Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Maybe Moving Sale...

Someone famous once said "The world is full of surprises". They're right. When a group of people turned up at the shop a couple of weeks ago to ask about taking over our lease, I was very surprised. In all fairness, they were probably equally surprised when I didn't chase them off the premises with a broom. Instead, we sat down and had a cuppa and a chat, and it now looks like I am up for another new experience - moving shop!

In a previous post, I talked about moving into the shop at Northcote and realising that I had, for the first time in my existence and entirely by accident, done something cool. It has since dawned on me that cool is a mixed blessing. Cool areas are not cheap. Cool areas are not low-maintenance. Cool areas are prone to sell out or suffer sudden rent increases.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the shop is breaking even, when I want it to make a dirty great profit. My cunning plan, therefore, is to move a couple of hundred metres up the road to Croxton. Croxton is the shopping wasteland between cool Northcote and up-and-coming Thornbury. Most of the shops in Croxton are permanently shut, presumably providing low-cost accommodation for the financially disadvantaged. The shops that aren't squats are sweatshops of some variety.

BUT the rents are about half of Northcote rents - and knitters are prepared to travel! Even better, there will be no rival attractions - our wool and our coffees will be the only game in town, or at least within about a kilometre radius. While I don't like my chances of keeping my current customers if I relocate to Brighton, I think my chances are pretty good if I stay in the area.

The downside? The downside is finding something that is free , while simultaneously trying to negotiate the handover of the lease, making sure that the new place isn't too grotty and also trying to sell off as much wool as possible to make sure we don't injure ourselves packing for the move....

This is where you can help (imagine a puppy-shelter-fundraising voiceover here). All we ask is for you to give some of our wool a new home. Buy it at a 20% discount and give it the loving home it deserves. Otherwise, it will get stuffed into a great big box and thrown onto a truck - you know that it deserves better!! Save our wool and your money today. (This post was sponsored by the Association for Bigger Stashes or ABS for short).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stash gym III - Australia's biggest (wool) loser

Once again, the stash has defeated me.

I have been planning to take some photos of my new garments for the past four weeks and put them up on Ravelry. Unfortunately (?), I've now got a backlog of stuff to photograph and I don't know where to start. I could get photos of the poncho, the melange shawl and the shrug, but the shrug is currently on the mannequin and the poncho and shawl are stuffed into the drawer so tightly I can barely get them out (something to do with the drawer being full of other knitted garments...). I could photograph the cardigan, but it's not finished - I am hoping to get some more Ribbon Twist from the US to finish off the trim or (failing that!), I need to scrounge two balls of grey or white Big Wool. I have the fronts of two jumpers, but have not been able to get the wool I need to do the backs and the sleeves (still on order). I have a shrug that is slightly too long and needs to be modified, not sure how. The vest is accessible - I am wearing it at present - but it is a timely reminder that a large woman should not wear garments that draw attention to her chest. It looks like I am trying to smuggle two footballs into the shop... or maybe that should be two footballers...

My solution has been to knit or crochet more garments (singlet top, another LONGER knitted vest, a crochet vest which will probably be another disaster and a jumper for the Significant Other). This won't get the UFOs over the line, but at least it will keep the stash on its steady downward path. The other day (drumroll, please!), I hopped up onto the end of my bed, reached up and touched... THE SHELF!! That's right, I have cleared enough of my stash that the shelf has become visible. Maybe instead of photographing the finished objects, I should take a photo of the shelf!! Finished objects are ten a penny around here at present, but a shrinking stash has rarity value!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Wool shop birthday!

Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us, happy birthday on August 8th... Happy birthday to us! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!

The other day, I was crocheting happily away on a shrug and thinking about how much has happened over the past twelve months. On 8/8/08, I first opened for business. We had half a dozen varieties of Patons and Cleckheaton yarns, most of the Jo Sharp range and a bit of Rowan. The sofas were in place, but we didn't have an urn or a food handling permit. Our stock fitted comfortably on one shelf, with a couple of boxes out the back for the overflow.

