… and it’s their own fault.
With permission, I’m posting an essay of mine that was published in the Fall, 2010 issue of Yarn Market News, a trade magazine that goes out to subscribing yarn stores in the big picture “yarn industry”.
The Missing Piece of Pie
Have you lost a share of the yarn market?
A pastry chef walks into a highly-recommended culinary equipment supply store and happily browses the displays and shelves full of a range of tools. The experience makes her giddy and she pictures her work station well-stocked and convenient to use. She paces herself and makes a list of the things she needs vs. wants, and writes down prices so that she can plan future trips to finish stocking her kitchen. To appease her dreamy desires, she modestly takes a whisk, a set of knives and two sauce pans off the shelves and heads happily to the cashier’s counter. She can already picture the Boston cream apple torte she will serve the head chef and food and wine manager at the restaurant the next evening for their approval.
“What are you going to use these for?” The store’s owner asks encouragingly across the counter. The pastry chef smiles and eagerly describes the torte and how the restaurant is changing its seasonal dessert.
“Oh,” says the owner. The acrid tone of this simple utterance draws the chef’s eyes up from her wallet to look at the speaker, and makes her feel suddenly doubtful, and a bit confused.
“What do you mean?” The pastry chef asks.
“Well,” the store owner says with a quick glance at the ceiling and then down at the counter, then slowly raising her eyes, “You really shouldn’t use these tools for baking a torte.” The chef shifts her weight uneasily and draws her eyebrows together in further consternation. The owner continues, “This whisk is only for the best béarnaise sauces and balsamic vinaigrettes, these knives shouldn’t touch fruit, and these saucepans, well they’re only for jus de beouf. And, um…is that all you’re buying today?”
The chef blinks in disbelief.
“Really, all the bakers I know buy their equipment at the Pans & Pins Depot. We’re not really a store for bakers, just for real chefs.”
Biting her lip, and taking several deep breaths before starting, the chef says, “But I am a real chef, and I see that you even have rolling pins here, too. So what would a real chef do with a rolling pin?”
“Oh those are for savory dishes like somosas or wontons. By the way, do you cook or do you only bake?”
At this, the chef replaces her wallet in her bag, shakes herself as if to rid herself of the insults she feels have been directed at her and storms towards the door. Before walking out, she turns and says “and I’ll let my fellow pastry chefs, and the teaching chefs at the area culinary schools know that you don’t cater to our kind.”
This story illustrates an event which almost any retailer, no matter what kind of merchandise she carried, would see was ludicrous. However, a similar behavior happens often in local yarn stores, and those venues are losing a big piece of the yarn market pie, the crocheters. The main reasons some crocheters struggle to enjoy trips to LYSs are the inventory of tools, familiarity with yarns, and the attitude of salespeople. The solutions to these can be creatively varied and both fun and profitable for LYSs to explore.
Low end plastic crochet hooks can be found anywhere, so it would behove a store to carry instead a full range of sizes of hooks, with at least two different brands with the main two different head shapes. Many crocheters also enjoy looking at hooks that are unique…lathe turned wood hooks by local artisans would certainly stop a shopper in her tracks. Ask your distributors to show you the latest in Tunisian hooks, double-end hooks, and interchangeable hook and cable sets. The smaller size steel hooks are also an asset to your inventory. Having more than a token plastic hook or two on your display rack will immediately tell a shopper that you are a crochet-friendly store.
