Back in 2000, Laura Zander was riding the dot-com wave. She and her husband Doug (both pictured above) were working as software engineers in San Francisco and spending weekends at their second home in Truckee, Calif.
Pretty soon, the Internet bubble burst and the couple decided to move to their mountain abode. Just before leaving the City by the Bay, Zander found herself browsing through a yarn shop and decided to take up a new hobby.
She soon became “obsessed” with knitting and once in Truckee, met a woman who would change her professional life forever.
“I was designing business websites and learned of a nearby company called Lorna’s Laces,” Zander said. “I went to her house, became friends with her, and she ended up convincing me to open a knitting shop.”
Without any background in retail, Zander dove head first into opening her store, naming it Jimmy Beans Wool. It was 2002 and Zander was only 27 years old.
“Doug and I invested $30,000 into opening the store, which was just 500 square feet in downtown Truckee,” she said, adding that most of her inventory came from Lorna’s Laces. “We had a great location and every time someone would come into the shop, I would teach them how to knit. The next day, they would usually come back for yarn, which is how I originally created my customer base.”
Less than six months after opening, Zander put her business on the web and hoped for the best.
“In December 2002, we made $19 online,” she remembered. “But the following month, we made $221.”
Since the store’s launch, Zander opened another location in Reno, eventually closing the Truckee store. The couple is now based out of Reno and Jimmy Beans Wool has 20 employees for its brick-and-mortar store and booming online business.
“Our online business has really grown since we opened,” Zander said. “I’d say it is about 90 percent of our business now. We do about $4 million in sales.”
What are the secrets behind Jimmy Bean’s success?
Relying on cash
“Cash flow is huge for us,” Zander said. “We only deal with cash. That way, we have infinite flexibility to buy things when we need them.”
“In the beginning, I only purchased inventory that I liked,” she said. “I figured if we go out of business, I want to take this yarn home and use it myself.”
“We are not a high-end furniture store, so I don’t need high-end displays and furniture that will cost me $20,000,” Zander said. “Instead, we’ve always spent our money on more yarn or something that we could sell at the store.”
Valuing the team
“I don’t like the word ‘employee,’” she said. “We are a family, a team. I firmly believe that our employees are the most important assets we have. We give them flextime and don’t care when they come into work, as long as they get their work done. Employee wise and business wise—that mentality has helped a lot.”
Focusing on customer service
“The minute I have a customer interaction, I try to think about things from their perspective,” Zander said. “If I was buying something online, how would I want to be treated? If someone sends us an email in the morning, they get a response in the morning.
“Also, we listen to customer complaints and act on them. Communication is huge with us.”
Katie Morell is a freelance writer based in Chicago, specializing in small business concerns.