If I ran a yarn store....

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I'm taking a break from knitting the second sock to post about something that's been bothering me lately. Knitters are such a friendly bunch, why is it that so many people have negative experiences in yarn shops? I don't mean that a shop is nasty, dirty, or unstocked... but the majority of complaints are about rudeness. It's something I've noticed more recently myself, and the trend is disturbing. We can't really complain about knitting "dying down" as a trend when we scare customers out of our shops or make them feel unwelcome. Especially now that so many knitters have blogs or forums, and post their experiences which affect whether or not people ever even make that first trip in. I thought of some things that could be improved, both from what I've observed and what others have said. Post your experiences in the comments too, and maybe some shop owners out there will read this and see room for improvement in their own stores! :) (my ulterior motive should be obvious - the happier customers, the more shops that stay open!)

1. Do not talk about customers or other employees in front of customers. Or really, negatively at all. It is normal to dislike someone. However, it is so rude and unprofessional to talk about it in front of a customer. If nothing else, they will walk away wondering if they will be talked about as well.This also includes bad mouthing other shops! It's one thing to say, "I'm sorry, but we are out of that needle and we tend to have the largest selection of needles in this area." It is TOTALLY another to say "They are so snotty, I don't know anyone who's had a good experience there!" Concern yourself with your own business. If the other store is snotty, well, their customers will come to you instead and you will not have to open your mouth at all.

2. Do not make the shop environment negative! I have seen this so much it's not even funny. When you are sick, stay home. If you need a hug, a smoke, a good cry or a glass of wine to stay civil, go get it and come back. Do not greet customers by saying "Hey, how are you? Oh, well, (insert long list of everything that has ever been wrong in your life)." They are not here to be your therapist, they are here to buy yarn or get help!

3. Treat every person who comes through the door as a potential customer. Whether they buy $100 worth of yarn a week, or sit and knit on their acrylic baby blanket from Michael's, they are here for a reason. Maybe it's the pleasant environment, the camraderie, to take a class, or just to look at yarn. If they wanted to stay home and knit and be ignored, they would. Greet them, give them advice or encouragement when they need it, and they'll repay you by being a good word-of-mouth advertiser if not a purchasing customer. Eventually they will need some stitch markers, or needles, or a knitting bag, so don't assume because they don't knit with your yarn, they don't want one of these other things!

4. Don't treat customers as if they will steal something if you turn your back. We customers can feel when we are being "watched" and it's insulting. Keeping an eye on your merchandise is part of the many jobs that owners must do, but how often do people steal? For most shops, the answer is "not often enough to alienate other customers with poor behavior." You may lose one $50 garment that you knitted yourself, but you lose many dollars in business when you are rude to customers or make comments like "we have that knitted up somewhere, assuming someone hasn't STOLEN it." (Yes, I have heard it.)

5. Do not charge people for help! Before you think I am insane, read the full paragraph. When someone buys yarn from you, they are paying more because they want a brick-and-mortar store to come back to when they are stuck. If you do not have the staff to help all the time (and most people don't) then the best answer is not "take a class," but "I'm sorry, but we're swamped today and I can't give you the attention you deserve. If you'd like to come back, you can call ahead on X day, we're usually slow enough on that day to help you for a few minutes." The key here is to be polite and honest, but not imply that the customer is a burden or annoying you. If I am made to feel this way, I "burden" some other shop with my money next time! If someone needs extended help, such as starting a big project or is a total beginner, then suggest a private lesson. Emphasize that this is for the customer's benefit, providing them with one-on-one help and attention. Do not make it sound like you are just out to raid their pocketbook for their precious yarn money. :)

All this being said, I have been in very many good yarn shops. I hope this list helps somebody make their customers even happier, growing their business, and making it a good pit stop for me and others while on vacation! :)


bradyphrenia said...

those are all great tips, bronwyn.

the first "real" yarn store i ever got brave enough to go to treated me like crap, and i've never been back since. they refused to stick prices on any of their yarns. so i took a ball up to the counter to ask the price, and the snooty ladies continued their conversation and completely ignored me. one of them had no right to be snooty, as she was draped in the ugliest novelty-yarn poncho i have ever seen. i'm sure they thought i looked like a "poor college student" but unfortunately for them, i'm not. i took my business to a very friendly yarn shop and haven't regretted it.

Bronwyn said...

This is what I mean... this place lost business because of the attitudes of the employees. What do some owners not understand about that? I think next time someone treats you or me this way, we should just lay our yarn on the counter and say "I'm sorry, I thought this was a yarn store, not a country club. Have a nice day!" And leave, emptyhanded. :)

just_me_2 said...

If I worked for a yarn store, I probably shouldn't post something like this.