Monday, 6 April 2015

Open letter to wool suppliers from a small wool shop owner

Dear suppliers,

I'm not sure how much the small wool shop owner features in your business plans, as opposed to say the Black Sheeps or the Deramoreses of the wool retailing world but, nevertheless, I'm offering one small wool shop owner's random thoughts on a few things that sometimes make shop life less than wonderful and why the current situation between us can cause difficulties:

1. First off, don't be cagey about allowing me a credit account. I understand about the first order with a new supplier having to be paid in advance, but paying for three orders in advance and then being offered just two weeks credit...not good enough. And, not just in the wool trade but in retail generally, I suspect it's the big chains who go bust owing thousands to their creditors while the little ones quietly disappear from view having diligently paid all their bills. I'm generalising, but I suspect the legions of small wool shop owners, mostly women, will be pretty risk averse and therefore more careful with their money. (There's a certain amount of pride to be had from the knowledge that if it all gets messy at least you'll not be in debt to anyone when you close.)

2. Mostly I love reps, but I don't want anyone in the shop who makes it obvious he thinks I'm stupid for not taking advantage of his new offers, so maybe you could rein in your pushier people?  I don't want old-school-I-know-best types; I want friendly, informative people and preferably people who can knit or crochet. Most are lovely, but there's one in particular I'd leap out of the window to avoid.

3. Please make sure your webshop's easy to navigate and doesn't lose my order - over and over again - just as I'm confirming it. Patons, I'm looking at you.

4. Pricing. I'm not daft; I know that the big shops get a better deal than I do. I suppose it's inevitable or makes good business sense or something. What I struggle with is that while you're happy to give the big boys a bigger discount and probably better terms, you treat me the same way you treat someone selling yarn on facebook from their back bedroom. It's frustrating that those of us facing rent and business rates charges and lots more business related expenses, pay the same wholesale prices that sellers without any overheads pay. I'm not in the habit of quoting the Daily Mail but I think we might be 'the squeezed middle', with higher charges than the big boys and higher overheads than the real littlies. Just remind me why I'm doing this again, someone.

5. Discontinuing yarns - that's all I'll say. Well, no, obviously it's not. You sell yarn to shops at wholesale price, then a few months or a couple of years later you discontinue them 'with no stock left'. Okay, discontinuations are a source of fedupness to me anyway because often the yarns that get discontinued are those which my customers like but, putting that aside, what's all this 'with no stock left' business? This is my guess: you've sold the remaining stock to cheapo sellers on ebay and facebook for tuppence a ton (or thereabouts) and they then sell for fourpence a ton (or thereabouts)  in competition with us. Are we being made fools of or what? How are we meant to sell our remaining stock when we bought it from you for a higher price than those people are selling theirs for? And, if we don't sell it, how will we manage to buy your new thing that's coming out in the upcoming season? A good way round this would be to allow us to return for full, wholesale price credit the unsold, discontinued stock, and then you could add that to the messy pile you're selling on to whichever facebooking ebayer you're letting have it for a song.

6. It would be great if just one supplier could supply their entire range in balls that don't fall apart. I don't mind hanks - they're fine - if a hank falls apart I can rewind it and make it look nice again. But how do you make a ball of, say, Debbie Bliss Rialto look like anything other than an unruly spaghetti tangle when it's been handled by two or three people and the end has escaped and...well anyway, they get in a big mess very easily. The DB Baby Cashmerino manages to stay nice; why can't the Rialto be produced similarly? Oh, and ball bands too - take note: they don't stay together without glue or sellotape. You're all as bad with this stuff, so don't be feeling smug just because I mentioned the Rialto.

7. Could someone please sell patterns in ones and twos, so we can test the waters with a new design? Could someone please design plainish, classic, easy stuff, so when a customer wants a stocking stitch, round neck jumper I don't have to search and search and search? Could all of you stop selling me patterns which you then offer free online or in magazines? And if you're selling a yarn that costs £15 for 50 yards, please could you offer some patterns which don't require 20 balls to make? Many knitters would love to try a luxury superchunky, but how many of us these days can afford £130 for a cardigan? (Not many, is the correct answer. Not hereabouts anyway.) Offer some cowls, scarves, hats, cushions...

8. When I send an order in and you can't supply, there's always a moment of: oh great, the bill will be lower than I expected, quickly followed by: so, is it on back order or not? Artesano have faced something of a backlash from retailers recently, but this was something they did well - invoices with items ordered, supplied and on back order all clearly listed. Personally, I'd like you to keep stuff on back order so that I'm not required to reach your minimum carriage-paid requirement again when I re-order. Others will feel differently but, whatever you do, please mark it on the invoice, so we know.

9. And talking of minimum carriage-paid order requirements - could you set them at a reasonable rate please? I'd have been happy to sell Sirdar's Sublime range when we first opened but, at that time, the minimum spend for both first and subsequent orders was well out of my range. Still is. Ho hum.

10. Could you possibly let me know if you're going to be selling the same wool yarns that you sell to me, in the local, big, general craft outlets? (This is especially the wool yarns, because it's not a shock to find acrylic yarns in, say, Dunelm Mill; I can cope with that.) It's not life-enhancing when I have a yarn on the shelves at 50p below rrp and a customer tells me they can buy it from The Range for another 50p cheaper. This leads on to what I regard as one of the biggest problems for little wool shops - even tho' we try really hard to offer lovely wools and great prices, there's always someone up the road getting a better deal, so selling cheaper and therefore making us look like we're profiteering. The idea of which is laughable. You have no idea how laughable it is. Another customer told me a local shop had closed because 'they'd got greedy'. Well, probably not, I thought. She was probably just trying to pay her rent.

Okay, well, it turned into a list of 'please could you do this differently?'s... And clearly the small shop owner has no clout so things are unlikely to change. We could of course band together, like the Licensed Victuallers in Corrie, but there'd always be that tension - working together, but in competition at the same time.

I think the small wool shop is still an important part of craft retailing. I'm guessing we encourage people to take up (or, often, return to) yarn related crafty pursuits through offering not only stock to choose from, but also workshops, a place to ask for friendly advice, inspiration. I'd like to think it was worth your while to work with us in just slightly different ways to help us continue to do so?