Thursday, December 18, 2008

'Tis the season for temptation

In my last post a couple of weeks back, I talked about starting a stash diet.

I'm still talking about it.

The problem is, Christmas is a time when people go shopping. Now I don't go shopping that much, but I do go past shops now and then, and unfortunately the current significant other lives in an area with three LYSs (local yarn stores) and... well, I think you've already worked out what the problem is!

You see, as a shop owner, I feel obliged to do the odd mystery shop, just to find out a bit more about what our competitors are stocking and how they are pricing. (I should add here, the purpose of the mystery shop is not to rip them off by selling the same stock cheaper, it is to find out what they're selling so that I can sell something different!). Melbourne LYSs usually employ friendly, knowledgeable staff - and when I'm in there, it's usually quiet, so we talk for about an hour or so about the different yarns. Then I feel guilty - I've taken up an hour of this person's time! I can't leave without buying at least a little something... My best effort at self-restraint so far saw me leaving a shop with a skein of soft brown handspun (luckily it will go perfectly with the Buxton yarn!) worth $40.00.

The stash now includes crochet cotton (sourced from four different outlets in the name of research!), yarn for two more projects, plus the handspun. About the only thing I can say for Stash Diets so far is that the stash's rate of increase has slowed from being exponential to merely being quite fast.

In a fortnight, the Boxing Day sales will start. I have already explained to my beloved that he will come to visit me here right through January - I am not leaving the shop, just in case the bargains on offer include a lovely yarn that would be absolutely perfect for that project I've been planning...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Stash Diet

Summer is coming, the sun is shining and all the womens' magazines have published their how-to-get-a-perfect-body-in-one-week diets for the 2008/2009 festive season.

Now, I've never actually been on a diet (eating sensibly, yes - restricting myself to carrots and lettuce for weeks on end, no), but this summer, for the first time, the D-word has raised its ugly head.

I've gone on a stash diet.

Yep, a stash diet.

Why? Well, it's all my father's fault. As I may have mentioned, I'm knitting him a jumper (in a really lovely Jo Sharp Aran Tweed, but that's another story). Yesterday, I was knitting away at the front neck and I realised that the ball I was working from was nearly finished. No worries, I thought, there are six more balls in my stash, I will go and grab them now while I'm thinking of it. So I hopped up on a chair and began to search through my stash shelf.

The next day, I got a ladder so that I could reach the back of the stash shelf. That was where I eventually found the six balls of Aran Tweed, concealed behind the skeins of interesting handspun that I've picked up but never decided on a project for, the yarns I picked up in the UK so I'd have something to occupy myself on the flight home, the wool that I bought at the Spotlight sale five years ago and the other wool I bought at Clegs the year before last - not to mention the half-finished shawl in Rowan Big Wool Twist (discontinued yarn - can't get enough to finish the shawl, and can't decide on another project to use it up), the almost finished crochet project (another discontinued Rowan yarn, same story!) and a vest that I made up almost six years ago to use up some yarn that looks like a brick and has all the softness of a slab of concrete.

And it was there, balanced precariously on a ladder with six full bags of wool in each hand, trying to grab the little bag of Aran Tweed, that I realised - I need a stash diet. I need to knit up the Jo Sharp summer tops while I can still remember which pattern goes with which yarn. I need to get stuck into the Shadow Tweed jumper so that it's ready for next autumn, and I need to find someone who can wear pale grey and knit up the pale grey Inca yarn into a garment for them. I need to make a concerted raid on the internet and find patterns for 100g skeins of wool and do something with the interesting handspuns. If I hate it, I'll pull it out and redo it, or give it away. If I love it, great! I'll knit another one... but NOT until I have reduced my stash down to four projects...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sales and stashes

One of the most exciting parts of being a shop owner is having sales! We had one last month, and (this will show you what a sad life I have!) I really enjoyed it. There's something about watching happy customers leaving the shop with their bargains that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy - it's a sort of shopping-by-proxy, where I can experience all the joy of shopping without the horror of working out how to pay off my credit card afterwards :-)

My past life as a tech writer didn't really prepare me for organising and running sales. Negotiating contracts yes, but selling off 40kg of stock at a reduced rate, no. Now my life has acquired a new and wonderful dimension - the Marketing (Sales) calendar.