Since then, we've expanded our stock to include a couple of the NZ Naturally lines, Tahki Cotton, Twilleys, Filatura di Crosa and Mango Moon. We have organic, sustainable and ethical yarns, sock wool, and books (hardcover books, not pattern books). We've set ourselves up to serve tea and coffee - and successfully passed our first health inspection. We've run some very successful classes, and we've cancelled other classes that didn't get the numbers. We have lots of new shelves and baskets, but they don't hold all the stock on hand or even come close.

We've had at least 976 customers come through the door, because that's how many customers we have on our loyalty database. All in all, a very successful first year - I am very relieved that we didn't end up becoming a casualty of the recession!

We will be celebrating our first birthday on 8th August, with discounts for loyalty club members. (This includes any loyalty club members who might happen to join the club on the day!). Afraid I can't think of anything very intelligent to say, except thank you to everyone who has supported us through our first year! We'll see you all at our second birthday in 2010...

**Stash gym update: I have managed to finish off another three or four jumpers due to the Eye. Anyone who came into the shop over May/June may have noticed that one of my eyes was swollen to three times normal size and that I appeared to be slightly over-medicated on painkillers. I'm still going to the Eye and Ear hospital for regular check-ups, even though they don't seem to have the faintest idea what's wrong with me. However, at four or more hours per visit, this has been a chance to finish my Ribbon Twist vest, a Ribbon Twist cardie, a Jo Sharp DK Cotton singlet, a Mango Moon shrug and handbag and three pairs of mitts for birthday presents. Stash gym photos coming soon...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...

Obviously, Keats didn't knit or crochet. For us here at CCCK, autumn is the season when everybody decides to start their new knitting or crochet projects.

Not to say that we haven't had both mists and fruit around here, but mostly autumn has brought us people who want to knit, crochet or (in a few cases) do both. Our classes are booking out, we are ordering stock twice a month (instead of every two months) and we find ourselves apologising to customers who have had to wait for service.

Autumn has also brought a swag of articles in newspapers and lifestyle magazines about the growing interest in craft (particularly subversive craft, such as yarnbombing). Autumn has brought new tenants to the empty shops along High Street, with new and exciting plans. And as I trotted along the street, going for my morning walk (got to get those 10,000 steps in!), I was suddenly hit by a realisation - I have accidentally become cool.

In my younger days, I was so far from being cool, I wasn't even on the same planet. I knitted. I read. I didn't have a boyfriend in high school (or a girlfriend) and there wasn't the remotest possibility of me acquiring either. I wasn't old enough to get a car or a driver's licence until I was at uni. I liked my parents and got on well with them. I was sort of Gothic, but because I'm phobic about touching my eyes, I couldn't wear eyeliner. I wrote, but instead of heart-wrenching angst-driven paens of darkness bemoaning my desolate teenage state, I wrote sci-fi and comedy, and I was a failure as a suffering misunderstood author, because my stuff was being published. I sang, but it was all cheerful ditties by Gilbert and Sullivan about flowers blooming in spring. You would have to go a long way to find something less cool than a plump, healthy-looking Goth with no eyeliner who tells jokes and sings musical comedy songs...

But now, almost completely by accident, I have ended up with a cool shop in a hot street. Fitzroy rents have risen to a point where the cool people have had to move out - to Northcote. Knitting and craft are bigger than Ben Hur - men and women are knitting, crocheting, dying, spinning and weaving like there's no tomorrow. Hooray for the recession! And hooray for the new anti-consumerist trends! And of course, hooray for autumn, because if people weren't freezing and wanting warm woolly garments, I'd still be slogging my way through the stash gym. (More to come on that in our next instalment...)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stash-gym - the weigh-in

I figured that a picture is worth 1,000 words...


**This is a representation only. I have a wide angle lens, but it was not quite wide enough to manage The Stash.***


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Follow me!

... Or, on starting a small business, part II.

In one of my posts last year, I talked about starting up a small business. In that post, I mentioned marketing. As I've just finished the 2009 marketing plan, I thought this week would be a good time to talk about marketing in a bit more depth. I also thought it might be a good time to ask you for a favour!

