Future Proof: Zita Spring, owner of Springwools
Knitting superstore’s pattern for the future
The compulsion to use puns when describing one’s specialist business can be overwhelming – take the perfect ingredients for a food business, or applying the right type of pressure at a tyre shop.
Zita Spring, of the Dublin knitting, crocheting and related crafts shop Springwools, can’t help herself, it’s just that kind of business.
“At the moment we are getting a website redesign – we want it to feel like our shop feels,” she explains, describing the synergy between old world retail and modern-day online shopping.
“It should be lovely and warm and crafty, and [we have] to try and get the two to knit together. Pardon the pun.”
Not a problem. After all, a stitch in time saves nine, and Springwools is all about shaping its future. It has built its entire business around it – so much so that, while beginning life as a chain, it is now just a single “superstore” in Dublin’s Walkinstown, incorporating retail, wholesale and online shopping.
A lot has changed since Spring’s parents, Kevin and Patsy, first went into business in 1984.
“It was my mother’s hobby since she was young; she was always a very keen knitter and my dad had a good business head on him,” says Spring. “When my mum went shopping for wool, he saw these shops as being poorly run and he saw a gap in the market.”
In the space of a couple of years, there were several Springwools shops around the city and in Cork, an unusual approach for the type of business which, much like bookshops of old, were almost a hobby in themselves.
“About 15 years ago, it wasn’t viable anymore to have such a niche shop on main streets. So we had to retreat and rethink, and we just opened one main superstore. We became a sort of destination shop rather than a local shop and that really worked because it’s specialist.”
As with virtually every retailer today, the issue of ever increasing rents was a chief concern in the multi-branch model. “Even though we were still trading quite well, we were working to pay a landlord.”
Today, Springwools has little concern for the future appeal of its specialist subject and is comfortable in expanding its approach through a combination of social media and its in-house customer service.
The company has traded in hard times before. “Times of recession for specialist interest [businesses] like our own can actually be boom times,” says Spring. “People don’t consume like they used to but can become creative. They see investing in hobbies as a good thing rather than just splurging on ex- pensive goods in Brown Thomas.
“It’s more expensive to knit your own sweater than going to Dunnes or Penneys, but you don’t just get the end product – you get the experience, so it’s an investment of time as well.”
Knitting, in particular, is a craft that remains closely attached to fashion. “There needs to be a bit of a zeitgeist; people need to be interested in knitting and have the hobby – which is great at the moment – but trends are what affect our business,” says Spring.
“A product comes out that gets people interested in knitting. Probably two years ago now, there was a boom for really unusual fashion ideas that people could only make themselves. That created a good knock-on interest.”
Nowadays, she says, “we are putting a huge effort into social media and are trying to recreate the atmosphere that is in the shop. I think the tone is really important in all of your communications because it’s the vibe of your business”.
At a recent press conference in New York, Facebook name-checked Springwools as an example of a business that has successfully utilised its advertising platform. The internet has also helped promote it and to create an international customer base, particularly as a wholesaler.
It may all be online marketing and sales for some people, but for others it’s still about plundering your way through barrels of wool on a rainy afternoon. Keeping both experiences alive is at the centre of Springwools’ success.
“We have got really good people working here and it’s a huge strength, a huge asset for any retailer. It’s very important to have passionate staff that can make a connection with people,” says Spring.
“We are not concerned about [the future of knitting], it’s been around for thousands and thousands of years and I feel that [even] in the technology age that we are in, it’s not going to replace the joy and fun people have in making something with their own hands.”