The calendar works thus: in order to attract traffic to the store during the quieter periods of the year (i.e. summer, when no-one in Australia knits or crochets because the temperature regularly exceeds 40 degrees), I need to hold at least one sale. I also need to ensure that I don't go broke by selling off too much stock at low prices. A third point - I need to try to run my sales so that they don't clash with other sales held by other stores - ideally, my sale will come first, so that everyone's stash will be full and they won't be tempted by other wool stores. Failing that, my sale needs to happen when everyone else is selling at full price so that people who have been tempted by other wool stores will still be tempted to buy at my sale.

In case that wasn't complex enough, our suppliers have sales. We can use those sales to get cheap stock for our customers and make them happy - but we need to make sure that we're doing this at a time that doesn't undermine our own sales. The last thing we want is to get known as Our Ladies of the Perpetual Discount Bargain!

All these factors come together in the Marketing (Sales) Calendar in a piece of organisation that could most accurately be represented in an equation developed by a quantum physicist. Actually, at present, my Calendar could more accurately be described as a 'conceptual document'. What that means is, being so new to the business, I am making a lot of stuff up as I go along! Next year, I might write something down - and the year after that, I'll go looking for a quantum physicist who can sum up the whole thing for me in a neat little equation...

Monday, October 13, 2008

On starting a business...

Recently on Ravelry (the all-time-best, most amazing knitting and crochet website in existence!), a member posted a question. She wanted to open a local yarn shop (an LYS in knitter-speak) and was looking for some advice. Since Ravelry is an international forum, I'm not sure how much help my advice was, but I gave it anyway - and then I thought, as a dedicated tree-hugger, I should recycle that post for this week's blog entries. I was further motivated to do this when two people asked me for advice on running a small business - it's an Omen! I thought, so I started writing.

Before I get too far, I should offer a disclaimer: I'm an Aussie, so most of the stuff in this post is useless to those of you who are not based down under. Also, even though I'm doing my best to comply with the laws in force in Australia, the state of Victoria and the City of Darebin respectively, I may not always have gotten it right - so even if you ARE an Aussie, don't rely on anything I've said here. It might be wrong and I would hate for you make your money back by suing me!!

The very first thing an aspiring business owner should do is go without sleep for four days. If you can't manage that, you won't last long in your own business.

OK, bad joke. The point of the bad joke is, anyone who starts a business expecting to start at 11:00, leave at 3:00 and spend their weekends partying is going to be sadly disappointed. Eventually, if you're smart and lucky, your business will run on its own and you can do all that stuff. Usually, however, there is a period of time where, no matter how smart or lucky you are, you need to do the hard yards. The hard yards for me has involved working seven day weeks from 8:00am until midnight when required. It's also involved some extremely quiet periods where I worked a standard 40-hour week, but got no money for it, because I had no clients - the entire 40 hours was spent advertising and networking to find customers!

Related to point 1 above: really love what you do. If you don't, then why would you work such stupid hours? You may or may not make the money to justify it - so you may as well make sure that it will be worthwhile anyway, because you'll be having so much fun, the cash is secondary.

Point 2: practical stuff. Aussies should visit On this site, you will find several useful things:

  • How-to guides for people who are starting or closing a business. They are written in governmentese, but, with patience, you'll be able to get some useful info out of them.
  • Copies of every form you might conceivably need to start a business.
  • An online form to register for an ABN.

Use this information to work out what type of entity you want your business to be:

  • It is really easy to set up as a sole trader - all you need is an ABN in your own name - but you then take on all the risk of your business. That is, you personally get sued if anything goes wrong and you personally are liable for all the debts of your business. Think very hard about how much you want to keep your house, car and family before you decide on this route!
  • You could trade as a partnership with a close friend or spouse. This is the same as being a sole trader, except there are now two of you to sue! Speaking from experience and observation, make very, very sure that your values and attitudes are similar enough to your partner's to make the arrangement workable. If you disagree on fundamental things such as how to manage a customer relationship, your partnership will go sideways faster that you could imagine. On the other hand, if you both agree on everything, one of you is redundant (except as a diversion for unpaid creditors!). You need to be able to get value with both parties bringing different strengths and knowledge to the partnership to make it worthwhile taking this option.
  • You can trade as a company. There are significant running costs, but the company, as a fictitious person, can take the rap for you if someone decides to sue you or your business goes under. You keep your home and the family stays on speaking terms. I decided this was the option for me.

