This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Bettina Donohue, the owner of Blacksheep Wool ‘n’ Wares in the main street of Guyra. Bettina is an avid “hooker” (crochetier) and loves owning her own knitting and crocheting store.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Sydney, and at the age of three moved to Port Macquarie where Mum and Dad owned a small business running a Post Office. We were there until I was 17 and then moved to the Gold Coast where I finished Year 12. During my time in Port Macquarie and at the Gold Coast, I worked at my parents’ businesses – the Post Office and a local petrol station. I learnt how to count by wanting to help with stocktake at a young age, and my parents let me count the chips and Twisties.
I moved from the Gold Coast to Guyra and have been working at Coles for the last 11 years. I’ll be on maternity leave soon and I plan for Blacksheep to take off over summer so I can focus on it full time. I absolutely love owning and working in this business. I have loved knitting and crocheting all my life, so getting to do it for work is incredibly special.
What does Blacksheep Wool ‘n’ Wares do?
We sell all knitting and crocheting needs: wool yarn, patterns, needles, knitting and crocheting accessories, and we even do make to order, and sell finished products off the shelf. We also operate an online store, which holds the same stock we have in the shop and we can also custom order hard to get items. We had plans to start classes this year, but with COVID we were not allowed to commence, and now that the baby is due very soon I don’t have the time or energy to start that. However, hopefully next year around March we will start to have crocheting and knitting classes, and have a Saturday morning knitting group where people can come in, sit down with some tea, have a little chat, and finish off some of their projects.
When did you start your business?
We purchased the business in November 2019. Margaret owned the business for 12 years and it had been listed for sale for quite some time. When I saw this, I was so excited and called my mother. Within a few days, I was the new owner. It has been an interesting eight months though: the drought, then fires, then floods, pregnancy, and now COVID.
What have been some of your challenges in starting a business?
Taking over in summer was probably not a good idea. A lot of people don’t really like to knit or crochet in summer as it’s usually quite warm. Nothing stops me though; I just love it! I usually work with lighter wools and cottons on smaller stuff instead of big blankets, which is much better suited to the summer climate.
Going into running an online shop has been a learning curve. I have done customer service jobs my whole life, but online sales are totally different. However, that has been going quite well; even though it’s inconsistent, I’ll get there.
What do you like most about running your own business?
Probably that I get to do fun stuff in the afternoon. And that I get to work 9–5 instead of until 11 at night. It is my first job where I have had regular hours, and even though it is six days a week, for me it’s not work; doing this has been my dream since I was a child.
I love the customer service part of the job – talking to customers, being able to have chats with them. I have one lady who calls me just to see how I’m going – that is the only purpose of her call – and I love that. A lot of locals also pop in to see how I’m going and check up on the pregnancy. It is great.
Probably one of the best things though, is if I’m having a hard day, I just sit and crochet. I get to make things for the shop, and all the while I’m not really working in my mind. I get to sit here, match a pretty pattern with some pretty wool, and create something nice.
What advice would you give a business just starting out?
Be prepared. Not every day is going to be easy, but they do come from time to time, so take the good ones when you have them. And don’t be afraid to ask for help because you’re probably going to need it at some stage. I’m lucky that I have got supportive parents who have a background in small business and are so eager to help me out.
What inspires you?
Family is a big one. Having this business means I can have my family with me and spend more time with them. I also love making stuff for people and seeing them wearing it out in public.
What is your secret for success?
Persistence: just keep trying. If you don’t keep going, you’re never going to get there. Keep coming in every day. Some days you make big leaps, some days are small steps.
What’s next for Blacksheep Wool ‘n’ Wares?
In the immediate future I want to finish restocking. Before the shop was sold, Margaret had planned to close and had sold off about 80% of the stock. I have dreams at night of full colour ranges, and I want to get the shop back to where it was in terms of available stock. I’d love to offer classes and have a knitting and crocheting community happening; I love that sort of thing. We’re passionate about supporting local businesses and farmers, so we want to support those who do their own independent dying and spinning. We already have a large section in our shop of Aussie grown, dyed and spun wool, and I really want to extend that to offer a greater range so we’re not just stocking the bigger brands.