On today’s episode of the Craft Industry Alliance podcast we’re talking about building a yarn shop, both online and brick-and-mortar, with my guest Kathy Elkins.
Along with her husband Steve, Kathy is the owner of WEBS – America’s Yarn Store located in Northampton, MA. WEBS was founded in 1974 by Steve’s mother and in 2002 Kathy & Steve assumed ownership. Kathy holds a B.A. in Communication from the University of New Hampshire and an M.B.A. from Suffolk University. She has extensive marketing experience in consumer products as well as prior committee and board experience on various community organizations. Her most important role is that of being a mom to her two sons, Jackson & Jonathan.
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Steve and Kathy outside of WEBS in Northampton, Massachusetts
We begin this conversation by talking about how WEBS was founded in 1974 by Barbara Elkins, Steve Elkins’ mother, and her business partner, Donna Muller. The original home for WEBS was the Elkins’ basement and the focus was on teaching weaving, allowing students to take their looms home between sessions to practice. Kathy traces the early history of WEBS through its next location in a downstairs retail setting in Amherst to a Victorian house as the business grew. She talks about first meeting Steve’s parents and being asked to pick orders!
The WEBS warehouse
Next, Kathy talks about the business’s expansion to a large warehouse space in Northhampton. We discuss how the Elkins sourced yarns for weaving, and later for knitting, in the early days by buying mill ends in North Carolina. Early on WEBS became a catalog mail-order business serving weavers, knitters, and crocheters far beyond the community of Western Massachusetts.
Yarn on the warehouse shelves
When Steve’s parents were ready to retire from WEBS (Steve’s father, Art, had already retired once, as a tenured professor), Kathy and Steve took over the business. This was right at the cusp of the internet boom and WEBS successfully transitioned to becoming an ecommerce yarn shop. Kathy talks about going to tech conferences with Steve early on. Kathy tells the story of how they secured the website yarn.com.
A class at WEBS
We also discuss the podcast WEBS has for many years, Ready, Set, Knit, which began as a local radio show. We also talk about the acquisition of Tahki Stacy Charles and String. Finally, we discuss how WEBS has fared during the pandemic and what life has been like for Kathy and Steve since March. WEBS reopened the brick-and-mortar shop in June and ecommerce sales have extremely strong throughout.