Once you've worked out what type of business you want to be, do a business plan. Make it a really thorough one, including the following sections:

  • Your unique selling proposition. If you don't have something that sets you apart from the competition, there's no real point going into business in the first place (unless you want to buy a franchise, which is perfectly valid too!)
  • Your vision for the business. Break this section down into what you'll need to make that vision a reality, for example what sort of premises you'll need, furniture and fittings, equipment, stock, staff - everything, right down to the feng shui goldfish (if required)
  • A marketing plan. I suggest start with the amount of cash you have on hand and work backwards from there to develop simple and affordable marketing strategies. A 30 second TV ad might be a great way to reach your target market, but it won't work out if your total budget for the year is $2000. Work out how to get maximum contact with your target market for the money you have - my personal preference is to look into things like AdWords, advertising on websites that my target market visits, advertising in specialist publications that they read and similar strategies before I look at mass media, but that's to do with the businesses I have.
  • A budget. The easiest way to do this is to add up the cost of everything you need to make your vision a reality. If you have the cash to cover this, then you have your budget. If you don't, then look at which parts of your vision you can hold over until some more cash shows up. Make sure you have enough cash on hand to carry the business for 12 months, even if you don't sell anything at all - this is probably pessimistic, but I like to know that I've got all my bases covered.

Once you've done this, set about making your vision a reality. This is easy now, because you have a written statement of everything that you need to achieve it - so all you need to do is go through and check everything off as you find it (shop in a high-traffic retail strip, done; white Swedish look tables and chairs, done; stock, done; etc).

As you go about making your vision reality, start the ball rolling on your marketing plan. You don't want to open your business without people knowing that you're there! A new business opening is a major event and it's usually pretty easy to get some buzz going - it's a bit harder to get people excited with a spiel like "Well, we've been here about six weeks now, so we're still kinda new, but only like compared to other businesses that have been here eight years...".

Last point: once you've opened your doors, track everything that happens against your business plan. The sooner you catch a variation from what you expect, the sooner you can fix things! And the sooner you fix things, the less likely they are to bring your business unstuck.

Here endeth the lesson...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Food, glorious food!

I don't think I've ever explained the origins of our name in this blog, so I probably should correct that omission now before I share this week's story.

Our name is an acronym made up from the products and services that we offer. (Why an acronym? The blog post on registering trading names in Victoria, Australia is coming...). We sell Coffee, Cake, Crochet and Knitting - CCCK! (Actually, we sell wool, yarn, cotton, tea, coffee, biscuits, knitting needles, crochet hooks, buttons and other stuff, but WYCTCBKNCH & OS wasn't particularly catchy or memorable. Looked like I'd been beating my head against the keyboard - which, after three hours of dealing with the Dept of Justice, was a distinct possibility!).

Anyway - coffee, cake, crochet, knits. CCCK. Great name for a shop. Opened the shop. Got the wool and accessories for the crochet and knits part. For my next trick, I had to organise food and beverages for the coffee and cake part.

Do I need to tell you that this is where it all went slightly sideways? In case none of you have ever dealt with a local council or run a business, this is where it all went slightly sideways.

Before you can serve food and beverages in Australia, you need to convince the state and local governments that you will not kill or maim anyone by doing so. This is a very good thing, because without proper regulation, we'd all be in strife, but it seemed to me that the whole process was a mite complex for what I was trying to achieve.

*I rang the council for information. Yep, no worries, it would be posted to me straight away.

A week later, I rang the council for information. Yep, no worries, it would be posted to me straight away.

A week later, I rang the council for information. Yep, no worries, it would be posted to me straight away. (Rep from * four times.)

Six weeks after I opened, I got the promised information. The first thing I noticed was that it was extremely comprehensive. The next thing I noticed was that all the kitchens in the example photos were very new and shiny... For those non-Melbournians reading this blog, most of Northcote was built in the 1800s. The houses and shops are old and full of character. The kitchen here looks like it was added on to the building in the 1940s or 1950s. It is old and full of character, but the floor is plywood (nailed to what looks like the remains of the original back verandah) - the cupboards are painted ply - there are no tiled surfaces and the louvre windows, although barred to prevent thieves, do little or nothing to prevent dust. It is not easy to clean. It does not meet modern sanitation standards. When I offered to cook my bloke a meal one night, he reacted as if I'd pulled a gun on him ("You cook in there?") and he spent the evening carefully checking his meal for signs of life when he thought I wasn't looking. In short, if I was going to serve food, it looked like the kitchen was going to be a problem.

