I always enjoy knowing the person behind a business, especially when it's a small company. I like being able to say, "Oh, I'll order that from Allison tomorrow." Much as I love Amazon, I don't get the same warm fuzzies shopping there as I do when I can picture the face of the small business owner.
Simply Socks started as a web only store, and has grown into a large retail location as well. They have a huge -- and I do mean huge -- selection of sock yarn, in yarns that range from more basic stash enhancements to the best of the indie dyer and luxury fiber world.
Allison, like me, also spent time remodeling an old building to house her store in. Isn't this gorgeous?
Anyone up for a road trip to Fort Wayne, IN?
For now, I'll have to settle for this view, which is awesome in and of itself.
If you click on the picture above and then choose Sock Yarn from the menu on the left, you'll see what I mean about selection.
Here are my five questions for Allison VanZandt, the creative brain behind Simply Socks.
1. Why and how did you get interested in knitting socks? What made you want to start a store centered around sock yarn?
I started knitting when I was 7 or 8, but it wasn't until I was out of college that I started knitting socks. Nearly 7 years ago, I started Simply Socks Yarn Company because I was obsessed with knitting socks and I couldn't find what I wanted at local store. When I found what I wanted online, I couldn't find everything I wanted in one store, so I ended up spending a lot on shipping charges to many stores. I thought, I can do this better myself, and started the online store ( www.simplysockyarn.com) in one small bedroom of our home.
We later moved out to a rural area with a great barn where I could have more room. BUt after a few years, I really missed our old city neighborhood and decided to open a larger space back in the city. It just so happened that the building my husband and I adored, a dilapidated 1940's post office, was vacant. At first, the project seemed too large, but we revisited the idea a few months later. From demo to move-in, the building's restoration took just 5 weeks, and that was with tearing out a second floor to show off the 14' ceilings, all new electrical, flooring, ceiling, and everything in between. It turned out to be the perfect space for us and our 3500 sq ft sock yarn store!
We are still mainly an online store, shipping 6 days a week all over the world, but we are now also open to the public one day a week (hours and times on the bottom of our homepage at www.simplysockyarn.com).
2. Running a small business in a tight knit industry isn't easy -- I like to say that one of the perks of owning a yarn business is that I get to choose which 16 hours of the day I want to work. What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
For me, the biggest challenge is managing growth. SSYC has grown so much over 7 years, and while the store could have grown more and branched out into other types of yarn/crafts, I'm sticking to my mission of providing a one-stop-shop to sock knitters and crocheters. I have 4 year old son and a baby on the way, so I work early hours according to my young family's schedule. I'm lucky to have a small crew of hardworking employees who make my life easier. It's a fast-paced work day, but when I leave for the day, I really feel like I've accomplished a lot.
3. I was a high school teacher before I transitioned into working at Three Irish Girls full time. What former careers have you had? Do you feel that they prepared you for what you're doing now?
Before I owned the store, I worked as an Environmental Educator for local municipalities. Lots of writing, public speaking, program management, and a little web and graphic design thrown in. I feel like every work experience I had was helpful in my career as a small business owner. But what I do day-to-day certainly isn't what I thought a yarn shop owner did. Every day is a frenzy of action, there's always something new (and and never-ending backlog of bookkeeping), and there's never time to knit a stitch. But I thrive on it and wouldn't have it any other way!
4. What are your favorite kinds of socks to knit? Do you even have time to do that anymore?
My favorite kind of socks to knit right now are what I call my plain-ol-vanilla-socks. Colorful yarn paired with simple stockinette. I have just a few hours a week to knit and I like to do it while watching TV at night. With a simple sock, I don't even have to look down at it. It also helps that I can't lose my place when a four-year-old gets out of bed or wants my attention! If I continue at this pace, my baby won't have one hand knit item! With my son, I only knit him one hat and it was my supportive customers who kept him in hand knits!
5. Tell us three interesting things about yourself that others might not know.
-- I adore science fiction (Doctor Who, Star Trek, etc.).
-- I live in an Amish area where my sluggish internet connection is bounced from a water tower in the town over to a small satellite on my home.
-- My son's middle name is Danger.
Allison had a few questions for me over on her blog today, too -- click here to see them, and then be sure to stop by her store and pick up some instant gratification.