Mrs. Panks Banks on Her Handknits
For as long as she can remember, Helen Panks of Longview, Washington, was fascinated by baby things. "They're so tiny and delicate and pretty," says Mrs. Panks. "Guess that's why I made baby items when I was learning to knit. This was before my own baby came along, so everything I made I gave away to friends. It was fun for me; and though I didn't realize it at the time, it was good publicity, too. For when I decided to turn my knitting into a money-making avocation a couple of years ago, those friends all became customers."
The idea of combining home and career is not altogether new. But Mrs. Panks rates a special cheer for her achievement! Six years ago she didn't know how to knit a stitch! Today she not only knits items of any description and sells them; but she creates her own designs, too.
When asked how she learned to knit, Mrs. Panks came up with this encouraging bit of information. "After being shown how it was done," she says, "I made a couple of unsuccessful attempts on a sweater and promptly lost interest. Then, when I married and gave up being a bank teller I needed some leisure-time activity when I was alone at home during the day. I decided to try knitting again! This time I did it with the aid of an instruction book. I would read, then knit; read again, and knit. That's how I learned. I became so fascinated I even made a pair of argyle socks for my husband!" There are many instruction books available, but one of the most helpful that you are apt to find is Barbara Abbey's book, "101 Ways to Improve Your Knitting." It covers everything you need to know on the subject.
Perhaps the real wonder of Helen Panks' home-enterprise in handknits is that a young mother with a four-year-old son to care for all day could have found time to take on a second career. But Mrs. Panks pooh-poohs the notion that mothers are tied to household chores exclusively.
"Mothers," says this young housewife, "should not wrap themselves up in their homes to the point where they stultify themselves. Everyone who keeps house needs some diversion from the humdrum of cooking and child care. An outside interest gives a woman a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Now this doesn't mean that every housewife can put aside her daily chores and overnight become a career woman. It does mean, though, that you have every good chance of making some money if you use your talents and spare hours constructively."
The modern counterpart to the Midas touch is that exemplified by the woman who can express herself through her handwork. Knitting isn't a hobby anymore with Helen Panks; it's a way of life. A thriving home business has emerged which has padded the family income. "But money isn't the only reward that comes from a business like mine," cheerfully acknowledges Mrs. Panks. She likes the fun of meeting people. She thoroughly enjoys the thrill of meeting deadlines on orders. And she believes that creative work is a wonderful way to keep fit and alert and happy.
"Sometimes I know I'm not getting enough profit for the time spent on a particular item," she says. "But I enjoy what I'm doing; and when the finished article turns out to be extra special, it gives me a big thrill. So you see a hobby can add up to fun and some profit."
Aspiring knitters, as well as those who have been knitting as a hobby for years, may want to know how Mrs. Panks started her home-shop, "Gifts for Wee Wuns."
"There are many ways to start selling what you make," says Mrs. Panks. "The important thing, of course, is to let people know you have something to sell! You might ask relatives and friends to tell their acquaintances about your work. Or make a house to house canvass in your neighborhood. Remember, many popular money-makers had a doorstep beginning. This is how I did it, though—and it worked for me: After I'd made up several items which I felt were both practical and distinctive, I placed a small advertisement in our local newspaper. It read: 'Handknits for Wee Wuns—Shower Gifts.' Then followed my address and the telephone number. On that same day, outside our front door I hung a pink wood bootee (made from plywood and cut out for me by a friend.) The bootee is about twelve inches across the sole and about sixteen inches high. Across it I painted in black lettering, 'Gifts for Wee Wuns.'
"Response was slow at first. But each potential customer who did come to look at the handknits, went home obviously delighted, and so full of praise for my ideas that invariably a friend of that customer would ring my door bell the following day. When you begin getting two customers for one, it doesn't really take long to build up an active customer list."
Mrs. Panks stresses the importance of keeping your name before the public. She continues to advertise in her local newspaper even though she has now been in business for two years. Occasionally she changes the wording slightly so that the advertisement will not become monotonous. The advertisement appears in the classified section of the newspaper under the heading "Stork Club," a column which the Longview Daily News features for selling baby furniture, clothing, etc. The same advertisement could be placed under the heading "Personals" or "For Sale-Miscellaneous." It costs her only about 20 cents a day.
"Be sure," advises Mrs. Panks, "that prior to every holiday you mention the holiday in your advertisement. For instance, say handknits for Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, etc."