I filled out my food safety template on the Victorian government website and submitted it, together with a hand-drawn plan of my shop and a cheque for the application fee. Here's where I have to say that the Darebin Council did a sterling job - I got a call within two weeks of submitting the application and had a food safety inspector at the shop a week later.

I showed him the kitchen.

He assured me that he'd seen much worse and regaled me with anecdotes about shops where he'd found dead rodents in pies, cockroaches in bread and other things too horrible to contemplate. Needless to say, I wasn't that reassured to find out that I was only one tiny step away from slumhood!!

The food safety inspector carefully explained each of the problems with the current kitchen. The floor needed to have a tiled or linoleum surface with coving up the walls so that it could be cleaned properly. I needed a double-bowl sink to wash and sanitise dishes. I needed tiles or stainless steel on the wall behind the sink so that I could clean it properly.

I nearly forgot to add - at no point was I actually planning to prepare food from scratch. As a cook, I make an awesome knitter. The plan was always to buy in cakes, bikkies and snacks from a commercial bakery, with plunger tea and coffee. The revamp of the floor, the new sink and the tiles had to happen so that I could wash dishes in my kitchen without creating a public health hazard.

A final word of praise for the council: I explained that the kitchen looked as it did because (judging from available evidence) my landlord is a tight bastard who won't pay out for renovations. I further explained that, having sunk most of my available cash into stock, I didn't have enough money to renovate the kitchen myself. So we worked out a compromise.

I now have permission to serve tea, coffee and individually wrapped biscuits. The tea and coffee must be instant and made out the front using an electric kettle (because I'd have to wash a plunger). I need to sanitise the kettle regularly, but can do that safely in the shop. The tea and coffee must be served in disposable cups with disposable spoons (because I can't wash cups in the current kitchen). I can serve prewrapped food and if someone gets food poisoning from it, that's the manufacturer's problem.

Believe it or not, I consider this to be a happy ending. The food safety inspector was very reasonable and made every effort to work out a solution that was safe and met legal requirements, but that didn't wipe my business out by requiring expensive renovations. I spent yesterday ringing around to find eco-disposable crockery, decent instant coffee and tasty biscuits. Hopefully before next week's post, we will be living up to our name, serving tea, coffee and tasty snacks to happy knitters, crocheters and crafty folks!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mystery shopping

About two years ago, when I was tech writing full-time (as opposed to tech writing full-time and running a wool shop!), I pitched to a mystery shopping company. The pitch went something like: sometimes your mystery shopping team find businesses that don't provide such great service. At present, you tell the company what they are doing badly, but you don't tell them how to fix it. How would you like to give them the option to hire me to write a fantastic sales manual to ensure that the problems you've identified never come up again?

I thought it was a pretty good pitch, but it never really took off. Possibly it wasn't a bright idea to target clients who were already sinking most of their disposable income into retaining a mystery shopping service. Anyway, for whatever reason, not much came of it, and I never thought of mystery shopping again - until I discovered yesterday that mystery shopping is completely unnecessary!!

Let me explain what happened. The other day, I received a customer complaint. I was really happy, and I put 250 loyalty points on the customer's card straight away.

Now hang on a moment (I hear you say)!! You received a complaint and you were happy? And you rewarded the customer?

To which the answer is, you bet I did!! Big companies who have no relationship with their customers have to spend a fortune hiring mystery shoppers to find out whether or not their staff are up to scratch. I hope that CCCK customers always trust us enough to tell us when things don't work out quite how they expect. I know it sounds cheesy, but I genuinely believe that we need to know when things aren't working so that we can fix them.

After all, I've never solved a problem that I didn't know existed. And besides, I can't afford to retain a mystery shopping service...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

High Vibes/Planet of the 8th...

Yesterday, for the very first time in my life, I worked in a shop during a street festival. The Northcote High St Festival happens every September, the weekend before the Grand Final. Not being a big fan of large, alcohol-driven crowds, I've usually stayed away. But this year, the festival took on a whole new dimension - each slightly woozy punter was a potential convert to the Dark Side, an aspiring knitter or crocheter who could be wooed into an extravagant luxury yarn purchase, rather than someone who might accidentally vomit on me if I got too close.

