Port Townsend entrepreneurs put faith in craft, community and commerce

Kerri Hartman & Numahka Swan, owners of Bazaar Girls Yarn & Fibre

Kerri Hartman & Numahka Swan, owners of Bazaar Girls Yarn & Fibre

Written by Hope Tinney

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash.—Bazaar Girls Yarn and Fibre Shop on the waterfront in Port Townsend is stuffed to overflowing with yarns both luxurious and country rough—from angora to alpaca, cashmere to cotton, mohair to merino—in a kaleidoscope of color combinations.

In addition to the yarn, there are patterns, buttons, needles, notions, fabric, felt, thread and more.

All of that is for sale, but the owners believe their most valuable asset is free to all customers: a place to be creative and in community with other creative people.

“This is more than just a store,” said Numahka Swan, who co-owns the store with business partner Kerri Hartman. “It’s a place to create.”

But creating takes inventory, and when Hartman and Swan took over the store from the previous owners in late 2011, they had about $15,000 in inventory to work with, which is paltry by yarn store standards.

On paper, their prospects weren’t good, which is why getting a bank loan for new inventory wasn’t an option. Instead they threw themselves into low-capital TLC, like increasing business hours from three days a week to seven, redesigning the store’s interior for maximum customer appeal and offering free drop-in workshops several times a week, often with cookies and tea provided.

Every bit of profit was turned back into new products, and by the end of 2012 they’d more than doubled their inventory and tripled their sales, but they knew they had to take a quantum leap forward to get the kind of momentum they wanted.

When they heard about the Local Investing Opportunities Network (LION) in East Jefferson County, they thought Bazaar Girls would be a good fit for local private lenders, but they needed help getting their application in order.

Hartman and Swan first met with Elaine Jones, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC), in 2011 when they first took over the business and had questions about taxes. In early 2013 they returned to Jones for help with their loan application.

Before Hartman and Swan could start the loan application Jones told them, they needed a business plan. Translating their vision into a business plan with goals and objectives gave them a map to move forward, which they did rather quickly.

Jones started working with them on the application in February and they submitted it in March, about the same time they learned they had about three months to find a new location for their store. They were approved for five loans totaling $60,000 in early June, about the same time they celebrated their grand opening at a new location on the Port Townsend waterfront with a deck overlooking the bay.

“Having to move was the best thing that ever happened to us,” Swan said.

Most of the $60,000 was spent on inventory, Swan said, which fueled a successful 2013 holiday season and has pushed them forward on many fronts, including enhancing their design team, expanding classes and drop-in events, and increasing their online presence.

Access to capital was key, Swan said, but Bazaar Girls have also benefitted from Jones’ expertise related to marketing, branding and business models. When they were weighing the pros and cons of becoming an LLC, Jones helped them talk through the decision.

“The magic comes easy to us,” Hartman said, but they needed to make sure their financial decisions were reality-based and Jones helped them do that.

“She helped us to define who we are in the business world,” Swan said. “She really has been an important part in making the practical part of this business successful.”