn that wasn’t available, or paying multiple shipping fees for sock yarn because it just wasn’t a priority to most yarn shops. I thought that an online sock yarn shop would be a great thing to do from home once I decided to have kids. I opened my virtual doors from a spare bedroom in my first home on Clara Avenue. Within a year, the business took over the top floor of the home and then we moved out to the country where we had plenty of room to grow into a barn. But I realized that still wasn’t enough for us and after a few years, opened up a storefront back in Fort Wayne.
2. SSYC has a really great, easily navigable website. It’s beautiful and it makes shopping for yarn easy and fun. I know I’m not the only knitter to think this way. What does your customer base look like?
Thanks! Website development is one of my jobs at the shop. I think its simplicity, white backgrounds and a grid framework that shows off the great photos, really appeals to knitters who are interested in yarn instead of graphic design. Our shoppers are obviously web savvy people, otherwise they wouldn’t be shopping online. I’m betting they appreciate anything that makes the user experience more true-to-life, including photos taken in natural light and an easy check out process.
3. One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday afternoon is to visit SSYC in person. Why did you decide to open a brick and mortar store and how is that going?
I’m an extrovert and I enjoy meeting new people. Plus, knitting is such a tactile craft and it joins people together, so it seemed a natural extension of what we were already doing. Being open to the public just one day a week allows us to focus on what keeps us in business, which is reaching people all over the world, but it also allows those people to travel to us to see everything in person. Without our national and international following though, we wouldn’t be in business, so it’s important that we focus on that, rather than being open to the public every day. We reach out to our customers all over the world via our blog, Facebook, Instagram and a widely-read e-newsletter. We are able to quickly reach tens of thousands of knitters in the method that they prefer. And once they find the yarn they want, we are able to quickly get it to them.
4. Please tell us about the products that you stock and how that makes your business unique.
When I first started the shop over 12 years ago, most traditional yarn shops didn’t carry more than one shelf of sock yarn. They made their money selling an entire sweater or blanket of yarn for up to $200. So, a $13-20 sale wasn’t a priority for them. Over time, I carved out a niche by offering thousands of options and over 12 tons of yarn. Simply Socks Yarn Company offers yarn from all over the world- from, women dyeing in their kitchen to large companies using machinery to create intricate patterns.
5. If you could give advice to someone interested in starting a new business in the design and craftsmanship industry, what would it be?
Hire a few professionals to start you on the right track. I’d recommend a CPA to make sure your books are started correctly, an attorney to set up your business set up and then do everything else you can yourself. Take classes through local colleges to learn the facets you need to know. If you don’t know how to optimize a website, you can take a class for under $200 rather than hire someone for thousands. If you don’t know how to take good photos of your products, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation has classes to get you started. You can’t make money in the first years if you’re paying someone to do everything for you. And if you don’t think that running at business is for you, then just enjoy your craft for what it is as a hobby! There’s nothing wrong with that. If you start a business, you’re running a business all day, not doing that craft all day.
If you are a knitter and have not heard of Simply Socks Yarn Company, I highly recommend that you check it out. If you do not knit, but need a fun, productive hobby or if your doctor has instructed you to take up a stress-relieving activity, take a class or teach yourself through various online resources.
Once you’ve learned to knit and purl, head on over to State Street and prepare to be amazed.