Yarnia is Portland’s only DIY yarn store. It’s tucked away underneath some plaza stairs on SE Division and 41st in Portland. When you walk inside you’re surrounded by brilliant colors of coned yarn stacked to the ceiling. There is a cozy nook with comfy chairs just yearning to be sat in to knit something. And there is a modern, antique looking machine that fills the room with a humming sound as it makes custom yarn.
As a non-knitter I had no idea that DIY yarn even existed. As Lindsey Ross, the owner and founder of Yarnia, showed me around the shop, I learned a lot about yarn and how custom yarn allows the knitter to really have complete control and flexibility over their finished project. While a DIY yarn shop might be an obscure idea to non-knitters, Lindsey was inspired by her favorite yarn shop in Montreal. However, when she moved to the Pacific NW no DIY yarn shops existed. At 25 Lindsey moved to Portland and needed to find a job. But she decided it was the perfect time to start Yarnia; she thought “if I don’t do it now, I’ll find a job and it’s never going to happen.” So the first day she moved to Portland she filed her LLC, and in less than a year Yarnia opened its doors in February 2008.
SBDC: What was the hardest thing for you getting started?
Lindsey: Figuring out everything out from scratch. [Yarnia used to be a restaurant’s warehouse.] There were concrete floors and ugly walls so I had to figure out how to make it a store. Other than that I had to figure out everything from credit card processing, advertising, designing everything, and then figuring out an online shop. Not everything happened at once but I had to figure out how to start from zero.
Was there anyone who was really supportive in helping you start?
A bunch of friends helped out in different ways. One of my best friends still is my graphic designer. She does all my business cards, all my ads, and my banner when you walk in. Throughout my day I see bits and pieces of her everywhere. Another friend crafted a really nice sign. I have a menagerie of friends that given a lot of different ideas.
So what does a typical day look like for you as a business owner?
Well, I’m not at the shop very often. I’m actually only at the shop two days a week. So those are two different answers. When I’m at the shop, I see how the week has gone, get a feel for how the inventory is doing, reorder anything, taking a look at the store from a frontend perspective seeing if anything is out of place, and really making laundry lists for my employees to complete in the next few days. I work from home most of the other days so I try to divide up my tasks in terms of some things that I definitely need to be here like taking pictures. And then I have a whole other list of stuff that I can do at home like marketing, SEO, social media, blogging, communications, and online sales. So my days are very different depending if I’m at home or at the store.
What is something that is a challenge you didn’t expect?
The fact that customer service is not quite more forte and I didn’t quite realize that when I opened the store. I’m really fortunate I have two amazing employees and customer service is definitely their forte, which is great. It’s probably the reason why I only work in the shop two days a week. I like working the front end but I’m way happier running everything behind the scenes. Now it’s fine, but … it was a hard year of transition realizing that that’s not what I enjoy and so that was really good to realize.
Where do you see your business going?
I would love to continue making the transition of being in the shop less and hiring more. Mainly to test it out and see how it works. For example, if I want to have kids how does that work so I can be home more and check-in with the shop. The other thing is I am interested in licensing the business because people are always asking me questions like “where did you get your machine?” and other personal business questions. I knew this was going to happen in the very beginning. People want me to open new locations, but I’m not interested in that. I am interested in cataloging my systems and consulting.
What has your relationship with the SBDC been?
I have taken Retail Small Business Management and now I just finished up Small Business Management III. The classes were really valuable in getting a barometer to compare my business to other businesses in terms of if I’m doing things right. Definitely, the most helpful has been scheduling the outside [advising] sessions. I really took advantage of the resources available. I tried to book something every week. The SEO advising has been really helpful in upping my online sales and definitely Jackie Wheatley with QuickBooks. She really helped me get things squared away. I probably met with her four or five times. I would definitely tell people to get involved with the SBDC. Everyone is always very generous and helpful.
Thanks Lindsey for a great interview!