There is a stereotype that crocheters only use worsted weight acrylic, washcloth cotton, or crochet thread, but this isn’t necessarily always true, nor is it something that should stop any LYS from being crochet-friendly. A quick look on Ravelry’s yarn list shows two popular brands of affordable acrylic yarn in the top five. This means that knitters are also using thrift when shopping for yarn, it’s not just crocheters, so the stereotype doesn’t hold water. Crocheters are interested in all kinds of yarn, and LYS sales staff should not tell any potential customer that a particular yarn just wouldn’t be used by crocheters. Any fiber type, and any weight of yarn can be used for crochet. The success of a given yarn in crochet depends on the hook size (designers are now using several sizes larger than ballband recommendations to achieve excellent fabric hand and drape), the amount of twist and its direction, and the stitch pattern used. A crocheter may want to use one of the higher-end acrylic yarns to make a baby blanket or an afghan, or they may want to use silk or bamboo lace or fingering weight yarn for a shawl or merino fingering weight for a sweater and a sturdy DK wool for a jacket. A yarn store owner should make sure she and her staff do not tell a crocheter what she shouldn’t crochet with. Another way to make a crocheter feel welcome is to have swatches of the new yarn arrivals alongside the knit swatches. Swatches allow both knitters and crocheters to see how a yarn works up in their craft of choice. They also give you an idea of how much more yarn a crocheter would need to create a piece of fabric of certain dimensions. Be sure to swatch with different crochet stitches, too, some lacy and some plain, whatever helps that particular yarn show off its best for crochet. A series of amigurumi items or pillow covers done in unique yarns may inspire customers to venture out of their comfort zones.
The inventory of patterns in yarn stores is a mammoth topic with the ongoing discussion around print vs. online options, and this would apply to crochet as well. If you are just starting to foray into crochet friendliness, it would be a good idea to carry a good selection of crochet stitch dictionaries, the main crochet magazines that feature some of the yarn in your inventory, and any crochet patterns that the yarn companies have for their line. Research Ravelry’s crochet groups to find out which designers are being hailed as the next best thing since row counters for more ideas of whose books to carry. Crocheted garments are only beginning to make a comeback, so for now many crocheters may still work on small projects or home décor items, but with time and beautiful display pieces, like lace stoles, interest in garments and accessories will grow.
The attitude of the sales staff and/or owner of a yarn store makes the biggest difference towards keeping crocheters coming back to your store and making purchases. Even the most well-intentioned yarn store owners may inadvertently do or say something that discourages a crocheter or knitter who is new to LYS yarns. The biggest hurdle to overcome perhaps is the lack of crochet knowledge. If you or your sales staff do not know how to crochet or to advise about appropriate yarn or hook choices, make it a goal to learn enough about crochet to direct people to the resources you have in the store. If you are going to hire staff, look for someone with crochet skills. The easiest approach is to ask some of your experienced crocheting customers themselves. Be honest and say you don’t know much about crochet, but ask if they would they show you something useful you could share with future clients. If you offer classes on crochet, you will need to look for instructors that can move beyond the basic “crochet for knitters”, or “crocheted finishes for knitwear” type class. Look for crochet teachers that teach about modifying or grading patterns, Irish lace, Freeform, or other techniques like Tunisian crochet or how to read crochet symbol charts. Lastly, a compliment about a client’s crochet project goes a long way in building rapport and encouraging a return. Most importantly, avoid being like the culinary equipment salesperson in the story above.
What should a LYSO do when a crocheter selects yarn for a sweater and then balks at the price when it is rung up at the till? I would suggest she does the same as when a knitter used to discount or “mega-marked down” yarns balks at yarn prices: suggest smaller projects to start, suggest substitutions, have a conversation about the differences between being a product crocheter and a process crocheter. Maybe she has never thought of the time spent working on the project with luxurious yarn as a treat in itself. Share with her how the many hours spent on crocheted the piece at the higher price will still be cheaper than so many movies or café lattes. Not all individuals can be swayed, but a little sugar does go a long way.
Crocheters, in North America in particular, have faced a stigma that has evolved for too many reasons to count, and exploring this history does not fall within the scope of this article. The principal stereotypes that are widely held are that crocheters only use cheap yarn, that what they make is largely for home décor or babies, and that they frequent big box stores and don’t ever go into local yarn stores. The stigma doubles in strength, when the crocheter in question doesn’t knit as well. However, if you join the movement of welcoming crocheters into LYSs, then perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see your store’s name in the Ravelry thread that celebrates and recommends crochet-friendly stores. Perhaps you, too, can have all the pieces of the pie.