Friday, October 30, 2009

More yarn coming ...

I am beginning to feel that my blog has dwindled down to a statement of incoming stock. I had such elevated plans for it, but here goes one more posting on stock arrivals, and maybe a little musing on keeping up the stock levels so it doesn't look like the website is out of most yarns.

Due any day, but realistically expected to arrive at the studio on November 2 through 4th ...
Sheila's Sock is coming back in skeins and cones. Lots of Skeins, not too many cones this time, though more cones are coming in a couple of weeks.
Cash Sock also, but on skeins this time.
Merino Worsted Superwash! Finally, back in stock. Skeins and cones ... more skeins than cones
Platinum Sock ... Lots and lots of skeins, quite a bit of cones
Surino ... for followers of this luxury blend. Not a big seller, but it has a loyal following
and Tops ...
50/50 Bably Alpaca/merino ......... 80/20 SW Merino/Bamboo .......... 75/25 SW Merino/Merino

That shipment should be going through Customs now, and then delivery usually follows in two or three days. Of course, we've got the weekend in between, but we are very close.

After the next shipment, which should be here around Veterans' Day (and a list will follow), we will be on a superwash diet until around Winter Solstice/holiday time. I've been talking and talking about how our tiny little niche in the fiber market depends on what happens to lots of folks up the line, and the superwash merino diet is a perfect example. It has interrupted my usual monthly delivery schedule, but only by two or three weeks. We just have to plan for it.

I am trying to plan my inventory holdings, too, so that the website doesn't look bare! My first line of attack is to get in more stock,of course, as we've got some customers who have been attending the national shows and who can eat up stock at a moment's notice when they order last minute without giving me a hint of what is to come. Don't get me wrong! I am not complaining about selling yarn, just about not being able to serve my customers. The Superwash Diet is putting a little crimp into my style on that front, but just a little crimp.

Next, I sent a carefully worded letter to my biggest customers, laying out the idea that planning ahead is a good thing and an achievable goal for all of us. I know that these folks have to sign up for the big shows and festivals in advance, and probably know what they will need to dye up to maintain adequate inventory at their booths. Maybe they are hesitant to confirm their needs because they think that they would be committing to an actual order, but I have always tried to communicate that I understand changes in plans and that nothing is written in stone. Perhaps, this time, I was able to get that idea across. I asked them to plan ahead for January and February only, so that I can be sure to have what they will need held aside from what I want to show on the website for the rest of my customer base. No need to disappoint the many because of the plans of the few, as I see it. We will see, though, if I can get them to squeeze out hints of their January and February needs.

I'll be getting in monthly orders, of course, but thought that if I asked them to make that much of a plan, it would start things off right. Not necessarily so ... what a surprise to receive so many eMails asking if I would be making any orders beyond January and February. But, of course! I order all the time, but have only now asked for estimates of future needs. But, whenever I send out a newsletter or group letter, there are always lots of questions which come back. I am here, Wool2Dye4 is not going anywhere. I am just planning, that's all.

But I was about to list what is in the Veterans' Day shipment ...
Angel Lace
Butterfly Lace
Cash Sock cones and skeins ... lots of skeins
Merino DK-SW in cones and skeins
Sheila's Sock, again cones and skeins
and Ultra Merino 3Ply cones and skeins
... plus ...
new ... Silk Sock ... 40/40 sw merino/silk in 4Ply, the weight of Bamboo Two Step
new ... Sheila's Aran ... 2 ply Aran weight in SW merino, with same twist ratio of Sheila's Sock

I know, I know ... so many new yarns here lately!

We are actually going to run a trial on Sheila's Aran, and enrollment is still open. If you would like to join up, just send me a short eMail ( and give me your name and address. Enrollment will close Monday, November 2nd.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A BIG SHIPMENT is due any moment!

