Bend’s Fancywork Yarn Shop recognized for efforts to adapt during COVID

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Bend’s Fancywork Yarn Shop is being featured for their creative response to the pandemic.

Owner Elise Jones talked with SAIF, Oregon’s non-profit insurance carrier, about how they’ve adapted, embracing everything from virtual video chat shopping to Zoom classes.

The full Q&A is below.

SAIF is sharing these stories to both celebrate how small businesses are managing the pandemic, and to help other organizations find tips and advice that may work for them.

“We know this has been an incredibly hard year for Oregon businesses, but we’ve been humbled by how small businesses are responding” said Judi Croft, safety services manager. “The small business community has always been about collaborating and sharing best practices, and we hope these stories help businesses see what has worked well.”

These stories will be available on saif.com/stories over the coming weeks.

More information on keeping your workplace safe during the pandemic can be found at saif.com/coronavirussafety.

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Small business spotlight: Fancywork Yarn Shop keeps community thread going during pandemic

Three years ago, Elise Jones left her marketing career to pursue a long-held dream—opening a local yarn store. Fancywork Yarn Shop in Bend is now a popular place with local knitters, crocheters, fiber crafters, and tourists who appreciate the wide variety of yarns and sense of community. We asked Elise how Fancywork adapted to COVID-19.

How did the pandemic affect your business?

In year three of being in business, Fancywork was really hitting our stride and growing strongly when the pandemic hit.

Initially, we closed the shop out of concern for our employees and customers and to get a handle on the new way we’d need to operate.

We began by offering phone orders, free local delivery, and curbside pickup. We had been working on setting up an e-commerce shop for a while and so we put that project into overdrive and launched it right away. As we felt comfortable with the safety measures we’d put in place, we reopened the shop and gradually increased the number of customers allowed in the store at any given time, from two to six.

As cases are increasing again, we’re back down to four. We require everyone to wear masks, socially distance themselves from others, and use hand sanitizer before they squish the yarn—an important part of selecting the right yarn for a project. We also installed plexiglass in front of our register and, sadly, removed our knitting lounge area.

To accommodate those who want one-on-one customer service but want or need to limit their exposure, we offer virtual shopping through FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Instagram Video Chat. We’re also hosting events like our Maker’s Night and Knitalongs over Zoom and have plans to launch a virtual class series. It’s so nice to see and talk to customers we hadn’t visited with for a while!

Our revenue is down quite a bit this year. To help our finances, we have applied for grants whenever we are eligible. It takes a bit of time to write the proposals, gather the necessary documents, and submit the applications, but the effort certainly is worth it to keep the business afloat. We received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) grant from the federal government to cover payroll shortfall and operating expenses. And we were delighted to receive another grant from the Red Backpack Fund by Spanx, which supports the recovery and revitalization of women-owned business affected by COVID-19.

How did it affect staff? 

Several of our staff—especially those who, in addition to sales, taught our in-person classes—chose to take a break. We’re looking forward to welcoming them back as we launch our virtual classes and, eventually, in-person classes again as well. In addition, some of us have the responsibility to care for small children who are distance learning for school. In the meantime, we are operating as best as we can with a reduced staff. That means we’re open 5 days a week as opposed to our usual 7 days.

How did it affect customers? 

We are very aggressive about the safety measures we’re taking, and our customers and employees have expressed that they appreciate that. By and large, folks are being flexible and patient, adapting to new ways to shop and waiting if we are at capacity when they arrive.

Fancywork is a very community-oriented local yarn shop. In pre-pandemic times, customers would gather in our lounge area to knit, chat, and learn from, and about, one another in an organic, conversational way. We have all missed being able to get together and we very much look forward to a safe return to our warm, cozy community!

What advice would you give business owners trying to adapt to the pandemic?

I think the way to get through this is to be flexible, listen to your employees and customers about what they want and need from you, and to stay nimble. Adapt our motto—Keep Calm and Knit On!

I also think that as business owners we can help lead by example. Our community members interact with us daily and see how we are taking the pandemic and community health seriously—or not. While cutting corners with safety measures may seem like the easy way to go, I believe that the more stringent we are, and safer we can keep our communities, the faster we will get through this. Conversely, the more relaxed we are, the longer we’ll all be struggling to get back to normal. I realize that’s easier for some businesses to accomplish than others. I certainly have a lot of empathy for restaurants right now.

What else would you like to add?

Looking to the future, I’m sure things will be different, and we’ll have to continue to adapt. But we will get through this. I’m not going to let go of my dream. I am wishing business owners everywhere the very best in this incredibly challenging time.

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