Secondary Story

Pinpointing Her Passion

By Gloria Hafemeister

If passion is what it takes to succeed, Alisa Neumeier’s Firefly Fibers shop in downtown Beaver Dam will to be around for a long time.

Walking into Firefly Fibers is like entering a store in a much larger city. It has a contemporary, zen-like feeling with a relaxing and cozy atmosphere.

Neumeier moved to Beaver Dam in 2004 from the Madison area with her husband, Mike, and their dogs and opened the store in the Spring of 2010.

She had previous experience in the fashion industry and has an interest in the texture, colors and feel of natural materials. As a passionate knitter, she also knew it was difficult to find quality natural fibers in Beaver Dam.

That’s when she started to think about the possibility of opening a shop that would specialize in the types of fibers she wanted.

In her own words, here is a glimpse into how she planned the opening of her knitting business:

Research, Stock, Business Plan…
“I learned to knit in 2001, so I had visited a fair number of yarn shops over the years and I knew what I liked and didn’t like. My love of knitting and my background in retail and marketing had us casually talking from time to time about the possibility of opening a yarn shop, but this seemed like a distant dream.

In late February 2010, I was driving through downtown Beaver Dam and saw an available storefront that was a good size for what I envisioned and that started everything in motion. After taking a look at the location, I immediately went to work on a business plan. I knew that even if no one else ever saw my plan, it was the most important part of the process to build the foundation for the essence of my business. It’s amazing to think back and now see that paper plan became a reality.

For a few weeks, I juggled my full-time job while doing research and focusing on vendor selection to calculate delivery timelines for our anticipated opening in May. When April arrived, it was bittersweet to leave the security of the job I’d held for nearly 10 years and start something completely new.

For the next 2 months I was focused on getting the store ready and making decisions. A lot of decisions. It’s not just purchasing inventory and putting it on a shelf, there’s so much more to it – the store name, a logo, point-of-sale system for sales and inventory, bookkeeping, fixtures, visual merchandising, signage, licenses & permits, store layout, a website, store policies, taxes, shop hours and more. It was a lot to do in only 2 months.”

First Day…
“The first task when we started working in the shop was to cover the window. We put signs up with our social media information and shared glimpses of what we were up to during the process and other than a few curious passersby peeking in while we were working, the majority of our work was kept under wraps.

On the first day it all became very real. As the paper was coming off the window, our first customer came running in for knitting needles and we were officially in business. What an amazing feeling! Throughout the day I met wonderful people that warmly welcomed me and my shop. I still see many of these faces on a regular basis and am reminded of that first day.”

Shop Design…

“One of my favorite college courses was visual merchandising. I knew I wanted a clean contemporary feel with beautiful colors and textures that inspire creativity. I also wanted a floor plan that flows and makes it easy for customers to see what’s available and not be overwhelmed. The visual merchandising class taught me how to “invite” customers into the store and I’m grateful it was one of my classes while in school.”

She credits her husband for encouraging her to take the leap, quit the job she held for the past ten years in Madison and open a business closer to home.

She says, “He’s the dreamer and I’m the practical one. He could see this business working and encouraged me to do it.”

Together they came up with the name, too. “We put some thought into it and we both really like fireflies – they are so pretty and magical.

The thought of not spending so much time and gas getting to and from work was appealing to her.

She says, “We both worked for the same company and commuted to Madison but we couldn’t go together because we had different schedules.”

Operating a business was not a new thing for her. She had experience working in retail sales and management, has an education in business and marketing and she grew up with a family run business. Her parents were self-employed, working together in the family’s locksmith business. It was just the two of them in the business so they were required to be in the shop all the time.

Alisa handles all aspects of her business, something she says keeps her quite busy, but she doesn’t intend to expand the business or take on employees. She says, “I like talking with the customers and getting to know them. I enjoy seeing the things the people are doing with their yarns. When they buy yarn I want them to take it home and make something they will enjoy and wear.”

If she does need to be gone (which is rare) her husband helps out. She does have an instructor, Sarah, who teaches the classes and helps make some of the sample knitted items on display in the store.

She offers classes in the shop and says she tries to keep them small – usually 4 – 7 people – so the instructor can devote attention to each student. Some of the classes include homework assignments.

Alisa says, “I want them to actually finish their project so they will enjoy the satisfaction of knowing they completed the project.”

As any artist knows, a person cannot count his or her time when it comes to creating a project. There is something special about wearing a sweater or garment that is hand-made.

She says there are many people around who enjoy knitting and crocheting and many more are beginning to take an interest in this creative, relaxing hobby.

Some of her customers say they only make gifts for others and some customers just want to make something special for themselves and some are a mix of both.

She notes, “Classes and knitting are a good experience. For me, knitting opened up a whole new social life. That’s what it can be for the students in the classes and our knitters. They all walk in with something in common.”

The “knitalongs,” known as KAL, are a group of knitters who work independently on a project with a common theme. Alisa selects the yarn and pattern and test knits a shop sample in advance so all the participants have to do when she announces the project is choose a color. She runs knitalongs every two months to provide flexibility for participation and completion of the project before the end date.

She says, “Knitalongs are a great opportunity to try something new like a new pattern, yarn or technique that a participant might not otherwise have selected.”

Participants also learn from one another, pointing out tricks they have discovered.

Some of the knitters at Firefly Fibers enter their projects at the County Fair. Alisa says she enjoys seeing all the knitted entries at the fair in both the youth and open class areas.

“It’s fun to see the great things people are doing with their yarns from the shop,” she says.

While there are other yarn shops around, she believes she has products that are different – special.

“I have all natural fibers including wool, silk, cotton, linen, alpaca and more. I love the fibers that nature has given us and how they behave,” she says.

She has many regular customers, many of whom come from a long ways to get these special products.

Besides yarn she also carries knitting bags, jewelry that is made by a local artist, knitting needles and cases, books and other related supplies.

Her stock is constantly changing. She says, “When I add new items, I need to discontinue something. I don’t want the store to be cluttered.”

Throughout the store she has knitted samples of garments that are the new trend. Keeping up with the trends is an important part of the business. She not only monitors the styles but also colors. Right now orange is popular along with the basic neutrals.

She says, “Things are always changing. This is a great time to be in this industry. There are so many independent yarn dyers now and so many knitters designing their own patterns. We no longer have to rely on the knitting magazines for up and coming trends.”

When it comes to styles of things like sweaters she encourages knitters to consider a classic pattern and a color they really like and will wear.

“They put a lot of time and work into a project. I want them to be able to wear it for a long time and enjoy it,” she states.

Firefly Fibers is located in downtown Beaver Dam at 112 Front Street. For store hours, classes and other information check out her web site atwww.fireflyfibers.com