Embracing social media and garnering celebrity endorsements are two strategies Lion Brand Yarn uses to ensure prosperity in these challenging economic times.
“We combine an old-world, traditional product with cutting-edge marketing,” says Ilana Rabinowitz, vice president of marketing. “In fact, one of the reasons Lion Brand has been around so long is because we’ve been flexible and have changed with the times.”
Lion Brand, founded in 1878, is a beloved yarn supplier to 17.4 million Americans who crochet. Supplies for crocheting generated $1 billion in sales in 2010, according to the Craft and Hobby Association. Total U.S. craft supplies sales topped $29 billion. There are about 13 million knitters in the country.
Although the privately held Lion Brand does not release sales figures, the company posted double-digit sales growth in the past two years, according to a company executive. It turns out the recent recession was good for the company. People without jobs were looking for a low-cost, low-stress hobby. They had a lot more time to knit and crochet.
It may be more than 130 years old, but the company is far from old-fashioned when it connects with customers. The company’s Fun Fur line of fuzzy yarn has been a big hit with younger customers. Lion is a web pioneer, posting its first Web page in 1995 and launching a full site in 1996.
The site features weekly audio podcasts and more than 4,500 patterns are available for free download.
The company’s aggressive social media outreach has been a roaring success. Lion boasts 207,000 Facebook fans, about 14,000 Twitter followers and a million e-newsletter subscribers. The company also courts popular fashion and crafting bloggers, relying on industry influencers to promote the products.
Rabinowitz, the marketing chief, has a five-person team. One full-time analyst tracks response to offers, postings and content. One young woman spends most of her time posting to Facebook and tweeting.
In addition to promoting the company online, Lion leverages its long-standing relationship with Wheel of Fortune co-host Vanna White. About 15 years ago, David Blumenthal, company CEO, heard White say she loved to crochet. He sent her a box of yarn and to use a bad pun, she was hooked.
Today, White has her own licensed line of yarn called Vanna’s Choice, and has authored a line of instructional books.
“A portion of the proceeds from Vanna’s Choice goes to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital,” said Evan Blumenthal, vice president of international sales. “Since 2007, we’ve donated over $900,000 to St Jude’s. Vanna also appears at a fashion show at our annual trade show.”
In 2011, the company landed another big celebrity endorsement when Martha Stewart’s crafting division signed a marketing agreement with Lion Brand. The Martha Stewart Crafts line features eight yarns and a portable loom.
Blumenthal said Lion’s marketing team approached Stewart after she was photographed wearing a poncho made of Lion Brand Yarn by a fellow inmate. (Stewart served time in prison after being convicted of a securities-related crime a few years ago.)
To support the marketing relationship, Stewart hosted a show devoted to yarn and crafts made from yarn.
Lion Brand sells a variety of yarn and crafting products through major retailers like Walmart. Some specialty yarns are only available online. Avid fans love to shop in and take classes at the company’s two yarn studios in Manhattan and New Jersey.
The New York studio on 15th Street has won awards for its interior architecture. On a recent morning, it was buzzing. A young female staff member with bright pink hair was helping a woman select a pair of knitting needles. Another customer was at a computer downloading a free pattern.
While domestic sales remain strong, Lion has expanded into about 20 countries, including Canada, Mexico, Thailand, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica and the Middle East.
“For us, it’s not just about the product, it’s about the craft,” said Blumenthal.
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