SME tracked down business owner Milli Abrams, pictured above and below, to her yarn shop – Tribe Yarns – in Richmond, Surrey to find out more about her company.
Milli, can you start telling us a little about Tribe. What’s it all about?
Sure! Tribe is a yarn shop selling a specially curated collection of ethically produced yarns from all over the world for knitters, crocheters and weavers. We also sell the tools and other stuff knitters might want. We have a bricks & mortar shop in gorgeous Richmond-upon-Thames, and an online shop that ships globally. Our tagline is “Life’s too short for crappy yarn…” which pretty much tells you what you need to know about the sorts of yarns we choose for the shop.
When did you launch the business? What had you done before and what inspired you to start a new venture?
I launched Tribe in August 2018. Prior to Tribe, I was an accountant for 20 years. I had lived and worked all over the world, most recently as Head of Finance on Necker Island, British Virgin Islands.
You’ve travelled quite a bit. Can you tell us about that and how it helped you set up on your own.
It definitely helped in terms of knowing exactly the sorts of yarns I wanted in the shop (which I thought I might open one day as a retirement project…). I’d visited so many yarn shops all over the world, I had a clear idea of what I liked and didn’t. And in terms of setting out on my own, I guess my problem-solving, self-reliance and multitasking muscles had been tried and tested plenty of times. Especially when we lived on our catamaran during our circumnavigation with my husband and young son. You definitely learn more about who you are under stress, and how to get the best out of yourself.
What were the challenges in the early days?
Working out how to arrange the retail space and how much we could fit into our shop was a challenge (we moved to a larger space 14 months after opening, but we’re fast outgrowing this space too). Cashflow was an issue too when most of our vendors wanted paying up front for everything. We try to source our yarns from other small producers, so it makes sense that they can’t offer terms.
And staffing was a challenge, and still is. We need staff who are great at retail but also very specialist. They need to be great knitters/crocheters who are passionate about high quality yarns, notions and patterns. I made the awful mistake of trusting that all knitters must be lovely humans and trusted one staff member more than I should have (and would have in another industry). Lesson learnt. We do now have a really fabulous team who I really hope stick around for ever, but retail isn’t easy (especially since Covid). Not many people can weather the long run.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love being my own boss and having an outlet for my creativity. I was concerned about not being a natural sales person, but I love the stuff I sell, so it’s easy. I love being able to set the tone, and making operational decisions that work for us. I love that most of our customers are just as passionate about yarn as I am. And I love being surrounded by so much colour!
What is your vision for Tribe? Where do you hope to be in five or ten years?
That’s a tricky one. As an accountant, I had plans, budgets and projections for everything. With this venture, I am trying to be looser. Seeing what opportunities unfold and where we want to go. At the very least, I hope to retain our current team, and our very loyal customers. At the most, I hope to somehow get more storage space, our own yarn line and lots more time for my own designs.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of launching their own business?
It really helps to have a good business grounding. I rely heavily on my accounting skills to make sure that the business is healthy. I use spreadsheets like there’s no tomorrow. But I also spent several months learning things like coding, SEO, photography, HR practices, consumer law, etc etc. You have to wear A LOT of hats, and you have to be ready for the business to consume very part of you. Especially in the beginning. I have never worked such long hours but, for the most part, it’s all stuff I want to be doing. I’d also say that it’s important not to compare yourself with your competition too much. I beat myself up constantly in the early days over stuff I saw on their social media feeds that I wasn’t doing. And then I just unfollowed them and went my own way. And I haven’t looked back.