By Susan Smigielski Acker
When family and friends would see the amount of yarn stored in Roz Klein's extra bedroom, their response was always the same, "You should open a yarn store."
After 35 years as an educator, retiring as director at Norfolk Collegiate's Middle School in June, Klein opened Baa Baa Sheep in Norfolk's Ghent neighborhood in August.
"This was part of my bucket list," she said.
Klein started knitting 40 years ago, having learned from her mother while she was in college. She has knitted for family and friends. Her most recent recipients, four grandchildren, have been born during the past two and half years.
"I just finished a cap for one," she said.
Her store has more than 100 different types of yarn ranging from bamboo to alpaca to wool.
While selling yarn and knitting supplies is her main money-maker, Klein prides herself on promoting the social aspects of knitting.
A couple of times a week, the shop hosts knitting socials where people come to work on their own projects and help those who might be having trouble with a project.
The Tuesday evening group frequently has many who come after work, complete with snacks, to sit and knit.
"We knit and chit-chat," Klein said. "If someone needs help, I or someone in the group helps them."
The groups are not just made up of grandmothers.
"We have college students who come," Klein said.
On Friday mornings several area stay-at-home mothers come to knit together. Klein said they bring their young children who are watched by a group of teenagers who are home-schooled.
Classes are offered including a beginners' class to teach the basics. Once students have mastered the basics by making a swatch, they begin a project of their choice.
The class called "Knitting from the Top Down" is for a more experienced knitter and teaches how to knit a complete article of clothing.
In addition to yarn, Klein's store sells notions, needles, patterns and gift-giving accessories. While those who crochet may enjoy her store, Klein said she's unable to help them with projects because she doesn't know that skill.
Klein received help with the business side of her store from her brother-in-law, Carlisle Wroton, who was active in the Hampton Roads Chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit made up of retired executives who educate entrepreneurs and help small businesses get started.
"He gave me samples of business plans," she said.
The Lansing, Mich., native, who maintains her accent, has lived in Norfolk since 1976 soon after her husband, John, completed law school at the College of William and Mary.
In the owner’s words
Where you got the idea:
From a long time of knitting and also because of the absence of such a shop in Norfolk. There are similar places in Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, but not in Norfolk.
Hardest part about launching the business:
I didn’t encounter any hurdles along the way. I knew which vendors I wanted to use based on years of knitting and I got help with the business plan from my brother-in-law, Carlisle Wroton, who was active in the Hampton Roads chapter of SCORE. I have also had a lot of good word-of-mouth advertising.
I have been very pleased with the response. I recently sent an email out to 275 people about a Tuesday knitting group and I had 17 people show up. I was expecting no more than 14 or 15. I guess a hurdle was having enough chairs.
One lesson you learned that you wished you’d known before you started:
I wish I had more examples of finished work. Most of what I knitted I gave to people as gifts. When I went to open the shop, I had just two sweaters to display. I am working on having more finished items.
How is the business financed?
My personal savings.
Biggest risk you took:
I invested my life savings.
Biggest obstacle you overcame:
I am still overcoming it and that is not enough hours in a day. I am trying to strike a balance between family, home and the shop. I have a two-year grandchild, twin grandchildren born Nov. 5 and another born Jan. 18.
One unique thing is I don’t charge really for lessons. I work with people to keep them knitting and enjoying it as much as I do.
Growth, both in terms of employees and revenues:
I have increased my stock by 35 percent since I opened in August.
Is the business earning a profit?
Yes, but I am putting back into the store to increase the stock.
How long did it take to get there?
It took a couple of months.
Discuss future plans for the company:
I hope to grow in the different types of yarn I offer.
Number of employees:
I am the only person who works at the store
How are you marketing the business?
I joined the Ghent Business Association and I advertise in its local paper. I have also advertised in the Compass. I have had great success with word-of-mouth advertising.
Who is doing the marketing?
How is the current economic situation affecting your business?
Since I just started, I have no history to measure it.