In 2002, former software engineers (and husband-and-wife team) Laura and Doug Zander emptied their savings and opened a 500-square-foot yarn shop in Truckee, Nevada (population: 16,000). "I was just hoping to make $30,000 a year," says Laura. Instead, Jimmy Beans Wool has become a market leader in the last decade, with a projected $8 million in annual sales this year, a shipping center in Kansas and a huge new store space in downtown Reno. (For comparison: The average yarn store does $177,000 in sales per year.)
How did two San Francisco software engineers become successful business owners of a booming business selling yarn? Zander spoke to us about her "accidental journey into entrepreneurship" and the role that imagination played in helping her business bloom.
Laura Zander: I actually had pushed that out of my memory. But yes, you're absolutely right. We moved to Truckee, which is a resort town, and I thought I could build self-sustaining websites for businesses. I tried everything. I was literally knocking on doors. But the bottom line is, I totally misread the market. People move to Truckee as a lifestyle choice, not to make a billion dollars. So they don't want to pay $10,000 or $20,000 for a website. At the time, they could call anyone and get a simple site done for $300.
How did that work lead to the yarn shop?
One of my two customers was a yarn manufacturer, and I had just started knitting about six months before, so I was really obsessed with it. She convinced me that I should open a yarn store. We didn't do any market research but you didn't really have to: The closest yarn shop was 90 miles away. So my husband and I decided we were willing to lose $30,000 in savings—no more—and we opened it up. I literally used sofas people gave us and furniture from my house. My husband's skills were much more advanced than mine were, so he could still make a living to support us. We agreed we wouldn't put any more money in, and we never had to.
When did the business really take off?
In 2004, we opened a second location. [They later closed the original.] By 2006 or 2007, we had hit $1 million in sales. Then in 2007, I saw that a restaurant I'd been to had had a makeover done by Fortune Small Business and I thought, "We can do that!" I crafted my email pretty carefully: 'Yarn photographs really well, you've never done anything like this.' A couple days later they called. After that, both because of the exposure and because of all of the great things we learned, we were just on fire. We’ll do about $8 million in sales this year.
Keep reading to find out how Jimmy Beans used social media to drive sales.