First point - marketing a small business. In my little wool-selling world, marketing is about telling as many knitters, crocheters and other yarn-users about the shop as I possibly can. It is also about doing this within a fairly restricted budget!

At the start of every year, I sit down and write out a marketing calendar. The marketing calendar shows our promotional activities for each month and a rough budget. So I need to work out how much I'm prepared to spend and where I need to spend it to reach as many wool purchasers as possible. An example marketing calendar entry is below:

- Run 20 ads on RRR ($1000)
- Put ads on Ravelry ($20)
- Promote classes in local papers and on Knitterati (free).

As we move through the year, I review the marketing calendar and either do the activities I've planned or alter them to fit in with anything else that might be happening. For example, if a supplier is doing a promotion in March, I might need to add some activities to support that promotion or postpone something that would undermine it. When planning promotional activities, free is good! Cheap is nearly as good and paid is a last resort.

For that reason, CCCK runs a lot of online ads and makes heavy use of free community event listings. Online advertising is relatively cheap - a single, small print ad costs several hundred dollars, whereas a Google link costs a few cents per click.

Cheap ads aren't much help though if you are not reaching the right people. A recent trial run on Facebook was a good example of this - my ads were seen by lots of people and a good percentage clicked through to our webpage - but none of them (as far as I know!) actually came in to buy wool. Basically, I spent a heap of money annoying people. So I've reviewed my marketing calendar and taken out any future Facebook campaigns.

This process of testing ads and promotions, reviewing the results and ditching things that don't work is 90% of small business marketing. The remaining 10% involves seeking help - reading business magazines, marketing blogs and competitors' ads, and getting advice (again, at the best possible price!) from experts in various marketing strategies. I realise that most small businesses don't have much budget to spend on consultants - but if you can find some cash, it is worth considering. Too often, small business owners try to be completely self-sufficient - and they end up missing out because they aren't aware that something is possible. Google AdWords is a good example - I spent some money getting help from an SEO company recently. Without that help, I'd have probably spent too much for my AdWords and wouldn't have tracked the campaign effectively. I reckon I've more than saved the cost of the consultation in avoiding the grief and the costs of a dud campaign.

On the topic of seeking help - I mentioned that I needed a favour. You are currently reading our blog, which is one of our free advertising strategies! Google and Blogger both rank blogs and present them in search results - one of the things that they rank blogs on is the number of followers. The idea is that if a blog has lots of followers, it must be a good blog.

I hope that this qualifies as a good blog and I'd like to see it coming up in search results and on the Blogs of Note page in Blogger. To do this, I need to round up about 100 followers - which is the favour. Will you please follow my blog and help me to rank higher?

It's very easy to follow my blog - just click Follow This Blog (on the right side of the screen, under the subscription area). Provide your gmail address and you're done! *Unfortunately, it seems you have to have a gmail address to follow Blogger blogs - something to do with Google owning Blogger...

So there we go! Marketing 101 for Small Businesses. Now that's out of the way, I must get back to my stash-workout (I'm almost through the left front of Fi's vest - hoping to have pics up on Ravelry and on the blog before too much longer...)

Monday, January 26, 2009


Most knitters are familiar with the term stash-diet. This is what die-hard knitters do when they can no longer close their cupboard door (or maybe their front door!) because of the size of their stash. Stash-dieters either reduce the amount of wool that they purchase yearly or cold-turkey and refuse to buy any more wool until their stash reaches manageable proportions again.

Last year, I reluctantly joined the ranks of the stash dieters - the stash weighed nearly as much as I did (if not more!) and it was becoming a safety issue - there was a real risk that the floor of my flat would collapse under the weight, killing the elderly lady downstairs and diminishing property values in the block significantly. *This was before I moved into the shop - now the only person at risk from my stash is myself!

If you've read my posts, you'll know that the stash diet was not a success. In fact, while on the stash diet, my stash increased by nearly 10kg!

