This is the transcript from my interview with JJ so if you prefer reading to listening, or you want to check a resource that is mentioned you’ll find the entire interview here – enjoy!
[Liz]: Today I’m talking to Jenny Vasquez from www.begintoknit.com, or J.J. as she actually likes to be known because that name includes the other half of her team – her husband who is also a knitter. Now J.J. has a wonderful and inspiring story which I wanted to share with you.
Because of the economic conditions at the moment in the U.S. she made the decision to take control of her own future and she’s taken the most important steps towards achieving this by starting her own business. She’s using a combination of strategies in her business; including teaching and the volume strategies. So now she’s using the power of the internet to get herself and her fabulous products and services going.
So J.J. would you like to tell us a bit about your background and perhaps introduce your husband and how you discovered his secret talents?
[J.J]: Absolutely – well my husband whose name is Juan; he’s a wonderful, wonderful man and an incredibly talented man, who was actually quite shy about his ability with knitting. We had been married about a month and we had very much a very quick relationship, so we hadn’t probably known each other more than about seven months all told, after we had been married about a month and I actually pulled out a magazine that had some crochet patterns in it and I said— Oh look I wonder if I can make this and he said well can’t you just make it by looking at the picture? And I said no… I absolutely have to go by the pattern, I’m a good knitter, but I’m not an exceptional knitter. I have to have a pattern to follow. He says well I can do that by just looking at it, and I didn’t take him seriously I thought he was joking with me. And the next thing I knew we started hitting the local discount stores and bulk retailers and getting all kinds of knitting needles and crochet hooks and yarns of all different colors and variations and shortly thereafter I found out we were expecting our first child, we’d only been married a couple of months and here’s my husband with this incredible skill so we started making all sorts of stuff for the baby before she was even born.
[Liz]: Fantastic and were you actually selling some of your products at that point?
[J.J]: At that point immediately? No – mostly because he was just shy about anyone knowing that he did this. And for myself, it wasn’t really something that occurred to me because even though I knew how to crochet, it didn’t seem like something that I would be able to make lucrative because I did it for my own hobby. My husband on the other hand, he was very proficient – I had no idea, but because he’s a man, he’s a Hispanic man and that’s not typical hobby for a Hispanic man, he was very shy about it. It took probably about two years before the cat got out of the bag. That he had this incredible skill and then we started occasionally selling some stuffed animals and the occasional baby layette and stuff like that and I kinda had to take the hit for a while – “Oh yeah I made that”- even though I felt horrible about fibbing about it but he justified it saying— you know the two are one, you’re my wife so it’s just as much you as me. But once the ball started to roll on that- yeah we had people that were very interested in the products that he was making, for purchases…
It started really slow, it wasn’t something that came regular or frequently, it was sporadic just people would see something that they were interested in. Most of the stuff initially that we made was just for our own personal use as family members and as gifts for other people. But this past year we really saw the value of his ability to knit not only is he a creative knitter but he’s a prolific knitter. He knits very quickly, very accurately with a great deal of skill. We could be sitting there watching a movie and he’s knitting away. He could finish a scarf by the time we’re done with the movie!
[Liz: Wow !] Yes he’s incredibly gifted. Now mind you that wouldn’t be something that’s a terribly complicated pattern but you’re basic just switching out colors or something like that- he could do that fairly quickly.
Now winter around here business is not very good, this area is highly industrialized and we’re hit very hard with winter. Because our local economy is so based on the RV industry and mobile homes, in the winter time business drops off, sales drop off and business all over the place in one fashion or another just drops off. Well this past year was particularly bad – there were about three weeks solid that he didn’t work at all. One day I just happened to be wearing one of the scarves he knit me (it’s just something he does every now and then – he’ll come up with something and surprise me – and I really love it I feel so special), and a girl at work came up and said “Oh, I love that scarf – where’d you get it?” And I said well my husband made it for me… She’s like “no way! I don’t believe you” Oh yeah- I’ve got three of them just like it but different colors and different patterns. Well how much for him to make me one? I said well how much would you pay, and it just kinda blew, up from there all of a sudden.
I happen to mention to someone else – oh yeah my husband made this. “Oh really” You know? And it just kept growing like that- and she mentioned it to someone- that my husband was making her one, and I couldn’t believe how fast the orders started coming in. Even with the economy as bad as it is, around Christmas time people wouldn’t think anything of spending ten dollars on a gift for someone. And it’s just really surprising- and they’re very…. handmade high quality and we can do them custom. Around here, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the university of Notre Dame but it’s a big deal around here there’s a lot of Notre Dame fans. And we can do them custom- there’s just all kinds of ways that we were able to really tailor make the business for the area.
It really was tremendous. We actually covered the income that he lost through that time of not working- we were able to almost completely replace it with the knitting orders.
[Liz: Fantastic] I can tell you he was tired, but he worked hard and he was so proud of the work he did. And it felt really good to me because I was able to see other people- see I really did the marketing on it, and I assisted him on picking out the patterns and there were some things that he wasn’t really sure what the best way to edge it may be or something along those lines. I helped him do the tassels and I helped him do the edging on some of them. I basically did the cleanup work because I was still working regularly at that point- I worked for a retailer and Christmas is a big time for us. So I was actually working a little overtime. But it was wonderful for me, because I’m so proud of his skill and his tremendous talent. I was really, really happy to see him really take ownership of that and he was able to say “I did this”, and it really felt good.
