Buying Yarn for a Crowd

Inventory management.

It's an art, a science, a field you can even get a doctorate in. But, on a smaller scale, how can we know what to buy for our customers when we're not sure which way the wind blows? What will be the next hot thing? What if something we think is great proves to be a bust? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you're working out your fall season buying to ensure you don't get stuck with too much yarn that you can't sell. 

It's important to remember who you're buying for: you're not buying for yourself, you're buying for your community. Keep in mind who they are, and what they want to knit when you're working on your fall buying plan. Ask yourself, "How many people are going to knit a sweater this fall? How many people will knit a sweater in this yarn? How many people will knit a sweater in this yarn, in this color?" Keep yourself grounded, and don't get too carried away. Keep this in mind as you plan, and try to follow these 5 guidelines.

1. Keep a reserve fund. 
I know, I know. When the money is stretched so thin, as it is in the spring and summer, thinking about saving is next to impossible. But being sure to work a bit of padding into your fall budget for a rainy day is crucial. What if one of your best selling companies surprises you with a mid-season new yarn release? Won't you be pleased you're sitting on a nice little bit of money you set aside in the winter/spring?

2. Learn to say, "NO."
If you're not sure the investment will pay off, say no. Maybe you'll be wrong, but good thing you have that reserve fund so you can order it later. When you're sitting with a rep, or walking the show floor at TNNA, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of buying new things. If you get a call in the future that something is ready to ship and you don't remember what it is...unfortunately you probably don't need it. (And you definitely need to be more organized!) And, while that is too bad for someone like me who depends on selling you yarn, I would rather you make smart buying decisions so that you can continue to buy my yarn instead of overbuying things you aren't invested in and then won't sell well. 

3. Be realistic with your knitting time.
If you find yourself continually saying, "We'll make a sample," when you are deciding whether or not a yarn you want to bring in will sell, you may end up drowning in yarn on August 1st with 15 knitting projects to complete in the next few weeks. Your staple yarns don't need new samples each season, but new yarns do. Ask the distributor if they have sample quantities in advance and save your sample knitting time for those yarns so you can have the garment finished when the yarn arrives. Pick yarns to knit samples in that would otherwise require the knitter to take a leap of faith. If it's a gimmick yarn (or a yarn that needs to be knit up to be understood by the consumer) that you're trying for one season, knit a sample and get the yarn out the door as quickly as possible. Don't knit unrealistic shop samples, either. While you may want to knit something like this, not many of your customer's will, and those who do don't need to see a sample first. Keep it simple, and stick to things that are approachable and also beautiful.

4. Tell your customers what to buy.
Samples sell yarn, we all know that. But so does herd mentality, and I mean that in the nicest way. We're social creatures, and we like to do things together. Finding a pattern that is appealing to a wide audience, and featuring that sample for a knit along, or as a sale on the yarn and pattern when purchased together, a promotion, or a class is a great way to move a lot of yarn out the door. Some great examples of patterns that have taken off for our customers are the Basalt Wrap in Road to China Light, the Churchmouse Easy Folded Poncho in Acadia, and the Arctic Circle Cowl in Tundra. Things these patterns have in common is that they are easy and fashionable knits that require little effort to make and wear. They are also wearable and lovely on a variety of ages, shapes, and sizes so they are easy to make with a group of friends. Pick a few go-to patterns that use yarn you have in stock, and when customers come in looking for ideas, you'll know where to point them. I used to work at a yarn shop with a woman, who now owns a beautiful shop here in Philly, who picked a different yarn to sell every day. When customers came in, that yarn would be the first thing she would show people. It worked! Some people need direction, and they want your advice. You are the expert, after all. 

5. Don't reorder just because you sold out. 
In the world of successful inventory management, if you sell all of it, don't just rush to reorder it. You may want to consider it a success and move on, especially if it's a yarn that is a specialty or seasonal yarn and not a staple yarn. If you sold all of the natural color of Cumbria, maybe you want to reorder that. Cumbria is a great worsted wool staple yarn. But if it's January 25th, and you've sold all of the purple Tundra - a bulky wool, alpaca, silk blend that is decidedly a seasonal yarn in a color that isn't a "staple" - maybe wait to reorder that until the next fall/winter season. Look at the big picture, and don't saddle yourself with inventory you can't move before the season is over. If the season ends, and you still have seasonal inventory put it on sale. Even if you sell it for 50% off, it's a wash. If it sits in storage, it's money you already spent and won't get back. 

These five little "rules" are mere suggestions, and every shop is different. But the key elements are important: Save your money. It's okay to say no. Don't take on too much. Be a leader. Think before you spend. Remember, every ball of yarn on the shelf is debt, or potential money, depending on how you want to look at it. Now, go sell some yarn! - CK

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