Stacy Charles has a close relationship with Kathy and Steve Elkins, the owners of the Massachusetts yarn store WEBS, so when it came time to look at a new business model for his yarn company, Tahki Stacy Charles, he knew exactly who to approach.
“The relationship I’ve had with Kathy and Steve for many years has allowed us to speak openly about each other’s businesses and the challenges that were in front of everyone,” Charles said in an interview a few days after the announcement that WEBS would be acquiring both Tahki Stacy Charles and String Yarns, a New York City shop that Charles purchased in 2015.
With their online presence through yarn.com, the Elkins have the technology and marketing resources to support Tahki Stacy Charles into the future, Charles said.
“I wanted to focus on less rather than more,” Charles explained of the company’s shift.
WEBS also has product development experience via the store’s Valley Yarn line, which is sourced from a variety of mills around the country.
“I think there’s a lot that we can add from a product development and also a marketing support standpoint,” said Kathy Elkins during a recent conversation about the acquisition.
WEBS retail shop. Image courtesy Stacey Trock.
Both Charles and the Elkins sent emails to wholesale and retail customers announcing the acquisition, which comes at a time of tight margins and a change in consumer expectations.
“There is an expectation that Amazon has established, that people are like ‘Well, why is it going to take three days to get to me?’” Elkins said. “There are pressures not necessarily in our industry, but outside our industry.”
While a retailer owning a wholesaler is a unique shift in the fiber industry, it’s not so new in the retail world, Charles and Elkins said.
Charles, who designs and manufactures both luxury and affordable yarns under the Stacy Charles Fine Yarns and Tahki Yarns labels — he merged with Tahki Yarns in 2001, and he and Tahki founder Diane Friedman co-own the company — compares the business model to designer fashion brands, such as Tory Burch and Michael Kors, which sell both wholesale to department stores and direct to the consumer.
“It’s a definite shift, but it’s nothing that should be so monumental in today’s day and age,” Charles said.
Many smaller companies in the yarn industry, particularly independent dyers, sell to both consumers and yarn shops.
“Bigger wholesalers are held to a different standard,” Elkins explained.
In fact, Charles had already upended the traditional model by purchasing String, developing a line of yarns called String@ that are sold wholesale to 15 shops around the country.
As part of the acquisition, which takes effect on April 1, Charles will stay on as brand and creative manager for Tahki Yarns, Stacy Charles Fine Yarns and String, and will also take on a retailer sales management role, running both the wholesale divisions of the labels and the String retail store.
Tahki Stacy Charles yarns will ship out of WEBS’ warehouse in Easthampton, Mass. The company has a team of three that work remotely who will remain on staff.
Elkins said that while the overall reaction from WEBS’ wholesale partners has been supportive and congratulatory, some of WEBS’ and Charles’s customers have expressed concern about the change, as they see WEBS as a competitor.
“I fully understand that point of view,” Elkins said. “But I would hate to see any retailer in what is a very difficult market abandon product that is working for them.”
Even with WEBS’ success in online retail, Charles doesn’t see WEBS and local yarn shops as competitors, as each has its own community.
Elkins echoes this sentiment, noting that String Yarns and WEBS are very different stores and will remain separate. While the Elkins will help String with its technology, first computerizing its inventory, which is currently done manually, the two shops will remain separate.
“String has a finisher on staff because that is what their customer expects,” Elkins said. “WEBS doesn’t employ a finisher and we encourage our customers to take our Fearless Finishing class. Neither option is right or wrong, just different based on the customer needs and expectations.”
Lisa Chamoff is a freelance journalist in the New York Metro area who specializes in home design, real estate, and healthcare. When she’s not writing, or knitting shawls and sweaters, Lisa runs Indie Untangled (www.indieuntangled.com), a marketplace and blog that promotes the work of yarn dyers, pattern designers, and crafters of knitting-related accessories.