Josie Flores, the founder and owner of KnitChats, teaching knitting at a show.
Photo courtesy of Josie Flores
“If you’ve ever had the good fortune of being at a local yarn shop and being part of the community at the knitting table, it really is something special,” says Josie Flores, “That’s where the magic happens.”
Flores is the owner of KnitChats, an online service that offers real-time personal support to knitters. As a former yarn shop owner, (she owned Cardigan’s Knit Shop in Santa Barbara for five years) Flores has spent many happy hours experiencing the magic of the knitting table. She also remembers the conflicted feelings she had at times as the proprietor of the shop, trying to sell yarn while also trying to teach.
“If you had a knitter who was in love with a yarn and made a fabulous project sitting at that table, oh my gosh you could be guaranteed to sell ten times that yarn and that pattern. But then, in would come another customer who was just desperate for knitting help. You can’t just push them aside because you want to sell yarn,” she says. “It’s a very high touch business.”
Now, with KnitChats she’s able to entirely focus on teaching. “This is our thing,” says Flores.
A knitter with a question about their project can reach out anytime, day or night, via the chat box on the KnitChats homepage and they’ll get a quick answer from a live, and highly trained, knitting teacher.
“What I’m trying to do here is create a virtual knitting table,” says Flores.
KnitChats is an outgrowth of ExpertChat, a tech startup that launched in beta back in 2017. The concept was to create an online portal where people could ask experts for help on diverse topics including plumbing, auto mechanics, crafts, and home repair. Knitting was the first topic to launch and Flores was recruited early on to be one of the experts. When the founder decided to go in a different direction, she decided to buy ExpertChat in order to keep the group of knitting instructors together. In January 2018, she rebranded and relaunched the business as KnitChats.
Now in its third year, KnitChats employs a team of five teachers whom Flores pays for their work. “We’re a small, but mighty team,” she says. Three of the five instructors have certifications through the Craft Yarn Council and some are working on their master’s certificates through the Knitting Guild Association. There’s at least one teacher in each time zone in the US.
Support at every step
“We want to help the knitter be successful in every part of their journey,” explains Flores. “There’s this proliferation of online classes and in-person classes, but what happens afterward? Where do you go to find that support? That’s why we’re here. For all that in-between, that whole mini-journey,” she explains.
Searching online for specific questions can often lead to frustration, especially when you’re new to a craft and don’t know exactly what to ask for. “You’re not really getting an answer to your question at that moment as it pertains to your pattern,” Flores says.
As time has gone by, Flores has been surprised, and pleased, to find that KnitChats has developed into more than just a customer support service: it’s become a community. Although some people just ask a one-off question, she’s finding that many more stick around for the entirety of their project, and then stay for the next one.
The KnitChats team asks its customers to move from email to Slack, an interface that Flores finds very conducive to providing both customer support and for creating a sense of community belonging. Slack allows the team to post photos, send direct messages, offer video and phone calls, and create a helpline channel. “It’s a fabulous communication tool,” Flores says.
“We’ve gotten every question under the sun,” she says.
Many times the team of teachers will consult one another in order to come up with the best answer, bringing the power of their collective knowledge to help their customers.
Josie Flores, knitting.
Photo courtesy of Josie Flores.
The pandemic has spurred a surge in interest in knitting, and KnitChats has seen a corollary surge in membership; there are now nearly 1,000 members in the Slack group. Besides a few event sponsorships over the years, the growth has been entirely organic. The company is slowly adding paid content and there are plans to eventually move to a subscription model, although Flores is committed to keeping the basic service free. The first 15 minutes of knitting help is complimentary. A 30-minute and 60-minute one-on-one session with an expert knitting teacher via Zoom or on Slack is available for a fee, and a menu of other paid services will be rolling out over the next few years.
Right now, KnitChats serves knitters and is expanding into crochet because, as Flores points out, “Lots of people are cross-crafting so we found that knitters are interested in learning to crochet, and crocheters are interested in learning to knit, and they all find a place in KnitChats.”
She also sees other future possibilities for the KnitChats model. “I think it could work really well for sewing and quilting. I mean, wouldn’t it be great to have a place where quilters could go to just ask that question, or get advice on something, without having to search the internet for it?”
Flores at a show. Besides a few sponsorships, all of KnitChat’s growth has been organic.
Photo courtesy of Josie Flores.
To the trade
The most exciting expansion of the business model right now is partnering with various yarn companies to offer pattern support to their customers. “This team of teachers I have, they’re amazing! We’re daily practitioners of knitting. This is my biggest asset,” says Flores. “So I thought, well, how can we take that and help the trade?” Every week KnitChats fields questions from customers about patterns from various yarn companies and Flores figured if she’s getting those questions, the yarn companies must be getting them, too. “So who is helping them with that support?” Flores realized that yarn companies may want to outsource that aspect of customer support, and KnitChats could be their provider. She’s already got two companies onboard and is reaching out to more.
“We’re very much a work in progress,” Flores says. “All we know is that people very much need this. We’re testing things out and trying to be very observant of what our membership is looking for and just getting to know them. That way we can provide something of value.”
Visit KnitChats at KnitChats.com