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.

'Destination shop'
"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.

Passionate staff
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.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times