Name: Lena Skvagerson
Business: Nordic Mart
What they said then: In July 2010, The Tribune reported online retailer Nordic Mart had opened a San Luis Obispo store for its yarn and knitting accessories.
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Located in the Soda Water Works building at 1023 Nipomo St., the shop is owned by Johan and Lena Skvagerson. It was one of the first in the United States to carry Drops brand yarn, produced by Norway-based Garnstudio.
Lena Skvagerson is a representative for the European company’s wholesale department.
The couple moved from Sweden in 2007. Johan Skvagerson launched Nordic Mart online in 2008. By summer 2010, it had 5,000 registered customers.
What she says now: With more than 10,500 online customers, Lena Skvagerson said their brick-and-mortar store has boosted Web sales significantly.
“The last year has been really good,” she said. “We wanted to give the online store a face. You can’t take pictures of a warehouse.”
In-person sales have been slowly growing through word-of-mouth referrals.
This summer, the couple hired Megan Selby to oversee the store full time and teach knitting classes there.
The 500-square-foot shop’s balcony has become a place where regulars congregate and have a cup of coffee while they knit. To encourage this, Nordic Mart now encourages beginners to drop in on Saturdays for free knitting lessons.
On Fridays, Selby teaches a children’s class from 3 to 4 p.m. Attendees buy yarn and needles to get started, but there’s no other charge.
The downtown store also attracts tourists, who become online customers, Skvagerson said. Once they’ve seen and touched the products, they feel more secure ordering online.
They also blog and post photos about their visits on crafting websites such as Ravelry, which boasts 1 million knitting members. That increases the confidence of other potential customers.
With another 1,000 square feet of storage downstairs, Nordic Mart can keep a larger stock on hand than most retailers, including cotton, wool, linen and alpaca yarns.
If a shopper needs 16 skeins of the same color for a project, they don’t have to wait for it to be ordered. If a customer can only afford to buy half of what they need, Nordic Mart will set aside the rest from the same dye lot to buy later.
Because it buys directly from Garnstudio, Skvagerson said Nordic Mart’s prices are about 40 percent less than similar imported yarns.
“We are not going through distributors or sales reps that add to the cost,” Skvagerson said. “People come from all over the county because we have something they can’t find in other yarn stores.”