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Business Sense

January 20, 2008


(Disclaimer: I stole the above photo from a Shoebox greeting card my daughter got.)

In business, how you present yourself is just as important as what you sell. I find this everyday in my professional life. When I have to interact with a client, it’s important that I present a professional, cordial, and helpful image, no matter what I think of the client, the work to be done, how the job impacts my life, or how much I am paid or not paid, or any number of personal concerns. My client does not care. I have to put my personal issues aside when I walk in the office and not let them impact my job performance. This took me many years to learn, and my father used to try to get me to tuck away my feelings more at work. He had this philosophy that people at work really don’t care how you are when they ask “How are you?” He had a standard response, regardless of how he felt – and this was a man who worked right up until his last few months of life – which was, “Fantastic.” And he smiled.

My post about knitting needles and a particular local yarn shop has evoked some very strong feelings from individuals, particularly shop owners. I went back and reread my posts and stand by everything I said. However, I think the real points of what I was writing was lost on most people. I’m not going to keep beating this thing to death, but I do have an idea here at the end of this.

1. It was how the shop lady made me FEEL that upset me the most. I understand stores have policies and good reasons for them. That was never my debate. But their exchange policy was not posted or mentioned to me when I bought the needles, and I’d already exchanged a set of needles there once before – same exact situation. So the condescending tone and how it made me feel was what really got me. She embarassed me in front of my daughter and my grandchildren, and made me feel stupid. That, in business and interpersonal relationships, is a big no-no.

2. There was humor intended in my idea about exchanging needles – it was a play on drug needle exchanges. Uh, isn’t yarn like crack? (The same goes for fabric, for my sewing friends.) Don’t we all say we are addicted to it and can’t get enough? Why is it that no one got that?

In the business world, my philosophy is that the customer comes first. The customer is not there to pay my bills, or help me make my way in life. The customer doesn’t give a rat’s ass about what other customers have or haven’t done that cause policies to be made. The customer comes to me with a specific need, and it’s my job to service that need to the best of my ability. In my profession, that’s editing and writing. I don’t own a yarn shop. But the same principle can be applied to any business. It’s really very simple.

Apparently there’s a real issue with people buying needles, using them – sometimes blatantly and abusively – and then expecting their money back. I know tacky people exist. In fact, I’d bought a nice inflatable junior bed and sleeping bag thing for my grandson from Costco, and someone had used it, left crumbs in it, popped the mattress, and then took it back to Costco and got their money back. Clearly they didn’t tell Costco what they did, and Costco put it back on the shelf. I bought it, and subsequently had to return it as well.

So back to knitting needles.

Clearly there is a need for temporary use of needles. I ask all the shop owners who are following this: What provides the biggest profit in your business? Is it needles? Patterns? or yarn?

I suspect it’s the yarn. Isn’t it the yarn that you really want people to buy? If so, why not take a supply of needles in various sizes, write off the cost as a capital expense, and create a nice little corner of your shop with comfy chairs or a loveseat, some free coffee or water, and provide a place where your customers can come in and finish that toe on the sock – inside your store, with you there to help them. And while you are helping them, you use the opportunity to befriend them and point out to them your fine collection of sock yarn and how lovely the pattern they are using would look in that brand or colorway. My bet is they’ll buy that skein of yarn when they really only came in to borrow a needle.

Then, for those that can’t afford patterns, find a few that are free and print them off. Let them have them for free. Find some that make very little profit for you, and provide them a library of free patterns, a pad of paper, some pencils, and let them copy the pattern basics – providing you aren’t violating any copyright laws. And all the while, you are there to help them when they don’t understand the stitch sequence. Or upsell them to a better pattern. Or point them to a perfect selection of yarn for that pattern that would be great with their skin color.

I can almost guarantee this: That when approached as how to service the customer, help them get where they are going, or learn something new, they will return. It’s all about the FEELING invoked in the experience, how you make the customer feel, how they feel like you really care about them as a person. I promise you, the customer doesn’t give a crap about your profit or loss. But if you care about theirs, then they’ll spread the word, and you’ll have more business than you can handle.

  1. January 20, 2008 5:51 pm

    hey, maybe you should open a yarn shop. 🙂 i totally agree with everything you said. sadly, we have forgotten what customer service is all about. with the internet, i can find just about anything i want. if small business owner wants to compete with internet sale, the small business owner has to offer something one can’t get online….the relationship. make me *want* to come into your store. sometimes, you have to give a little to get alot. with hobby type stores, you want to get the customer hooked on the hobby. create a love of knitting by giving away a few things and you could have a lifelong customer.

    a zillion years ago, i worked in a needlepoint store. we always gave away a few needles with the purchase of yarn. i was happy to show a newbie how to get started. for regular customers, i would show them a new stitch or technique. i taught classes too, but spending a few minutes on a new stitch just whetted their appetite for more.

  2. January 20, 2008 6:02 pm

    Mermaid: You get it, precisely. I used to sell Creative Memories and that’s exactly the philosophy I used. The only reason I don’t do it anymore is I just don’t have time. (I also used to sell Mary Kay. LOL.) I always gave away free stickers and such at my crops and always had some incentive to get customers to buy more. Maybe I will open a yarn store. Hmm. Wonder how much the start up costs? 😉

  3. January 20, 2008 8:26 pm

    Claire – that’s exactly why I prefer to go to Great Yarns. The owner and all the staff are fabulous. There are needles to try while you are in the shop, comfy chairs, and coffee!

    Also, if you want to try a particular yarn but aren’t sure you will like it, they will ‘sacrifice’ a skein or find a partial skein in the basement. That way you haven’t invested in something you don’t want.

    I can’t stand all the snarkiness, I have stayed away from most of the boards on Ravelry and rarely go to Artisan’s Square anymore. g

  4. January 22, 2008 5:27 am

    It’s a shame many small shops (whether they be knitting, sewing or other crafting) don’t realize this.

    I always will spend more when I am treated with respect…ALWAYS. And if I take a liking to a particular store, they get my business even if their prices are higher.

    I just makes good business sense to accomodate the customer.

    With friendship,

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