To celebrate the festival, we ran free knitting and crochet classes all day. As a promotion, it worked reasonably well - we had a steady flow of people through the shop pretty much all day. It might have worked better if our offer had appeared on the festival program, the festival website or our own website (still under construction!), but the response was still pretty good. One thing that helped immensely was having one of the free classes outside - I think we have Ewelina to thank for that idea! We hauled a couch and two chairs out the front of the shop, sat our instructors down and got them knitting. One of our raving fans also showed up and joined them - like magic, people started coming into the shop to find out more. Note for next year: get a marquee and set up a proper outdoor lesson area. It should go off like a frog in a sock.

The festival was also a great opportunity to showcase new stuff - like Inge's amazing scarves (she does classes - see our website! - and she's on Etsy) and Chiara's gorgeous handspun yarns (she also does classes and has an Etsy site - check 'em out!). I'm not sure what new stuff we'll have next year, but I'm surely going to make sure that we have plenty of it prominently displayed on festival day!

The main point of the festival is music. Note for next year: find a band or buskers and set them up inside or under the marquee. The gallery across the road had, throughout the day, drummers - a band - at least one DJ - and massive, massive crowds. About 10pm, I looked out the front window, the place was still packed. Fantastic PR, although they may be feeling a little weary this morning!

The other main points of the festival are food and alcohol. Late in the afternoon, a person wandered in and asked us if we had a courtyard. I replied cautiously that we did sort of, but it was more like a car space. All became clear when the person then asked "Is this the Peacock Hotel?" I explained that it wasn't and carefully guided them to the street. You can see the Peacock Hotel from my front door, but I'd say the odds are only 50/50 that the person made it. Note for next year: develop a procedure for managing people who are not operating at their usual level of competence.

My final festival note to myself for next year is - get some of my friends over and make sure I arrange some time out! It sounded like there was some great stuff going on, and I was a bit sorry that I didn't make some time to explore and see what else was going on. That said, by the end of the day, I was pretty happy to curl up on the couch with my knitting and listen to the gentle sounds of techno pumping out of the gallery across the way - much easier and more comfortable than trying to actually squeeze into one of the venues!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Happy one-month birthday!

On Monday 8th September, CCCK was officially one month old. On Monday 8th September, we also had our new lightbox installed, some locks mended and all our skanky eBay furniture steamcleaned to stop our customers from having allergic reactions whenever they sat down. Amidst all the chaos of locks, electrical installations and steam, I sat and thought about what I've learned in the last month. I came out with two lists.

Things I have learned about business:

  • Everything you try to do that involves technology will take at least twice as long as you expect. No matter how many websites you have created, there will always be something special about this one that will prevent it going up on time.
  • The power of word-of-mouth advertising is truly phenomenal. Even though I still haven't finished the website or bought any advertising, I have still managed to build up a mailing list of almost 400 people. Thank you, thank you, thank you to 'Merlot' from Ravelry, who put up a note on our first day of trading telling people that we were open for business.
  • No matter how much stock I buy, there will always be someone who wants something that I don't have. Developing an ordering system has probably been the smartest thing I have done so far. Now if I could only work out some way to shorten the lead time for Rowan orders...
  • Create a compelling vision of where your business is headed, share it with your staff, then let them run with it. They will come up with ideas that you would never think of in a million years, and they will back them 110%. Let them grow and watch your business grow with them.

Things I have learned about my customers!

  • There are people out there whose creativity absolutely brings me to my knees in awe! Since I started this shop, I have seen more amazing pieces of textile art and craftwork that I could ever imagine. I look forward to seeing many more in future!
  • There are other people in this world who squeal with excitement when Rowan releases a new fibre and who can admire a finished project in a new yarn for hours.
  • There are other people in this world who, after admiring a finished project in a new yarn, go out and buy enough of it to knit a jumper, even though they already have five or six projects on the go.
By Tuesday, my locks were fixed, the furniture was dry, and I proudly turned on my new sign, before heading off to a well-earned one-month-birthday dinner with my friends. Being a wool shop owner has been a wonderful journey so far - hanging out to see what the next month brings!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Project creep

Once upon a time, when I first started working in IT&T, I discovered a wonderful phenomenon called 'scope creep'. To explain this using everyday terms, let's pretend that scope creep happens in a hardware shop.

A customer comes in to a hardware shop and asks the shop assistant for a packet of nails. The shop assistant talks to the customer about what they want, shows them a few different packets of nails and helps the customer to make a decision. The shop assistant takes the nails to the till - just as they are about to put the purchase through the till, the customer shouts "Wait!! I'd like to get bigger nails and I also want a hammer please".

