Being a yarn store owner is difficult at the best of times. I have a great deal of admiration for Melanie, who has done a superb job with Camas Creek Yarn. I love being in that store, whether as a customer, a clerk, or a teacher. And I get such a kick out of the knitters who walk in for the first time, stop short in the doorway, and just stand there, speechless. It really is an amazing store.
One of my assignments is to teach beginning knitting on the Saturdays when I am working. We offer free beginning knitting classes from 10:30 a.m. until noon. It used to be that a person would come in and ask to learn how to knit, and we would set them up with yarn (a skein of Cascade 220 for $6.50) and needles ($7-15, depending on the ones they chose). So for about $15, we could get a newbie knitter off and running and hopefully make a return customer out of him or her.
Lately, though, people have been coming in for free lessons and bringing with them a skein of Red Heart yarn and a pair of aluminum needles purchased at Wal-Mart. I'm really struggling with this. On the one hand, it's always been the store policy that we welcome all knitters to the store, period, no matter what they are knitting or what yarn they are using. We hope that our actions help to foster an environment where those knitters will look to us for supplies for their next project, and I think to a large extent, that has been a successful strategy.
On the other, I wonder when it became acceptable to take advantage of merchants by picking their brains and taking free information without supporting that merchant in return. (Maybe that shift happened a while ago and I just wasn't paying attention.) Once we teach some of these people to knit, we never see them again. They never buy anything else from us. Others think that we're available for free knitting help on any of their projects, even the ones being made with yarn purchased elsewhere. We try to steer those people toward a class (we offer lots!) or let them know that we're available to help at the private lesson rate.
A few weeks ago I stopped in at a local gun store to ask the advice of the owner about a rifle for me (if, perchance, I turn out to be good at this hunting thing). I told him right up front that I was there mostly for information and recommendations, but I didn't leave the store without buying some ammo for the husband's rifle. I figured it was the least I could do in return for him spending 15 minutes with me.
I've shared my concerns with Melanie. She's not ready to move to "free lessons with purchase of yarn and needles" yet—and that's fine, because it's her store—but she did suggest that the next time someone comes in with Red Heart yarn, we simply say to them, "We have a wonderful selection of yarn here, and we hope that you'll think of us the next time you purchase yarn for a project."
Mostly I enjoy my Saturdays at the store. Time flies, and I get to meet and talk to lots of great knitters. Yesterday the wife of the doctor who diagnosed me with leukemia 16 years ago came in and I spent a few minutes chatting with her—she's taking my Christmas stocking class in two weeks. But what I really want is for Melanie to succeed and for Camas Creek Yarn to be around for a long time.
Have you hugged your LYS owner today?—or better yet, bought some yarn from them?