[Liz]: What a really fantastic story! So now from there are you going to keep doing that or are you now going to focus on your online business? Give us an idea of what you’re up to now, you have your scarves..
[J.J] That’s one thing that my husband does- he’s actually proficient in both knitting and crochet, so as our business grows we will become more inclusive of other crafts and hobbies of that fashion. He has a wide selection of- he’s actually begun to develop his own knitting and crochet patterns for rugs different kinds of home items- home décor items. He does doilies- he just covered a whole realm of possibilities. We’ve noticed that knitting is a very good seasonal business, we have been put on to a few bazaars in the area, where knitters would actually get together the day after thanksgiving- it’s the biggest day in the states here. Thanksgiving falls on the third Thursday of every November- so it’s the almost the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season.
So as we go forward he’s been building up his stock, because I’ve been focusing more on the online business, he’s been focusing on what we call the hard products, which are the actual knitted products.
I have been working on developing his information products which are the patterns that he’s creating, and his techniques – the way he learned to knit, because the way he learned was very organic. As a child he would watch his older sister knit and crochet, and he’s a very visual learner. He picked up a huge amount just by watching her and then he actually fell ill for a period of time where he was unable to do physical work, but he didn’t want to just lay there like a lump, he needed to do something- he’s one of these busy bodies that is not happy unless he’s active and he’s a highly motivated individual so he was very frustrated at that point.
He picked up the knitting again and he kinda taught himself some specific techniques, and this is the kicker- he taught me how to knit! Yes absolutely, I knew how to crochet, I was familiar with the idea of how yarn is manipulated but as far as manipulating it with two needles- I felt very awkward with that, I actually tried to teach myself to knit a number of years ago and was just like blahhh forget it, it’s not working for me. But using the techniques that he has developed – he taught me to knit in very short order; I was very impressed as to how easy it was with the methods that he was teaching me. And I’ve actually been working on developing his teaching methods into usable, easy to follow programs that anyone- I feel- can pick up these skills.
[Liz] Fantastic, is that where the idea of begintoknit came from?
[JJ] Yes, absolutely. I knew I wanted to do something on the internet. Because aside from all the other things that fascinate me, I’m fascinated by interacting with people of all different kinds of cultures, all over the world. And its fun to interact with all these people all over, not only that but if you widen your scope to an internet business, you are not limited to the local economic issues [Yes that’s true] Yes and I mean, why not cast your net very wide? If we have something to offer people, something like the information products- and it’s so easy to provide that to people. And we’re giving them quality information, we’re not just coming up with something hodge-podge and half made, it’s stuff that we’re really putting some effort into creating for people.
We’re excited about the products that we’re developing and the internet really is the best place to do that. So as I began to kind of investigate how can I work this out, what’s going to be the best way to do this, I stumbled on a couple programs that led me in the right direction.
Now understand; I have tried so many different home based businesses. I have been in any kind of market that you would want to try to be in, I think at one point I mentioned to you I did data entry-which is a very nebulous kind of term which basically means filling out data on a computer that completely flopped. I’ve done the multi level marketing that completely flopped, for me- mind you these are things that can work for other people. But for myself- they weren’t working simply because I wasn’t really able to feel comfortable hitting up everybody that I knew individually. I didn’t want to be like- oh my goodness here she comes, she is going to sell me something today- you know? And I personally knew people like that and I didn’t want to be that way, so I just really didn’t want to, I was just completely turned off by that idea. So with all of the things that I’ve tried to do; internet marketing and the way I’ve begun to learn how to do internet marketing really has become the way for me to get the message out there on how wonderful knitting is as a hobby, how wonderful it is as a way to augment your income….it helps so many different aspects of your life, it makes you feel good, you look at something that you created and you’re like wow I did this, you know?
My husband recently taught my nine year old daughter to knit using the program that we developed. She grasped it in a matter of a couple of hours, I mean it was very quick – and she’s all excited, she’s like’ mom look at this’, and she’s making a scarf for herself and she is so thrilled with it and it’s just so awesome to see. And we’re teaching our son to crochet and knit as well. [That’s great!] I think s,o and as I begun to really try to connect with other people on the internet I am really impressed as to how many men are out there unabashedly and unashamedly admitting to their knitting skill and I pull my husband over and I say ‘look honey look I just found three more guys that know how to knit isn’t this cool?’ And he’s like ‘well I guess I’m not alone’, it’s like “no you certainly are not!”.
So that’s why we really decided to go with the internet, because there’s so many more people like you out there it’s easy to relate and yeah. This is my joy I’m the internet person and he’s the creative person and I make his creativity shine.
[Liz]: Fantastic, you’re a great team!
[J.J]: Oh yeah. It’s amazing, I don’t know- I can’t help but think god planned this out; he planned him just for me you know? And it’s so funny because in so many ways we’re so opposite of the normal gender roles, I also happen to home school my children- I have four children their ages are three, five, seven and nine. Yes they are a handful, they’re very beautiful, smart, amazing kids and I couldn’t be more proud of them. But in our family when it comes to the schooling of our children I’m the one teaching them the math, I’m the one teaching them the science; I’m the one teaching them all the nuts and bolts of everything they need to learn. And my husband is doing all of the home economics and the creative teaching- he teaches them the cooking; he teaches the knitting and crocheting. It’s a really amazing teamwork that we put together to teach our kids.
The second part of this transcript will be posted tomorrow…