Sunday, November 25, 2012

How Big Does My Garden Grow?

Last week I read an interesting statistic about small businesses.  According to The Week's November 23, 2012 issue, 'Less than a quarter of America's 27 million small businesses have employees.'  Of that figure, I'd guess that 75% of Wool2Dye4's customers have no employees.  This is hard to estimate, of course, and I have formed this opinion through eMail correspondence over the past 8 years.

Many of our customers are work-at-home small business owners.  Many have left a salaried job to work at home, and for many different reasons.  Pregnancy and child care seem to be the most popular reason, then caring for an ill family member.  These customers want to add to the family financial picture, and have chosen to use their artistic talent to create their handdye business.  That's where we come into the picture, as their supplier of raw materials, the yarns in different blends and presentations, enough for choice, enough to specialize, enough from which to pick and choose which fibers in which blends, twists, plies will become the palette for their handdye art.

We also have customers who want to be their own boss, including retirees who want to create a viable business.  We find that these customers talk about planning and forecasting consistently.  They study their potential market in depth and then choose which yarns will fit their market, rather than which yarns they want to dye.  These are the customers who understand pricing, profit, placement.

This same article cited research from the University of Chicago that 75% of small busienss owners are not aiming for growth at all.  They are looking for a steady job as their own boss.

When I read that, something joggled in the logical side of my brain, something about the word 'growth.'  Growth is not measured only in the number of employees one has, but by the bottom line.  Profit is the best measurement of growth.

Entrepreneurship is about understanding every single aspect of one's business, including where you want it to go.  Just working madly, trying to make a profit, hitting a trend here and there -- this approach is not the path to a growing bottom line.  Planning is the best way to improve profit, and that includes understanding where we want our businesses to grow, and one aspect of this understanding is how many employees our business would have at optimal performance level.

Imagine the day when your business is profitable, it has improved the quality of your life in every aspect.  How many employees do you see by your side?  This is important to understand because it tells you something about how you like to work, how you get distracted, what distracts you, what effects the efficiency of the workflow in your business, what keeps you close to the goals.

Part of growth is having goals.  Sure, they change as circumstances change, and are a moving target, but the keyword here is 'target.'  Our picture of what our business is capable of achieving is the entrepreneur's fuel.  Understand every aspect of your business, and your business will improve, your attitude will be strong, your business will improve the quality of your life.

This is that time of year when we head towards the closing of financial reports, the reckoning of profit and margin, and a good time to look at the life of our business and assess it's health, it's value, it's progress.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Call for Estimates ... 1st Quarter 2013

Just in case there is a wholesale reading this blog entry, one who has not replied to our newsletter calls for estimates for the first quarter of 2013, now is the time to eMail them.
This Call for Estimates applies to wholesale customers who expect to need a minimum of ten kilos of an individual yarn.  If you need 5 kilos of 5 yarns, do not reply to the Call for Estimates. 

Look over your order history, consider what is planned for the first quarter of 2013, think about what is planned for spring time events and will need some dyeing up of inventory, etc.  Depending on how your business is organized, you will have different needs at different times of the year.  Then, send us your best estimates and we will include your needs in our own quarterly orders from the merino mill.

The Call for Estimate for 1st Quarter 2013 went out in two newsletters which were eMailed to all wholesale customers. 
The deadline is tomorrow:  Thursday, November 15, 2012.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

National Make it With Wool website link

Welcome to the National Make it with Wool Website

  • To promote the beauty and versatility of wool fabrics and yarns.
  • To encourage personal creativity in sewing, knitting and crocheting with wool fabrics and yarns.
  • To recognize creative skills.
  • To develop life skills, including: being responsible for one's self, being a good sport, accepting judge's decisions, and learning about and appreciating diversity.
  • Preteens, age 12 and under
  • Juniors, ages 13-16
  • Seniors, ages 17-24
  • Adults, age 25 and older
The category you enter will be determined by your age as of December 31 of entry year. 

