Laura Zander and her husband opened a yarn and coffee shop when the dot-com bubble burst. Over 20 years later, they’ve moved the business several times (sans coffee) and bought several brands and businesses. In a trip to Peru, Laura had an idea for using the left over ends of high quality wool to create a new yarn – Yarn Citizen.
When you started Jimmy Beans Wool, was it just for fun or did you always envision it becoming a business?
Such a great question! Entrepreneurship, it seems to me, comes about in one of two ways – you’ve wanted it since you were a kid or you stumble upon it in the most unexpected way. Needless to say, I’ve always been a bit of a stumbler. 🙂
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I’ll start at the beginning! My husband, Doug, and I are software engineers by trade. It’s what moved me to the Bay Area from my original hometown in North Carolina and Doug from his in Wisconsin. When the dotcom boom went bust over 20 years ago, we decided to move to the mountains, outside of Truckee to be exact, and I got to fulfill a dream I didn’t know I had – to open up a yarn shop!
We sold coffee and yarn, hence the Beans (and Wool) in the name, and figured the coffee part of the business would eventually run the yarn out, but after Doug built us our very own website and our online orders started to surge, it became clear that we needed more space and less emphasis on coffee!
In 2004, we settled down in Reno, Nevada, bringing the wool with us, but leaving the beans behind.
So, our journey was partly driven by a sense of adventure, where we thought to ourselves, “Why not give it a try?” However, we always held onto the hope that it could become our main source of livelihood – we just didn’t quite anticipate it blossoming into what it has become today.
How has the business evolved over the years?
We started as a tiny yarn shop in Truckee, California, and have since grown to encompass 20,000 square feet in Reno, NV. Things are significantly different today than they were two decades ago!
Since 2004, Jimmy Beans has undergone quite a bit of relocation – first from Truckee and then to various locations around Reno. However, in 2021, we achieved a significant milestone by purchasing our new building (thank you US Bank and the SBA) on 891 Trademark Drive. It boasts three warehouse spaces, offices upstairs, and even a light and airy retail storefront. It’s a big accomplishment for us and a space we love tremendously! We’re honored to be considered one of the country’s leading destination yarn shops and Reno’s largest (and longest-running) yarn retail space, by far.
Over the past five years, we’ve also expanded the Jimmy Beans product line. We now own and operate Madelinetosh, a hand-dyed yarn company located in Fort Worth, Texas. Additionally, we’ve introduced SmartStix, a line of needles, a handbag brand known as della Q, and Simply Shetland, the North American distributor of Jamieson’s of Shetland.
Most recently, we’ve added Yarn Citizen, our brand new sustainable yarn, to our family of brands.
Tell us more about your new line of yarn, Yarn Citizen. How did this come about?
It all started on a trip to Peru.
I was touring fair trade mills across the region and came to admire the female artisans as they sifted through mounds of recently sheared fiber. These women sort the piles by softness and can feel the difference in the fiber exclusively through touch.
As I watched the sheep ‘tops’ get sorted and the remnants pile up, I was intrigued. It got me thinking, every year mills end up with thousands of pounds of leftover, high-quality ends from the yarn they spin and dye for their various exporters around the world.
These otherwise luxurious leftovers could easily get bundled together and thrown away. In an effort to save them from landfills, and to close the gap between high-quality yarn and accessible pricing, I made a commitment. I asked that the wool and alpaca pieces be spun into a new yarn, giving them a second life and creating what we know today as Yarn Citizen.
We’ve created two bases for our first run of the line. Harmony is our 50% blend of Wool and Alpaca that retails for $14.50 and comes in three weights (fingering, DK, & Worsted). Unity is our 100% wool base that is $10 a skein and comes in two weights – Fingering and Worsted.
We have six Yarn Citizen free patterns on our site plus a whole collection of stunning knit and crochet kits available!
Can you share a bit of your process of bringing a new idea from glimmer to reality?
Many of my ideas often begin as one thing and evolve into something entirely different when they’re out in the world. Yarn Citizen was no different.
We had been contemplating the creation of a new brand for years, and we had even formulated a name that pays homage to our perspective of all makers around the world being united by their love of yarn. This is the origin of the name Yarn Citizen. While we weren’t quite sure what this brand would involve, but knew that we’d recognize it when we came across it.
After securing the yarn from the mill, the creative and not-so-creative processes began. This included working with spreadsheets (my personal favorite!) to figure out profits/losses, financials, and inventory. We also devised the color palettes, selected designers, and created a unified collection. The entire process has been incredibly enjoyable, and we are brimming with excitement to see it out in the world and in the hands of makers!
What is the one thing you wish someone had told you about running a yarn shop before you started?
The notion that you’ll never manage to knit with every yarn you stock (ha!) – I’m kidding…well, kind of!
But in all seriousness, there’s a common assumption that operating a yarn shop revolves solely around the yarn. In truth, it entails much more: crunching numbers, engaging with people, and weaving tales. The scope is more specialized and demands an abundance of storytelling. We do our best to show and describe the types of yarns we carry, who the people are behind the yarns, and why we love them so much.
What inspires you to do what you are doing?
It’s the people—always the people! First and foremost, my teammates. It might sound cliché, but we genuinely function like a close-knit family. Creating an environment where individuals can be themselves, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and thrive personally and professionally is of utmost importance to me. This is the driving force behind my daily efforts.
Equally, it’s the individuals in our industry—the makers! This craft has a history spanning thousands of years, and it’s a personal commitment of mine to contribute to its preservation. Crafting has had a profoundly positive impact on my mental well-being, and I know countless others share this sentiment. Thus, I strive to lend my support in any way I can. This very commitment led me to incorporate della Q and Madelinetosh into our family of brands. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of them fading away.
How have other people supported or inspired you?
Wow, that’s a BIG question – HUGE! The answer is, “In more ways than I can count.”
If I had to narrow it down to just one way, I’d say that the most valuable support comes from other business owners who have been willing to share their journeys with me – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Running a business can be awfully lonely, and knowing that someone else has had similar experiences is both comforting and inspiring.
What is your best advice for someone interested in opening a yarn shop?
My best advice for someone interested in opening a yarn shop is to be prepared and informed. Firstly, I highly recommend learning about finance – understanding how to read profits and losses, grasping concepts like inventory turnover, and knowing how to manage your cash are essential skills. These financial aspects and learning the skills will play a crucial role in the success of your yarn shop.
Furthermore, following your heart is essential. Your passion for yarn and the fiber arts will be the driving force behind your business. It’s what will keep you motivated during challenging times and inspire your customers to connect with your shop on a deeper level.
I’ve found the combination of financial acumen and genuine passion will set you on a strong path toward creating a thriving and fulfilling yarn shop experience.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
This is a tough one! What comes to mind is a piece of advice that came from Felicia who owns an LYS (Local Yarn Shop) named String Thing Studio in New York City. She wisely once told me, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” This simple yet powerful reminder encourages me to speak up when I’m in need or have something to express. It’s a valuable lesson that has not only empowered me personally but has also influenced how I navigate both business and life.
Where can people find Jimmy Beans Wool?
You can locate us online at www.jimmybeanswool.com. Our handle is @jimmybeanswool on Instagram, Facebook, Threads. Our exceptionally friendly customer service team is always available to address any of your questions or comments about patterns, orders, and more. You can reach us at [email protected] or by calling (877)JBW-KNIT (529-5648).
Interview posted August 2023