With each sale she made, Mrs. Panks became more and more enthused. She even began taking special orders. By applying her own ideas to basic patterns she found she could turn out items that were really different—and not available in stores along Main Street. Customers like to buy something unique—so perhaps this quality is her biggest asset in business.
"Customers seem to appreciate the fact, too, that they can purchase a shower or baby gift from me after regular store hours and on a moment's notice," says Mrs. Panks. "Whenever I'm at home, I'm willing to sell—no matter what time it is." She has found that 90 per cent of the women who buy from her come back when they need another gift!
Setting up a little shop in your own home is not as much of a problem as you might think. But be sure to check first with your town clerk about zoning laws! Mrs. Panks has set aside a corner of her living room as her showroom, displaying the various items she has for sale in a glass show case. "I was lucky in finding a discarded display case which I bought for $6," she says. "What a job to clean it! But when it was spic and span I painted the wood trim a pale pink—and the case looked brand new." This saved her a lot of money; but equally important, she had what she needed and wanted.
"I try to keep one item of each model I make on display in the show case," Mrs. Panks says. "In this way the things can be viewed by customers without constant handling—thereby keeping them clean and fresh. You do have to let the customers handle some of the items, though. Most people want to feel how soft the yarn is!" Smiling, Mrs. Panks adds, "I'd do the same thing if I was out buying." Mrs. Panks stores excess stock in a closet in the entry hall which is just around the corner from her showcases.
Mrs. Panks's home-shop now carries a complete line of infants' sweaters, bootees, mittens, caps—all items in sizes from three months to eighteen months. Larger sizes are filled to special order only. To fill out her shelves—and as an added attraction—she carries a few manufactured products such as bootee stretchers, dress hangers, etc., which also make good gift items.
Now thatshe is in business, Mrs. Panks buys her yarn and anything else she needs for her home-shop, wholesale. "You must do this," she cautions, "or your profits won't amount to much at the end of the month."
But how do you go about buying merchandise wholesale? Mrs. Panks suggests you contact the manufacturers directly. "If they won't sell to you in small quantities," says Mrs. Panks, "then try jobbers whom you will find listed in the classified section of your telephone directory. These men sell in small quantities and at a considerable discount from the retail price. Your local department store will usually give you a discount on purchases if they know you are in business. It may only be 10 per cent but anything you save means more profits for you at the end of each month."
Helen Panks firmly believes that everyone loves babies and that most people want to buy something for babies; so in her opinion, infants' wear is a good line to pursue if you are thinking of going into business. "It's a line that is in demand throughout the year, too," she adds. Her most popular item at the moment is a real boyish cap with a visor (her own design). It comes in sizes from three months to eighteen months and sells for $2.25 and $2.50. Running a close second is a "ski boot" style bootee. She found the basic pattern for this in an old needlework magazine, she added to it, and now feels the design is her own. The ski boot is priced at $1.75. The yarn for it costs about 50 cents, so Mrs. Panks feels her profit on this item is good.
Nowyou no doubt have two important questions! Can I make money from my handwork? How can I do it?
"With a little ingenuity and patience you can make your handwork pay cash dividends," says Mrs. Panks. She suggests you select a rather small, inexpensive item to begin with (inexpensive in time as well as material used); for these items sell more readily and the over-all profit is bigger than on bedspreads, for instance. "When you are getting started," advises Mrs. Panks, "if you stick to one item you'll find several short cuts in making it and thus cut down on your work time. You can always add to your line, once you get into the swing of making things in quantity."
Once you've decided on an item—the next thing you need is a price tag. Don't expect the impossible in financial returns! What to charge for any creative work which requires hours of time to produce has always been a difficult problem. "I base my charges on the time spent as well as the cost of materials," says Mrs. Panks. "Remember that time is money. Actually, you have to be the judge of what your time is worth to you. If you set its worth too high you won't sell much; if too low you are cheating yourself." Fifty to seventy-five cents an hour is about average for handwork such as knitting.
If you are a rank beginner, probably the best way to find out what to charge for an item is to start by using the same figures other people in your line of business are charging. "A good rule is to gauge your price tag by the tickets you see on similar articles in local shops," says Mrs. Panks. "If your community does not have stores with items similar to what you make, write to any large department store or specialty shop in a large city and ask them to quote you prices om their goods. You will have to pretend to be a possible customer. You might even buy one of their reasonable items so that you can use it for comparison: is the yarn as soft as yours, is the workmanship as fine—or better; how about the fit and style?"