Anyone regardless of race, creed or sex who meets age and other guidelines may participate. Contestants must select, construct and model their own garments. Made for others entries: the intended wearer must model garments. 
  • 100% wool or wool blend (minimum of 60% wool or specialty fiber) for each fashion fabric or yarn used. Specialty wool fibers include mohair, cashmere, alpaca, camel, llama and vicuna.
  • The entire garment body (back, front and sleeves) must be wool or wool-blend fabric.

Webinar from American Sheep Industry Association

From an industry report, here is an hour and half Webinar, presented by the American Sheep Industry Association, working with its Rebuild the Sheep Industry iniative.  They received funding support from the Nastional Sheep Industry Improvement Center.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Website Shipping Woes

About two weeks ago, FedEx was added as a shipper on our new website.  Since then there has been a succession of shipping reps eMailing, calling, and dropping by unannounced.  We like these folks a lot, but man!  I am getting worn out with the effort to settle FedEx and UPS into a friendly and closely competititive existance.  There is something in the cart program which just does not allow easy installation of shippers and their set-ups.

Thankfully, we have a new WebFolk who specialize in installing this particular cart (X-Cart), and they are smart and work quickly.  I have hope.

My purpose with this post today is to let readers know that there are madly fluctuating prices floating around our website, and that it will soon be fixed.  Here's an example:  today a customer placed a large order, and wrote a note in the comments section wondering if the rate she picked could be real. There was a difference of more than $50 between FedEx and UPS.  See what we are dealing with here?

Yesterday I spent two hours on the phone while a tech rep at one of those companies had remote control of the orders computer.  He just couldn't get the installation right, and after two hours, he was ready to start the procedure all over again.  I said, 'No.'  Two hours is long enough for me to sit and watch over technical screens flying by, and I felt like pulling my hair and gnashing my teeth.  I was doing the Silent Scream.

Today a different rep came by -- he just left, actually -- and while he is just hte nicest young man, he was unable to solve the problem.  That company says that I may have had another logon name in the past with them, some six or seven years ago, and it may be interferring.  The trick is that there is no record of another login associated with my account number, so how, I ask, did this idea get any merit?  Oh, I just ask that inside my head and do not dare to bring it up because it sounds so ... well, obvious. 

I am beginning to tune them all out.  So, I have posted a message on the home page of my website saying that we're havng problems setting up the shippers rates just now and apologize hugely.  We've written to the new WebFolk who seem to be the only ones in this game who come up with fresh ideas.  I am probably going to be charged tons for these weeks of fluctuating website prices, and cringe at the thought of those invoices.  But, I am stuck.  I must wait the process out, let all the players do their best to get the right answers in the right places so that I can go back to thinking about wool.

I just want to think about wool.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bluefaced Leicester Sample Packs

It recently occurred to me that our line of yarn has grown to be so large, that we needed to divide them into logical sets.  When we send out a set of samples, one each of more than 40 yarns, I can see where one would begin to look like another. I want customers to look at our yarns and immediately know what fiber base and what weight would best describe them.  Those two pieces of information are essential to any yarn choice.

Too, we carry two distinct lines.  There is the Merino-based line of yarns which we groomed from fine and extra fine merino, blended some with other fibers, kept some 100% superwash or non-superwash Merino.  This effort was to use a high quality of Merino as the basis for a line.  We are defined, in a way, by our really nice merino base.

The other line we carry is unique to Wool2Dye4 as a yarn manufacturer/distributor because we are the only American company selling this particular fiber in a complete line of yarns.  I am talking about 100% British Bluefaced Leicester.  This is a rare fiber in England, and valued for many qualities, rarity among them, to make it sought after.  It is not from Canada, not from Colorado, and definitely not from an American herd which was cross-bred.  This is 100% British Bluefaced Leicester, one of the oldest fiber breeds of sheep, and Woo2Dye4 is licensed by the British Wool Marketing Board to sell British wool in the United States.  We are also the exclusive American distributor of Britain's largest and oldest wool supplier.  Pretty rarified air, I'd say.

I was beginning to look at our sample sets as a bag of little bits of lots of yarn.  As our line grew, our sample set lost the unique quality it showed as a smaller line, even when we wound dyed samples around business cards, printed with yarn descriptions.  Before that we used to punch holes in card stock and thread through 16" pieces of each yarn, trying desperately to line up the holes with the yarn name and description.  Our sample sets have had lots of incarnations, and now they are about to undergo yet another.