No worries! The shop assistant gets the new bag of nails and the hammer... "Wait! I don't actually want any of that - do you have a three piece bathroom setting?".

Scope creep is probably the reason for the myki blowout and for every other IT&T-related disaster in the history of disasters. One of the highlights of my new role as Retail Manager (I thought) was the end of scope creep. Never again, I told myself, would I sign a contract to write a procedures manual and end up being asked to produce three manuals, training materials and a website for the same price. Never again would I start documenting a simple planning spreadsheet that would evolve (as I worked) into a full-featured monster complete with project plans, budgeting tools and a coffee futures calculator.

That was when I discovered project creep. As a humble hobby knitter, I already knew about projects. After all, I had enough yarn for at least 12 projects in my stash at any one time. I carried a list of yarns on my Palm Pilot, just in case I came across a yarn sale and could pick up the materials for yet another project at a discount. If I'd dared to add up the value of the yarn stashed in my wardrobe, it would probably have been worth more than all my clothing combined.

As a wool shop owner, though, project creep took on a whole new dimension. Now I had access to a wool stash (also known as my stock!) that was not only worth more than my limited wardrobe, it was probably worth more than my car. I also had customers who wanted to know what this yarn and that wool knitted up like - how did it look crocheted - how would this pattern work, there's no photo of the back! On top of that, customers were enquiring about classes - what will we end up with at the end of the class? Do you have a sample? What would it look like in green?

From having 12 projects, all in my colours and my size, I was suddenly confronted with the possibility of an infinite number of projects in every colour and size that my customers might ever conceivably ask about. I was also under a lot more pressure to actually complete some of my projects, so that I could wear my very own hand-knitted creations in the shop. After all, how much cred does a wool shop owner have when she's wearing a cheap acrylic top that she picked up on sale at Best and Less?

I think I rose to the challenge well. On my first day of trading, I brought four bags of wool into the shop. Each bag contained wool for half a dozen projects mixed up together but not enough of anything to do more than about 20cm of knitting. This was fine, because I'd left the patterns and needles in my flat so I couldn't knit anyway. On the second day of trading, I started one of the class projects, a spiderweb wool scarf, and also a vest for myself. On the seventh day of trading, my family came to visit. I finished the scarf, started to crochet a scarf as an example for the beginner crochet class and also promised to knit my father a hat for Father's Day. In my third week of trading, I made an arrangement with a local artist to sell her lovely hand-dyed, hand-spun wools. Of course, the obvious way to promote this new addition to our product range was to buy the two loveliest skeins to knit myself some sort of amazing garment that would bring yarn aficionados into the shop in droves. I thought about entering my projects in Ravelry so that I could keep track of them, but the enormity of the task overwhelmed me before I even began - besides, time spent on Ravelry would be time taken away from knitting up my projects!

For the last month, I've juggled the crochet project (finished this week, now proudly hanging from Dixie the mannequin's left arm), the vest (done the back and part of the left front) and the hat (two rows long so far - happy Father's Day, Dad!!). I've hidden Dad's partly completed birthday jumper (which became the Father's Day jumper, which will now be the Christmas jumper) in my wardrobe so that I don't have to worry about it. I've gone through my stash working out what to knit for summer, and shown The Skeins around at a local knitting group, seeking inspiration for amazing garments.

In fact the only thing that I haven't done is add up the value of my stash: if my stash is worth more than my stock, I really don't want to know!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Deliveries, classes and a workplace injury...

This morning started, as my mornings now tend to do, with a delivery. This delivery was five sets of shelves (for stock) and a butcher's block (for when I finally get council approval to serve tea, coffee and snacks). The next visitor for the day was the Birch Haberdashery delivery man with a truckload of big needles and crochet hooks.

Deliveries are a major part of setting up a shop, it seems. The opening inventory order arrives and totally fills your shop with cartons and packing. Once you unpack it, the empty cartons fill your lounge room and cause your visitors to worry about your sanity. The unpacked stock, though, barely fills a single bookcase. Every time a customer comes in, you find yourself explaining that more stock is in transit and that you will order in anything they want that is not available. Sometimes you also explain this to neighbours, friends and relatives who stop by to see how you're doing. When you start running really short on stock, you explain it to cats and lamp-posts...

