Addressing a Niche Market of Knitters

Posted on 17, November 2009 by


For many weeks, I have been biting my tongue whenever I remembered the crime scene. I had walked into the Natick Mall Sears to participate in what I expected would be a busy 3-ring circus. Why the expectation? Lands End was hosting two of the knitting world’s rockstars, Kate Jacobs and Vickie Howell, in an event to knit hats for the homeless. Since the e-mail I received about this event was very last minute, I was worried that I would be lost in the crowd of fans. Instead I was in a front row seat to witness Lands End’s failure to reach a highly sought audience for their targeted goal of 250000 knitted hats.

With today’s fluctuating economy, savvy businesses utilize social media tools to increase their customer base. Being active in the realm of weblogs, podcasts, and online networks have enabled these businesses to advertise their products and services. For specific niche markets, narrowing the target to reach a solid customer base is a must to reaping high ROI. Lands End’s charity drive stop in Massachusetts is an example of how not to use social media.

In chatting with Kate, Vickie, and the woman who represented Lands End’s charity drive, I discovered a few keys affecting the low turnout of knitters (about a dozen at most) who appeared:

– The lack of utilizing Ravelry – a worldwide social network for knitters, crocheters, and weavers.
It seems that a particular publishing company dislikes its knitting authors to be on Ravelry. This publishing company feels that the authors would be wasting time and should be writing books, even if there is a group dedicated to specific authors. Because of this break in communication between the author and the readers, the author has no way of announcing appearances or news. Lands End had also contacted the owners of Ravelry to promote their charity. Unfortunately, it would not be feasible nor fair to the hundreds of charities that other Ravelry members promote themselves (mine happens to be Sweet Binks Rabbit Rescue). If protocol were followed, the suggestion that Lands End sign up for a Ravelry account would have been made so as a member, Lands End could easily promote themselves by creating their own group or contacting the local groups where their charity drives would be visiting. From my last check, Lands End did not follow that suggestion.

– Publicizing to a group located nowhere near the scheduled events.
Where the events were located is over an hour’s drive from the group base. The Greater Boston Knitting Guild meets in Boston. The events were at Burlington, MA and Natick, MA. Both areas require a long bit of driving, and do not allow easy public transportation. Since only that Boston guild was contacted, only one other guild was shared that news, the MetroWest Guild of which I am a member. How I had learned of the events was through a last-minute e-mail sent a couple of nights before the scheduled dates. It was sent as an “FYI, in case you are interested” type of feel. There was no “Wow! Come help Kate and Vickie knit hats for charity”” excitement. The small amount of notice made it difficult for many to plan on attending. Another note is that Lands End stated they had sent newsletters to its customers asking of any of them knitted to come and participate in the events. I quizzed a number of Massachusetts residents afterwards and not one received such news. Many of them were unhappy at missing the opportunity.

– Ignoring the power of local popular figures and specialty shops to promote the events.
Every town and city has their own respected community rockstars. They are many in New England, particularly Massachusetts, for the knitting world. Designer Kristin Nicholas, Julia Farwell-Clay of Twist Collective, Pam Allen of Classic Elite, Kathy and Steve Elkins of WEBS, Guido Stein of “It’s a Purl, Man” – these folks are just the tip of the iceberg. With the location of the scheduled events, it would have been more lucrative to include nearby New Hampshire and Rhode Island. This fibery network of community rockstars do connect with one another, and could have helped Lands End promote the charity events. By not including the local yarn shops and stores, Lands End failed to spread the word effectively, particularly in the locations where the events were scheduled.

I sometimes find myself reflecting on that Saturday when I met the small quiet crowd who came to the event. I always end up shaking my head in disbelief on the lack of the numbers that could have been. Since that day, I noticed that Kate is now on Twitter (another network she was told not to participate), and I wonder if it is really her or her publisher. (Update 2009-11-19: I was informed that it definitely is not her publisher, but I still think that the Tweets sound like hollow marketing.) I am just glad that Vickie is the real deal online, and that contacting her results in genuine responses. =:8