A very clear picture of a new sample set came to me a couple of weeks ago.  It would be two sub-sets creating one whole set.  One set would be Bluefaced Leicester, the other Merino-based yarns.  This is the logical division of our line, and even as I write this sentence, I know that there is actually a third sub-set:  6 Italian silks.  A mini-mini set.

Today, though, we began to put into action this general idea I had of presenting the two different fibers as bases.  My sample makers from Vector Industries just left here about an hour ago piled with all of the supplies needed to create the first BFL sample pack, all nice and tied up prettily in it's own bag with a British Bluefaced Leicester promo piece too.  It is going to look pretty fancy and neat.

Then, the next step, in another couple of weeks will be to create the same sort of package for the Merino based yarns.  And we'll just have to create mini Italian silk sets.  They just have 6 yarns, so will be easy to accomplish.  We will put together three unique sets and create one complete example of all of our yarns.  Our sample set, nice and neat, that a customer will receive in the mail and remove from a large bag one baggie of Bluefaced Leicester yarns, another even larger baggie of Merino based yarns, and a cute little baggie of fancy Italian silk yarns.

I think that sometimes we become involved in our product, or our business, and we forget to look at it with fresh eyes and see our business as our customers may see it.  Since we launched our pretty new website this month, I've been getting lots of eMails and reading how people really thought our old site was crowded and unattractive and dated looking.  They were right!  So, that led me to look at everything that we put into our customers' hands, everything from the logo to the packaging of their orders to the samples we send. All of these are parts of the entire marketing package, and needed some freshening up.

So we start with the new sample sets.  I was listening to a description of one of the sample makers, and discovered that this young lady has studied art and enjoys drawing.  I immediately thought how neat it would be to include a card showing one of her drawings with a byline like,' Assembled by helping hands at Vector Industries.'  Something like that.  This is another of those good ideas that I want to follow up on. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Seeing Any Trends?

Written from Stitches South, Atlanta GA ... This is the fourth year of Stitches South, the newest of the country-wide Stitches conventions. It is a gathering of knitters, crocheters, vendors, and teachers who are connected by one thing, yarn. In the warmth of the hotel corridors, fiber lovers are not daunted as they are easily spotted wearing shawls, sweaters, collars, wristbands or carrying felted/crocheted/knitted purses or totes. They are garbed in the medium and the medium seems to be in a shade of salmon this year. Yes, I'd say salmon or maybe it is now called coral, but it seems to be the new spring color among fiber lovers. But who am I to talk, as I sit in my icy hotel room draped in lace shawl of muted pinks and greens. Angel Lace is the yarn, by the way. It would not be fitting to attend such an event without an outrageously beautiful garment to toss over one's shoulders, right? Besides, it's cold in these lovely hermetically sealed hotel corridors! First impressions of what is for sale in the market is that colors are muted and in the earth-toned category. Not much of the in-your-face colorways that sort of always scream at me as I hurry past. Even noticed that one booth, usually known for knockout colors, has toned down their offerings. Of course I am checking out my customers' booths and just love to see Wool2Dye4 yarns all dyed up, twisted and tagged, and being fondled by strangers. A happy site to behold, it is. Next, I notice some of the commercial yarn manufacturers have added some sparkly fibers to a couple of yarns. Have to say that compared to our Sparkle line, the softness factor in W2D4 yarns wins out. Not too many, but enough to take note of are evident in the commercial yarn booths. Crochet is making a big splash here at Stitches south. It is everywhere: patterns, beautiful samples, books, classes. One booth has a major display of giant crochet hooks which slightly resemble a shovel, handles as big as a child's wrist. And, it was packed with happy, energized devotees. Another theme I notice is the use, or should I say 're-use,' of materials. Saris cut up into yarn and skeined up, one booth featuring darling little sewn project bags with zippers. All of the materials in this booth are felted from re-claimed sweaters, aka Goodwill style, and there is a book, too, to show the rest of us how to make use of old knitwear. Beading is prevalent both in knitted finished objects,and in vendors with some really wonderful varieties to show and sell. I bought an irredescent black, size 5 beads, for my sister who does jewelry. The Ernsts are here with their gorgeous glass knitting needles. Skacel has a new company with it's own booth around the corner from the big company booth. It's called Fiberhooking, and the designs, patterns, colorways are upbeat and really cute. ( Craftsy is here. They're really making a splash on the Internet, aren't they? And bags and totes and project carriers everywhere. One booth particularly caught my eye: Yarn-Pop with graphic cotton fabric project bags. They have large gromets in them where the yarn can be pulled through. Really upbeat and good-looking. I bought a lightly felted hat, in the style of the Italian men's line, Bandolino. It was on the top shelf at the display at Buffalo Wool Company. I spoke to the owners there and they confirmed that a renewed interest in natural colors and fibers seems to be working in their favor. They see this as an ongoing trend. My plan was to keep my little pennies in my purse, but that felted hat was calling my name. How will I ever get it home without crushing it, though, I wonder. Lovely setting, great hotel and conference center, fantastic lineup of classes all make me wonder why I waited four years to come back. Off again, to stroll the vendor's floor and then to a class on introducing shortrows into knitting (Myra Wood is the teacher). It is a great show.

