Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The most bizarre day of my (knitting) life

I am calling this the most bizarre day of my knitting life. But it may, in fact, have been the most bizarre occasion of my life: it would be a stretch to recall a stranger event. (By the way, I did post this on my website many years ago, but I didn't have a real blog then so not many saw it. And it's just too crazy a story not to entertain you with it.)

Okay, so here's the story.

In early 2003 I was sitting in a very busy yarn shop, knitting a piece for my COLOR book, after teaching for the day and now waiting for my end-of-the-day drive home. I noticed, absently, a tall couple entering the store. The woman seemed to require 3 or 4 staff people to wait on her: the man asked questions that caused impatience with the staff. He was, eventually, directed to me.

This man wanted to know what all the excitement of a regular day in a yarn shop was all about. This was in our heyday and in a very large shop with many customers and staff. There was clearly a lot going on (and a lot of money being made), and he wanted to understand it. The following conversation ensued.

Him Who are all these people?
Me Customers and staff.
Him How many customers do they have in a day?
Me I've been told that it's between 100 and 120.
Him And what do they want?
Me Yarn. 

(Duh. Actually I tried to talk about the current knitting demograhic, but he interrupted me. I need to make it clear that he never seemed particularly interested in my answers—especially when I did not appear to be saying what he wanted to hear. And what won't translate through my writing is that it was rare that I was permitted to complete a sentence. I eventually learned to give only short answers—which is what I offer through my re-telling.)

Him How many yarn shops in the US? Hundreds?
Me No, I answered, perhaps a couple of thousand. I can tell you where to find out.

(I would have sent him to XRX's directory, but he was not interested.)

Him So what makes a good yarn shop?
Me Service and inventory.
Him (sniffing) Well, that's no different from any other retail operation.
Me (thinking but not saying) And why would you expect anything different?
Him What do you think of the idea of a chain of yarn shops?
Me Bad idea.
Him (apparently insulted) Why?
Well, chains tend to be low end . . .
Him (defensively) Not necessarily! I started X and X, USA, and used to own half the XXX's on the West Coast.

(There is nothing high end about either of the chains he mentioned: think cheap clothes and fast food.)

Me (continuing my sentence) . . . and local yarn shops can do things chains can't.
Him Like what?
Me Be sensitive to their geography and demographic.

(At this point I attempted to talk about the demographics of knitters—something I had tried earlier—but he had his own agenda.)

Him I want to talk to you about a chain of yarn shops.
Me I am not interested.
Him Of course you are! When are you back in the US?
Me March. But no, I'm not interested.
Him (writing 16 phone numbers onto a card and ignoring anything I said) I want you to come and see me to talk about this.
Me I'm not interested! I'm Canadian! First borns don't do retail!

(I was digging deep into my arsenal of reasons to refuse!)

Him I want to start a chain of yarn shops, and you're going to help me.
Me But why?
Him Because I am spending X $'s (an OBSCENE amount of money) to open a chain of XXX houses on the East Coast and I need a "soft market" alternative.
Me (thinking but not saying) Yarn is soft? Or are we talking money-laundering here?

(To my bewilderment, he continued.)

Him You are going to come and talk to me about a chain of yarn shops.
Me No, you don't understand . . . .

(I am fumbling and near-speechless. I don't know how to continue. I COULD have said "We can't do this! It'll ruin the industry! It'll put the independents out of business! There already isn't enough yarn in the world." And at the same time I'm thinking "Better not say these things. He'd see all that as an opportunity." I sit paralyzed.)

Me, continuing Please . . . not a good idea . . . you don't understand . . . .
Him No, YOU don't understand. (He leaned towards me.) I have fifty million dollars to give you.

Later that day I found myself driving a very large and lovely Mercedes up the coast of California . . . having just turned down $50 million . . . and I'm thinkin' "THIS is a day that doesn't come often."

But it doesn't take a genius to imagine what kind of mess would have been created had I said yes?

1 comment:

  1. You just give the good answer! I like your integrity.