A Good Business Yarn

    WALKER — After being laid off in 2001 and working temporary jobs, Pam Figge-Libolt decided she wanted to do more for herself.

    She signed up for the Minding Your Own Business class offered by Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, completed the 15-week course, gave two weeks’ notice at her job and started her own store.

    Now the owner of Yarn Heaven, a yarn and craft store on

    Lake Michigan Drive

    in Walker, Figge-Libolt said she loves her new store, partly because it shows the attainment of a goal and partly because she is passionate about her product. The store’s location, across the street from a new Meijer store, was chosen because of the growth and high amount of traffic in the area. In addition to yarn and accessories, she sells her own hand-made creations and floral arrangements.

    With about 40 years experience in knitting, Figge-Libolt has had a passion for the craft since she was 10 years old, also delving into sewing, embroidery and crocheting. She eventually added flower arrangement to her list of skills.

    Though many stores carry knitting and crocheting materials, Figge-Libolt said selection is what makes her store different from others. “I’m carrying stuff some of the other stores don’t carry,” she said.

    Yarn Heaven carries full color lines, while bigger stores that do not specialize in yarn may only carry a few colors that may vary from week to week. Brands such as Red Heart, Caron, Bernat, Lion Brand and Patons, and crochet cottons such as Coats, Aunt Lydia, South Maid and DMC are available at Yarn Heaven.

    During her 90 hours in the GROW class, Figge-Libolt learned about the market for her business and had access to professionals in business fields such as finance, marketing and law.

    “It’s all very eye-opening, the things that you do learn,” she said.

    Figge-Libolt said she started the store during the summer months because that is yarn’s off-season, and she wanted to be sure she was prepared for the busier time in the fall after children go back to school and people have more time to devote to hobbies and projects.

    Figge-Libolt found ways to economize, such as the $6,000 she saved by making shelving units herself rather than buying them. Despite the cost-saving measures, Figge-Libolt still had to take a second mortgage on her house to finance the store.

    “You have to have your own money to invest,” she said of starting a business.

    Figge-Libolt said she plans to encourage customers to donate knitted and crocheted projects to various nonprofit organizations and also plans to have a Wednesday “project night” during bowling season. After all she learned through GROW, Figge-Libolt said supporting other nonprofits with her crafts and encouraging others is a way she can give back.

    Figge-Libolt is only one of hundreds of women who have taken advantage of the GROW program and helped themselves find better situations. Laurie Dix Schmit, GROW business trainer and counselor, said the classes attract a diverse group of women and also are open to men. People of all ages, incomes, race and experience come to the program to learn more about starting or growing their own business.

    “We really have a mix of students that will go smaller scale and larger scale,” she said.

    By smaller scale, Schmit means women who plan to run their business out of their home, while those who are working on a larger scale may be looking for a shop or storefront.

    While Figge-Libolt’s quick transition to ownership is more the exception than the rule, Schmit said many women have a plan in mind when they come to the class, while others are trying to determine if their hobby can be profitable as a business.

    “She has been set on this for quite some time,” Schmit said of Figge-Libolt. “Often it will take people quite a bit of time, especially to secure the financing, secure the location, work with vendors to get the merchandise.”

    Schmit said while some ideas don’t always pan out into businesses, that aspect of the class is also relevant.

    “If we can keep people from making really bad business decisions, I think that is just as important as people starting a business,” she said.

    Rita VanderVen, GROW executive director, said the program would not be a success without the volunteers who come from areas such as marketing, finance and law to help the students understand the different elements of owning a business.

    “We have the crème de la crème of business experts who donate their time,” she said.

    The effort seems to be paying off. VanderVen said according to a recent survey, there were 117 businesses run by GROW participants in the area, with $6.4 million in sales in 2005.

    “That represented 40 new businesses opened and 270 new jobs created,” she said. “It’s sizable.”

    While many of the companies are micro-enterprises, VanderVen said the size does not matter.

    “Just because you start small doesn’t mean you can’t have a huge impact on the community.”    

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