Monday, March 26, 2012

New Warehouse ... it's definitely an improvement!

Just back from the new warehouse where we checked in the shipment ... handled by the new shipper ... and I am so very pleased to write this:  Everything happened just as it was supposed to, if not better!

Amazing, really, to think how long we have wrestled with control over the boxes, how I have battled with the freight company, how I have actually micromanaged every aspect of my business. 

When the proposal was made, the question was asked, 'What could you do with the time, once the warehousing is removed from your control?'  I was speechless, started a couple of sentences but could not form just one thought because my mind was racing with ideas!

Today it all made perfect sense.  Thank you, Vector Industries, for making my business more efficient and for giving me more time to work at the things I need to work at.  Wonderful.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

March incoming Re-Stocking on Monday, 3/24/2012

This post lists the shipment contents for March which arrive on Monday, and give a list of upcoming April and May shipments. All in the spirit of planning ahead!

March 2012 Re-Stocking

...  (skeins, unless otherwise noted)
Cash DK MCN & cones
Cash Sock MCN & cones
Euro 500
Platinum Sock & cones
Single & Stunning
Ultra Meirno 3Ply
W2D4 Merino DK-SW & cones
W2D4 Merino Worsted-SW & cones

April 2012 Re-Stocking

Cash Aran & cones
Cash Sock MCN & cones
Donegal DK
Euro 500
Platinum Sock & cones
Sheila's Glitter
Sheila's Sparkle
Sheila's Sock cones
Silk DK 50/50 & cones
Sparkle Select Lace
Traditional Merino Aran & cones ... new
Ultra Merino 3Ply & cones
W2D4 Merino Worsted-SW & cones

... SO .... where is Sheila's Gold?  We had a scheduling change with this popular yarn which was moved from the March shipment to April, and pre-sold immediately when that news was released.  I am sorry for this.  BUT it is coming back in May in good quantities.  Here are the lists for the two May shipments, which will catch us up and put all yarns back into good position. 

May 2012:  First Shipment

Cash DK MCN & cones
Cash Sock MCN & cones
Platinum Sock & cones
Sheila's Gold & cones
Traditional Merino Aran & cones (new in April)
Ultra Merino 3Ply & cones
W2D4 Merino DK-SW & cones
W2D4 Merino Worsted-SW & cones

... The first May shipment will boost the popular yarns and restock several in cone presentation, especially Sheila's Gold.  Go ahead and reserve now for April. (email your request to Traditional Merino Aran will improve it's position, just in case it gets the notice it deserves.  While it is a 4Ply and on the heavy side, we would expect it to perform better towards the cooler months, but there has been lots of interest in this replacement to Sheila's Aran.  So, we are giving it a little more warehouse space.

Late May 2012:  Another re-stocking shipment

Cash DK & cones
Platinum Sock & cones
Sheila's Gold & cones
Sheila's Sock cones
Ultra Merino 3Ply & cones
W2D4 Merino DK-SW
W2D4 Merino Worsted-SW

... cones again take a prominent place in the order, with Sheila's Sock cones returning.  We have been overstocked, really, with this yarn on skeins, but entirely out of cones.  This should give us plenty of cones to last into the summer.

