Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Too big to fail, or too big to succeed?

For the first time in the seven years since I started working at Stitchcraft Marketing, I didn't go to the TNNA Trade show this past weekend, which is the annual buying show for yarn shops (and hence, where a lot of my clients exhibit). It's kind of nice to have the year off, because while trade shows are fun, they are also quite tiring. I spent a very relaxing weekend at home crafting and watching the Royals get swept by the reigning world champs. So it goes.

I'm not one to suffer from FOMO, but I am curious to hear what everyone thought about the new venue in Cleveland. I'm especially interested to hear who was - and wasn't - there in the wake of last weeks' surprising announcement that Classic Elite Yarns is closing. It seems like this news has made the rounds of social media, but they aren't the only yarn-related business to recently announce that they are closing their doors: Lantern Moon posted about a "closeout sale" earlier this month on Facebook, and in the comments they state that the owners are "moving on to new adventures in life." Similarly, the owner of Mango Moon Yarns, distributor of Be Sweet and Dale Garn Yarns in North America, has decided to retire and is closing out all remaining stock. Local Yarn Stores (LYSes) continue to close at a steady rate - it seems like I hear about at least one every month or so.

Running a small business in our industry - in any industry, really! - is tough, and I am sure that companies like Classic Elite must look "big" compared to a one-person hobby hand-dyer on Etsy. And I mean no disrespect to either - both make amazing contributions to the world of yarn and knitting. But aside from some of those big box store brands that probably ARE huge faceless corporations (hey, look! Now I'm making assumptions!), most yarns you will find at your LYS are made by companies that are smaller than you realize. They are run by real people who have families, some of whom might even work for them. They might be their own accountant, marketing department, graphic designer, and in-house designer, in addition to everything that goes into the "fun" stuff of running a yarn business (which I assume is designing a line of yarns and/or picking out the color palettes - I could be wrong, though!).

So what makes some brands seem "big" while others are perceived as small (and, apparently, more worthy of our support)?

If it's putting out beautifully produced collections of patterns for years or even decades as Classic Elite has, doesn't that mean that Brooklyn Tweed is "big" by the same reasoning? Is any yarn company that doesn't dye by hand "big" as well? Interestingly, when I was a hand dyer for Lorna's Laces, plenty of people thought that we were "big," but the truth was that we had less than 10 employees, many of which were part time (at the time I worked there, mind you, which was many moons ago. I can't speak for now!).

Te average yarn consumer probably doesn't spend hours researching every single yarn purchase (well, some of you might?!). We only know what we have see in front of us, or have perhaps encountered on social media - so if a company isn't sharing this aspect of their business effectively, it's easy to make a snap judgement in either direction, big or small. Some companies may even be shooting themselves in the foot by using too much business-y jargon in their zeal to appear like a legitimate company, not realizing that in some knitter's minds, this is a turn-off.

In the case of Classic Elite,  they've been around for years and had crazy amounts of both name recognition and street cred. We've all seen their ads on the back cover of Interweave magazines over the years, and I don't think you could throw a skein of yarn too far without finding a knitter who has either used their yarn in at least one project or has a skein or two lurking in their stash.

But with such a wide range of yarn lines, pattern collections released consistently, and heavy print advertising campaigns, most of up apparently made the following conclusion: this is a well-run, profitable BIG company with lots of money in the bank, and that has always been around and will always BE around. A reasonable conclusion to come to, but unfortunately not true.
Pop quiz: which of these yarns is dyed by hand?
What do you think?
I'm curious to hear what makes people perceive a yarn brand as "big" or "small," and even some of those brands that you think fall into either category. The nerd in me is already brainstorming new theories and ways to solve this problem of perception with my own clients, but I realize that drawing solely on my own experiences and opinions is not very scientific, so reader opinions are very much appreciated. Also, I think this is a conversation that needs to happen, or else we are risk losing even more well-loved brands, perhaps sooner than we think.


  1. If I can buy it online from a large retailer (webs, jimmy beans, etc) and it’s not in the indie Dyer section I always perceive it as a big company. Maybe I’m wrong. I’ve been knitting for 25 years, using what I consider to be quality yarns for the last 10.
    Most of me smaller companies I’ve discovered through fellow knitters on instagram. The ones I’ve used are mostly a one person operation.

    1. I think it depends - but I think there are a lot of non-hand-dyed yarns that might surprise you! For example, Brown Sheep is a small, family owned company in Nebraska.

      I think yours is a reasonable conclusion that a lot of people come to, however - so it's really up to each company to share more of themselves and their story. I think a lot of them either think it's not interesting, or just assume that everyone else knows what they do - so then they are really surprised to hear how they are actually perceived (I have had more than 1 conversation about this very thing with a few of my clients recently. They honestly have no idea what knitters think of their company!).