Luckily over Christmas, I had some time to think about stashes (and weight and health issues generally!), and it occurred to me that I'd never actually dieted in my life. However, one thing I can do quite successfully is exercise. At my best, I was putting in about 15 hours of high impact activity each week and looked pretty darned good. (I couldn't walk properly because my knees were a mess with tendonitis, but that was beside the point. Vanity over ability to walk any day!). And thus the term stash-gym was born.

A stash-gym is very simple. You line up your projects and work out a strategy for knitting or crocheting as many projects in the shortest time possible. The idea is that intensive activity leads to (stash) weight loss. And it works!! Since I started my stash-gym, I have lost 50g of hand-dyed bamboo (now three pretty crocheted chokers), 150g of Big Wool Tuft (two jumper fronts, decorative cuffs and collar for a Big Wool shrug), 40g of leftover Big Wool (shrug) and about 100g of leftover Jo Sharp tweeds and mohairs (now being converted into the Textured Garter Stitch Scarf from Eclectic for my Mother's birthday surprise - she is certainly going to be surprised, she thinks she is getting a book!). I have also shed 10 balls of black Inca (in the process of becoming a vest for my stepmum's sister) and at least 10 balls of Jo Sharp Aran Cotton (now a pretty striped singlet from Knit Issue 2 and a matching striped lacy headscarf from Saturday).

When the vest and scarf leave the building, I have another two Jo Sharp singlet tops and a Rowan Cotton Rope poncho warming up in the foyer, ready to spring into action. Completing those three projects should reduce the stash to a mere 12 garments worth plus miscellaneous leftovers. Plus there is an additional benefit to all this activity - after an intensive knitting session, I can't move my right arm or shoulder properly. This prevents me from using the internet or my credit card to purchase additional stash - a win-win situation!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The stash diet and the stocktake...

Let me start this post by saying that I reckon New Year is over-rated. Gyms and weight loss clinics rub their hands in glee as January approaches, because they know that for the next six to eight weeks, they will be busier than the proverbial one-legged man in a bum-kicking competition. After about eight weeks though, even the most diehard resolution makers have given up. Hopefully by this stage, the gyms and weight loss centres have made enough from the joining fees and the optimists who paid for an annual membership up front to cover their costs until next year!

Let me continue this post by saying there's an element of jealousy here. The chances of me sticking to a New Year's resolution for eight weeks are very slight: on a par with the chance of me being abducted by aliens or maybe even slightly lower. The fabled stash diet, subject of two posts and many heartfelt promises, has yet to manifest.

Part of the problem involves big plastic storage bins. In 2008, we stored our stock in cardboard boxes. Very economical, but it made it rather tricky to find things in a hurry - particularly when the store room was a mess from the last time we'd tried to find something in a hurry!! Also, the boxes tended to tear after they'd been yanked out of a stack a few times. In December, I decided enough was enough, and I bought some big plastic storage bins from a local discount store.

Armed with the plastic storage bins, we did a stocktake and re-organised the store. The store now looks lovely and our inventory is up to date for the first time since we opened our doors back in August. Where's the problem, you ask? Well, we had a bin left over, so I borrowed it as a temporary stash storage method. After all, by leaving my stash piled up on a shelf, I was risking a valuable asset! I could lose the lot to moths at any time! Although I suspect my stash might have defeated even the most famine-striken of moths, I was not prepared to take the risk, so I appropriated the bin and carted it up to my flat.

By sitting on the filled plastic bin, I managed to close the lid. There were still a couple of bits of stash lying around, but the majority of my valuable asset was safely stowed away. Unfortunately, a full plastic bin looks a lot less scary than shelves crammed with wool, brimming shopping bags and baskets, paper bags hanging from bedroom doors and balanced precariously on top of wardrobes... a plastic bin induces the delusion that the stash is under control. This was dangerous when I'd just received a discount voucher from another LYS in my former home town on the nice side of the Yarra. Add to that, the LYS stocked some yarns that I hadn't been able to obtain from my supplier - ROWAN yarns!! They also had some discontinued Rowan stock. I need say no more. Next weekend when I go to pick up my shopping, I'll stop by the discount store and buy a couple more plastic bins...