Speaking of the summer, we ordered ten tons to last the three summer months, and will be drawing down on this order once a month from June to August.  If you did not pre-order for summer months, but have some events or clubs planned, please eMail your needs to

Plan Ahead.
You can do it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Time to talk about price increases

We have a price increase coming up, effective May 1st.  Over the past two years, we have seen the prices of some of our basic materials increase quickly.  At one point, there was a change every week in the price and it was difficult if not impossible to plan ahead.

The fibers which have increased this year are the same list that I quoted last year:  Superwash Merino, Silk, Cashmere, and Nylon.  Now, most of our yarns contain some of each of these fibers, so we will see an increase on all yarns.  In truth, up the line a bit we have had some help from both our yarn broker and the mill who have absorbed some of the cost increases we would expect.  They did this because of our volume purchases.

I have been studying the list and trying to come up with a way to keep the increase as small as possible.  We have had increased shipping costs, too, and everyone who ships has probably had fuel surcharges tacked onto their frieght bills.   We will come up with a way to cover the fuel surcharge, yet include the courtesy discount from my manufacturers in the final pricelist.

This post is informational only, to get the word out of the planned annual price increase, effective May 1st

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pricing and Undercutting the Competition

It's March, and time to talk about pricing and, yes, price increases.  Over the past year, we again have seen the cost of the raw materials for our yarns and their production rise.  Superwash Merino has risen almost $6 per kilo.  Cost of transportation has risen.  Silk, Cashmere, and nylon have all gone up in price.

So, we have to make some decisions around here, and eventually they will be passed to our customers who will go through the process, too, of deciding if or how much of a price increase they will institute; or, why they will not and how that will affect their business.

First, here's what we are doing.  We are absorbing some of the materials costs and not passing all of the increases to our customer base for the third year in a row.

Now, what will my customers do with the new prices?  I am going to guess that the larger customers will raise prices, the smaller ones will dig in and stay at the same price.  The reason I say this is because the larger customers are able to stay large because they operate within the parameters of acceptable business practice, they understand profit, and they know about how to run their handdye business with solid business principals.  Some of the smaller ones may know this and are purposefully controlling the size of their businesses, but many of them do not understand business or profit.  I hear it every day.  Many of my small customers are desperately trying to create a home business and to wring out every penny to contribute to the household earnings.

What is their approach?  They price low, in hopes of snagging sales.  And when they price their yarns at too low a point, they hurt us all.  Why?  Because they undervalue the product.

Let's face the fact that lots of people buy our yarns, dye them up, and put them on Etsy, or sell the at fiber festivals, or at their local yarn shops.  The yarn bases may be the same, but the end products differ enormously depending on the ability of the dyers, their sense of color, their sense of current color trends, packaging and labelling, and the price put on the yarns.

When people price out of fear, they are not doing anyone favors.  Yes, they'll get a few sales from knitters looking for a bargain, but they devalue our wonderful yarns by pricing them down with yarns of lesser quality.  I am talking about the poorer quality of many of the commercial yarns, too.

My advice is to take a good look at the prices the competition is charging in the market where you sell.  If it is on Etsy, look at all the handdyed yarns, see if you can spot our yarns there and start a careful list of prices, and note the dyers' names beside the prices.  Then move to the big sites which sell mosty handdyed yarns.  (You know them; I just cannot say their names here in the blog.)  Go through those sites carefully and make the same kinds of notes.  I will tell you what the timid pricers will find through this exercise.  They'll find that they are undercutting the experienced and professional dyers.  They are debasing the quality of our yarn lines by doing so, and they are pinching themselves into a corner and the only way out will be to give up.  They will never make a profit if they price in to stingy a manner.  They will lose their enjoyment of the craft, and they will get depressed and yell at their children. 