You will also receive deliveries of shop fittings - which is where the workplace injury comes in! In the immortal words of the sages: "Grasshopper, the shop assistant has put 17m of packing tape around that shelf for a REASON. So take it easy with the scissors, yes?". There may also have been an immortal sage who staggered around a shop with blood dripping from their nose after a shelf had fallen on it, alternately invoking Divine Assistance and describing the act of love - but probably not.

Number one retail tip: if you have bruises and cuts on your face, it is much harder to develop a good rapport with your customers. At least it stops me blathering on about stock - I am more concerned with explaining that the Womens' Refuge is actually up the road and around the corner... no - this is nothing, just had a shelf fall on me, looks much worse than it is thanks... I think about suing myself for millions and retiring, but suspect that this has been done before.

By midday, the bruise is going down nicely and the cut is almost invisible under a thick coat of concealer. Now it's time to turn my attention to our class schedule once again! Classes are a big part of what we offer - most of the point of the shop is to develop a community and to spread the word about knitting.

The Birch delivery is related to our first effort in that regard - free knitting classes on 21/9 for the High Vibes Street Festival. I sincerely hope that at least some of the 70,000+ people who come through on the day want to learn to knit and crochet, as I've got two cartons of needles lined up, ready to go. I also have some lovely ribbon - but no wool as yet. That will no doubt be tomorrow's delivery...

Yesterday, I finished working through a course schedule with our first instructor, a local spinner, dyer and artist. She is happy to teach a beginner crochet class for two hours on Wednesday nights - exciting!! October's project is a hat and scarf - November's project is Xmas decorations.

Our second instructor showed up on the weekend to talk about doing some classes - she wasn't sure what she had to offer or what we wanted. As a sample, she produced a jumper with a replica of part of the Bayeaux tapestry on it. I immediately begged her on bended knee to run cable and intarsia/fair isle classes a.s.a.p.!! She is working on it and says she'll get back to me. I am crossing my fingers, as it would be lovely to have something for advanced knitters as well as beginners.

Better go - got a delivery guy at the door and an ice pack to replenish!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The grand opening...

When I first started as a fiction writer, I was advised to start my stories at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop. Later on, I grew up and became a technical writer - I started writing online help and websites, and the advice became "start somewhere that is likely to be relevant and give the reader lots of options to find other relevant things if they need to. They can stop whenever they damned well feel like it. Use lots of hyperlinks and good luck".

On 8/8/08, I opened CCCK, a wool shop in the Melbourne suburb of Northcote. If I start the story of the wool shop at the beginning, I'd start with my mother teaching me how to knit when I was about four. Like most kids, as soon as I started school, I caught every cold, flu, gastric bug and miscellaneous ailment going - plus all the primary school standbys of mumps, measles, chicken pox etc etc. I stayed home and was bored, sick and stroppy. Mum (bless her!) decided that she would teach me how to knit and do simple tapestry work. Looking back, it amazes me that she didn't decide to throttle me instead, because I must have been a major pain in the backside. But she didn't, and so (indirectly) CCCK was born...

I enjoyed knitting. I kept going, even when I stopped being sick. I graduated from printed canvas kits to counted cross stitch embroidery and moved from garter stitch scarves and beanies to more complex designs. On the train to uni, I knitted. People looked at me oddly, but that may have been because I was going through a Goth phase and there weren't that many people around with pink hair and long, black skirts. I got a job and commuted to work, still knitting. People still looked at me oddly. (Eventually, I found my dream job as a technical writer and people looked at me even more oddly, but that's another story).

Finally, almost thirty years after the first fumbling efforts to knit Barbie a stole, I discovered quality yarns. I found a Jo Sharp pattern book and some yarn in a gift shop in Olinda. Love at first sight! I bought the book and I bought the yarn. I ordered more and paid for it to be posted to my office. I started looking for good wool on the internet.

The next couple of years were the stash years. I bought up wool for projects at every sale, I made regular trips across town to visit the high-end wool shops. And finally, I had a thought - why hadn't I found this amazing stuff earlier? The answer was, because I lived in Melbourne's northern suburbs. Traditionally, this was a less affluent area and so no-one had thought to open a flash wool shop there.

From there, it was only a short step to realise that now Melbourne's inner northern suburbs are doing very nicely thank you - maybe well enough to support a high end wool shop, if one should chance to open... About six months after I worked this out, I signed a rental contract for 234 High St and sank most of my savings into stock. And, in the best tradition of online help, we end up back at the beginning - with me opening my doors for the first time on 8/8/08...