As I type this very message to post on the blog, the long awaited shipment containing a variety of best selling yarns and a new one, too, is somewhere approaching. It is, if the tracking programs are to be believed, within 50 miles of me at this moment. We have had a couple of bumps in the schedule with this shipment, and of course, it had to happen when everyone is chomping at the bit for more and then some more yarn. What happened is that somehow the shipment got separated into two pallets at the port of entry, but this was not discovered until half of the shipment arrived at Customs for clearance. It was rejected because the paperwork listed a different number of boxes that were presented for clearance, so back went that partial shipment, back went the paperwork to the broker, and back went the requests to search out the remainder of the shipment at one of two airports. This added five days to delivery time, which doesn't sound like much unless you are me sitting here at the computer fending plenty of eMails from customers wanting to know where their order is.

Must say that everyone, absolutely everyone, has been understanding about the delay. I think that the demand is coming from the fact that there is an increasing number of wholesale customers who have been trying out the arena of the big convention marketplace as vendors. Over the past six months I have counted more customer participation in the larger festivals like Sock Summit back in August and the Stitches events. This is in addition to participation in fiber festivals at the state and local levels, which has always been a traditional outlet for handdyers. The change I see is that many customers are taking a risk and booking a vending booth at major national conventions.

I have been begging for some advance notice that folks are going to a major festival or convention and will be needing larger orders. Some wholesalers have responded well to that invitation to join me in planning ahead, and others have not gotten the word yet. We had a true feeding frenzy before Sock Summit this summer, and then a Stitches event followed closely on the heels of that major event, so basically, that is why our regular stock levels fell to the low levels of September. I had to scramble to order in replacement stock, as well as enough of the new yarns we were planning to introduce. In a way, I feel that the introduction of Crazy Eight got sidetracked with so much emphasis on replacing the best sellers which were wiped out for the convention people. We do have two more shipments -- in addition to today's lot -- arriving to replenish stock, and each is timed about two weeks apart ... assuming that there are not big delivery problems with either one.

Feedback from these major selling events is mixed, and unscientific, of course, but from what I gather there are many customers who have not broken even with their booth at the national level. Some of these vendors do feel that the cost was worth the loss, though, as they put their name and logo and their work out into the public venue. Others could not justify the financial loss and were disheartened to find that they had to compete on the pricepoint level with major yarn companies, many of whom ran specials for the convention. This brought the price of the major companies down below what the handdyer could afford to offer, and took them out of the competition for knitters' dollars.

Some customers write to me and tell me that they are going to continue the convention and festival circuit, and that they feel the exposure is invaluable and will serve future sales well. Others write that they do not think enough of the actual market attends these events to make the expense worth the effort. Both positions have merit, of course. It all depends on how much of a risk a vendor can financially afford, how great a percentage of one's marketing plan being a vendor consumes, and whether or not the travel and work of setting up a booth at a convention is part and parcel of the lifestyle of the individual vendor.
All things in moderation. OK, so maybe a small percent of the knitting market actually ever attends a convention at the national level. And you can add another small percent of the market for the number of folks who attend fiber festivals on a regular basis. Then add in the percent of knitters who are on Ravelry, and then add in those who subscribe to knitting magazines. All of these places are real contact points for the handdyer to present themselves to their potential customer, and yet each one represents a small percent of the total market. Look at how local yarn shops have been so frustrated about their dwindling market share since the Internet created alternate buying opportunities for what they considered to be their market base. Etsy, eBay, personal dot-com sites ... all are new selling opportunities, and depending upon one's point of view, are either eroding their customer base or building it.
There is no one way to promote one's business. Every single seller should create a plan of how they want to get their name and work in front of their potential customer, and this plan should be based on how they want to run their business. The way this marketing plan will work the very best, though, is if the plan considers first how one's small business will best fit in with their lifestyle. I have said for years that my business should first improve the quality of my life, and I recommend this approach to my own customers. First, pick the activities that you enjoy, price them out, figure out what percent of the market you might realistically reach with each activity, and then start planning, printing, buying, dyeing, saving, and getting down to the business of improving your business.