Here is my business advice:
Don't under price.
Research the market and know the prices that are being charged for equal product.
Price accordingly.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Big Freight company with Big Customer Service Problems

For one entire week, we have waited for delivery of a little over 1.5 tons of Wool2Dye4 yarns.  They have been sitting in the warehouse of our freight company, the largest freight company in the country, and just an hour away from my door.  No one noticed that a customs form had not been attached when the shipment was received, or rather, that one of two customs forms had not been attached. 

They work there every day, they handle all different kinds of shipments, yet no one noticed.  The two people who made it their business to follow every document for every shipment have either quit or retired, and with some disgust, I might mention.  Now, there is not one single contact who has stepped up to the position of responsibility.  'It's not my job,' rings through with every communication.

It is enough to change shippers, and this is not an easy thing to do nor is it a decision come to lightly.  We are talking about setting up paperwork with me, my broker, the mill, the airlines, each port along the path between the mill and Virginia.  It's a big deal.  Plus, it will probably be a time of getting the path corrected here and there.  Sometimes path correction is a literal process, especially with a smaller freight company who does not have a network into every town and burg.  We've just got to work things out so that there are many pairs of eyes on the progress to spot issues.

Shipping involves a substantial financial outlay.  While we are not a huge company, we are a consistent shipper of around two tons each month, and this seems to be enough for  smaller companies to think that our business is attractive.  Not enough, though, for the Big One to actually notice.

I cannot list the number of people who have first told me that they would find out what is going on, and promise to call me back that day, yet never contact me.  Sometimes I feel that someone somewhere is having fun watching customers squirm.  Wool2Dye4 is just going to squirm right on out of their clutches and very soon.

Of course, this does not get my shipment to me any faster.

I truly hate backorders.  My attitude towards stock and filling orders has always been based on filling orders immediately and shipping them within 24 hours.  Over the years, I thought I had learned how to gauge the arrival day of incoming stock shipments, but this past week has taught me a lesson I thought I had learned:  don't count your kilos before they arrive.  Oh, my.  I may even have written that here in this blog when the same lesson smacked me in the consciousness!

So, here I am, a little grain of sand on the horizon of commerce who spends what we consider to be a significant amount on freight, not counting daily pickups by the same company, each year.

Customer service.  For me it about each customer and getting their order out.  It is about choosing samples to tuck into the package which are of yarns of a similar weight but differ slightly from the ones they ordered.  It is about keeping my people up to date with news.  I know that not all of my customers are on, and so I publish a customer newsletter with news of upcoming shipments, new or retiring yarns, release dates of the new lines, etc.  I often bring in an extra shipment of yarns which are retiring because of the complaints from those who love the retirees.  Every single time, though, I wind up looking at a full shelf for months on end.  What to do?  I have to let those customers who complained get another chance to stock up on their beloved special ones.  I want them to be happy, and to come back to us.  Timely delivery and good service are basics of how we do our business.

I remember reading a book on entrepreneurship a few years ago and it was called Minding My Own Business.  Don't know if it is still in print, even, but if so, then I absolutely recommend it.  One of the points which stood out to me was for the small businessperson to think of themselves as a mini Fortune 500 company.  Do what they do.  Have a logo, a color scheme, a recognizable presence.  Follow up on your promises, and get the goods into your customers' hands and fast.  Plan your work, and work you plan, right?

Ok, enough rambling.  I had to post here because this week's delay in receiving the shipment has caused some customers schedule disruptions because there is one yarn in the shipment which ran out of stock.  It is Sheila's Gold, and it has become our best seller in the past couple of months.  So, to be without it is quite a strain.

A strain, but not an impossible obstacle, of course.  The shipment will arrive, and I sure hope that is today!  We'll get the orders out and write apologetic notes of explanation on the packing lists, and we'll work like mad folk to get this all done.  For the future, we've doubled and tripled quantities of this yarn on future orders at the mill, but that can only be affected two months out.  For the next two months, we'll receive normal quantities, then boost up to the level of plenty.

Customer service.  Recognizing what your customer wants and needs, and then getting it to them in the quickest, most efficient manner possible.  I love good customer service, really!  Giving it, of course, but receiving as well.  Right now, I am not getting good customer service from the Big Guys.  I have choice, though, so lack of their good customer service will cost them one customer.  Maybe one customer at a time, who knows?