So you plan to open a needlepoint shop?
Well, there are a few things you might want to keep in mind first.
Not matter what line of business you’re in, whether it’s dry cleaning or running a breakfast place that sells biscuits and sausage gravy the way grandma used to make ’em, opening a retail shop is typically not a casual undertaking.
Launching a needlepoint shop is particularly tricky.
Unless you are doing this as a hobby, and have an economic cushion, such as, say, a moneybags uncle or aunt who’s willing to provide financing, or a gainfully employed, well-compensated Significant Other, or a juicy pension from all those decades you put in the salt mines, you can risk suddenly falling off a cliff financially.
But if you don’t have these fallback options, and you think there’s a reasonable chance you might have to bet the house or dip heavily into your IRAs or recent divorce settlement to keep the store going, think carefully about what level of personal financial risk you are willing to assume.
The special case of brick-and-mortar needlepoint retailing in a market such as South Florida poses its unique set of challenges.
First off, the business is brutally seasonal.
May through September are the tumbleweed and crickets months.
October through April will usually determine if your store will sink or swim. You have to think carefully, how are you going to pay the rent and keep the lights on when the snowbirds aren’t around?
Secondly, the business is inherently risky.
Unlike, say, the book racket, where you can return unsold inventory, or the car dealership business, where there are established and financially well-understood sources of ready financing and practices for inventory turnover, a needle shop owner usually must make personal bets as to which needlepoint canvases and threads will sell locally.
Ever wonder why most needlepoint shops have an “All Sales are Final” policy? Well, a store owner usually has to pay for this merchandise up front (give or take, agreements vary depending on the vendor and its relationship with the store). Needlepoint canvases are not cheap. And you normally don’t get to return them to the designer or wholesale distribution vendor.
If the canvases don’t sell, the store will eventually fail.
Not all needlepoint shop owners have the deep pockets to assemble huge inventories. So, like any small business owner, this become a process of trying to make the right product bets, then stretching out the time you have to pay for goods bought, and shortening the time it takes you to collect on goods sold.
The process of choosing which canvases and threads to carry can be daunting, and requires skill, experience, and an keen eye for what your customers may find irresistible.
The success of your needlepoint venture — aside from some obvious personal factors: you can’t, for example, be a sullen, morose, non responsive loner who doesn’t particularly enjoy being with people and lacks any passion for needlepoint stitching — will most likely depend on some combination of retail intuition, customer knowledge and a personal relationship with the constellation of designers and finishers that are an integral part of the needlepoint ecosystem.
Another thing. If a needlepoint shop owner relies too heavily on special ordering, that can become a problem as there is usually a long lag time before the merchandise arrives.
As a result, customers may simply go elsewhere, in an attempt to immediately purchase a desired canvas.
Moreover, there are often many local or regional competitors.
Places like Florida and Texas and California are teeming with needlepoint shops.
You are not alone in this space, and the barrier to competitive entry is relatively low: what differentiates your store from another can often be a matter of style, personality and the relative size of how much of your bank account your are willing to risk.
In addition, there is the Internet. Amazon, Etsy, Ebay… all of these outfits sell needlepoint canvases, at various price points and degrees of quality; some genuine, some not.
Generally, you do not want to compete on the basis of a race to the bottom in terms of price, whether this be some Internet-only retailer or your B&M competition.
Yet the needlepoint shop owner’s dilemma is that the catalog on his or her website (assuming you have taken the plunge into e-commerce, which can be rather costly in terms of the recurring fees charges by outfits like Shopify) carries with it the risks of the double-edge sword of price transparency.
Customers who are shopping on the basis of price alone, and not the store experience or customer service, will quite naturally compare prices, and possibly shop elsewhere. Customers may be annoyed if they have to call the shop to obtain prices on many of the items in your needlepoint catalog.
Moreover, your customers may not shop for needlepoint goods at all on the Internet. In which case, your catalog is providing a free window into your inventory and pricing structure to anyone who engages in a little competitive analysis.
You have to ask yourself a lot of hard-to-answer questions when deciding whether to open a needlepoint store, and one of them is what is the risk that needlepoint stitching will suddenly go out of fashion? Since the 70s, needlepoint has risen and fallen in popularity, when compared with other yarn-based hobbies. What do you think is going to happen in the next few years, as you sashay down the path to break-even heaven?
Finally, there is the issue of expanding your customer base.
This is something that needlepoint trade organizations such as the ANG have grappled with for some time, and it is a question that you have to be comfortable with answering in terms of your particular store and its locational demographics.
Phew, we’ve covered a lot of ground in this post.
As you can see, opening a needlepoint store is far from a casual endeavor. It can be a pleasant hobby you do on the side, part-time, in between sipping piña coladas and deciding which needlepoint flip-flops to wear to the beach.
But for many shop owners, running a needlepoint is serious business.
If you do in fact love needlepoint, have a knack for it, and do your homework, it can be an extremely rewarding (second?) career.
At least that’s how I’m looking at it from Needlepoint Land.
© Erin McGrath and Needlepointland.com, 2012 – 2016