While the yarn at Lander’s Pingora Yarns isn’t actually organized into scientific classifications of kingdom, phylum, class and order, the retired science teacher who owns the shop says it isn’t far off.
Carrie Johnson, who opened her yarn shop in 2017 and makes a point to feature yarn made from Wyoming-grown wool, said visitors to her shop have noticed just how organized it is.
“Science people really like organization and classification,” she said with a laugh. She keeps her yarn separated by the region where the fiber is produced, and then it is further sorted into groupings based on the size of the yarn.
Keeping her yarns organized this way helps her promote Wyoming and regional yarns, which was one of her original goals when she started her shop. Working with the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to help prioritize her business goals, her shop has recently been recognized as a success story by the SBDC.
Johnson grew up in Laramie on the University of Wyoming stock farm where her father was an employee and then a superintendent. They raised sheep, and she was also in 4-H, where she showed animals and was on the wool judging team.
“I am acutely aware of how much wool is produced in Wyoming,” Johnson said. “I just don’t think a lot of Wyoming people realize how important that is as an industry.”
Owning a yarn shop that features Wyoming-grown wool helps her expand knowledge of the wool industry to her customers and keep Wyoming dollars in Wyoming, she said.
She has developed working relationships with several yarn companies that make their yarn with Wyoming wool. She sells Mountain Meadow Wool Mill yarn, which is produced at a wool mill in Buffalo, and lets customers know which wool-producing ranches provide the wool for particular yarns.
She also sells Brown Sheep Wool Company yarn. This yarn is milled in Mitchell, Nebraska, from wool sourced in Wyoming and Colorado. Another Wyoming wool company she is proud to have in her shop is Spincycle Yarns, which also uses Wyoming- and Colorado-raised wool.
Johnson said when she first opened her shop, she soon found herself buying yarn from every yarn company representative who came to her shop with pretty yarn. It was then that she looked back over her business goals and realized she had planned to keep her shop filled with at least 60% to 70% Wyoming fibers, so she refocused her approach and fine-tuned her yarn collection.
This was a business tactic she learned with the help of Sarah Hamlin, the SBDC Central West regional director. Hamlin works with business owners in Fremont and Teton counties.
Hamlin met with Johnson for more than nine months before the opening of Pingora Yarns after they met at a free SBDC Start Your Own Business class. The two women discussed business plans, demographic, and market research and technology solutions.
“I would jot down questions, and we would go over those,” Johnson said. “She gave me options – she didn’t tell me what to do.”
One thing she learned more about through the SBDC was how to use email marketing. She now has an email list with more than 300 subscribers who receive a weekly newsletter that she sends out. Her newsletter tells her customers about new products or new fiber techniques.
Johnson took every webinar or local class SBDC offered in her area if it pertained to her business. She said the SBDC also connected her with a UW marketing professor who assigned four or five students to her business to build a marketing plan for her.
“I met with them many times, and we did a lot of correspondence through email,” Johnson said. “It was cool because I had no idea what a marketing plan was. I put a lot of it into action and into play.”
Though Pingora Yarns is no longer brand new, Hamlin and the SBDC still support Johnson. She continues to be in contact with Hamlin with business questions, and Hamlin helps Johnson research her options.
“She often jokes with me that I am her silent business partner,” Hamlin said.
There are eight regional SBDC offices in Wyoming, and each of them is available for both new and established businesses that need any kind of assistance – whether that is general business advising, business planning, financial planning or marketing information.
“We’re here to help,” Hamlin said, noting the mission of the SBDC is to help businesses succeed. “Often people will come in with a specific question.”
They will work with anyone, and all of their services are free and confidential, she said, adding that their funding comes from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Wyoming Business Council, and they are housed by the University of Wyoming.
“Make that first call,” Hamlin urged. “If you walk through that first door, we can help connect you with the resources you need.”
For more information about the SBDC, go online to www.wyomingsbdc.org.