It may be that stores will differ a bit on prices. Try a top price first on your items; it is always easier to cut than to raise your charge. Every article has a top price at which it will sell and beyond which it cannot be moved. The difficulty every beginner runs into is in determining where this delicate point is, since it is determined by the law of supply and demand. Customer reaction is your only barometer.
Mrs. Panks offers another suggestion to beginners who find themselves in a dilemma regarding price tags. Write a letter of inquiry to your state extension service or department of commerce, or to the Extension Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington 25, D.C., telling them about the handmade item you wish to put on the market. They will answer your letter giving you the customary price on the given item.
Whetheror not you will succeed In selling handmade items depends as much on technical skill as on creative ability. Anything you make must be finished perfectly no matter how long it takes. Remember, finishing touches make the difference between amateur and professional appearance. When turning out handknits, for instance, there must be no twisted stitches, no knotted joinings of yarn. If you make a baby sweater it must fit perfectly—sleeves the right length, neckband big enough to slip over the head when necessary. If you don't happen to know standard size measurements, you must find out what they are. The Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., will supply you with standard measurements for any article of clothing.
And another thing," cautions Mrs. Panks, "If you want to be sure of making sales, you must watch the trends on the market carefully. Much handknit wear is rejected by buyers simply because the items are not popular items. So before you begin making any article ask yourself: Is it in vogue? Is it something the people in your community would be apt to need?"
Your little business will grow and grow, if you have patience, perseverance, and farsightedness. Helen Panks listens to what customers have to say when they are looking at her handknits, for she has learned that a customer's willingness to make a certain purchase is one of her best sources of promotional ideas. She chats with her customers as they buy, for she is always looking for an idea for selling. She uses no high pressure methods. Usually her sales talk consists of answering questions and assuring the buyer that a particular sweater is made to allow for play activity and will not "draw" at the sleeve seams! On this point Mrs. Panks gives an unconditional guarantee. For the policy of "Gifts for Wee Wuns" is: the customer must be satisfied.
Whatdo you consider the most important consideration in selling handknits? Mrs. Panks was asked.
"If you hope to succeed in your venture," says Mrs. Panks, "every item you make ought to have an unusual touch. It must not be something that has been done time and time again. No home business can compete with a factory—either in quantity or price. That's why it is essential to make something to sell that is different from machine mades—something that is earmarked 'handmade'."
How about some concrete ideas for unusual touches! Here are a few suggestions: a little boy's sweater might have a knit-in frog or turtle on the pocket piece (for little boys like to collect these animals). Get away from the run-of-the-mill duck or fish trimming! Mrs. Panks has had a lot of success with the soaker panties she makes for baby girls. These feature a knitted ruffled edge around the leg openings. Very often she trims white sweaters with solid-color bandings on sleeves, neck, and at the top of a pocket. Another way to give added color to a sweater is to sew rickrack braid along the inside edge of the button band of a cardigan and around the neckband. "There is no end to the little extra touches that will give your item a new look," says Mrs. Panks. "Just let your imagination range free."
"The joy of operating a small business like mine lies in the fact that you don't need any very special equipment to get started. Your only essentials are some yarn, knitting needles, and a few buttons. Once you get some customers you can give your project a more professional touch by having name labels made to sew into your items. Such labels can be bought for as little as $2.75 for six dozen.
Mrs. Panks gift wraps all purchases. It's often a problem to get boxes, but she has found that you can make a very attractive package just by using tissue and ribbon. She makes her own paper labels—a little pink folder cut in the shape of a bootee. About ¼ inch down from the top of the bootee she punctures a hole and through this slips a piece of narrow blue satin ribbon, knots it and cuts the ends short. Handknits for Wee Wuns is typed across the outside of the folder—inside the bootee is her address and telephone number. This label may be pasted on a box or slipped through the tie-string of the package, or placed inside the box.
Even the smallest home-shop should keep records. In order to prepare a profit and loss statement you will need a listing of your sales and the cost of goods sold. The difference between these is your gross profit. Simple? Yes, if your bookkeeping is accurate, complete and always up to date. You don't need an elaborate set of books. You do need a few order and sales books which you can get at your dime store. And—write down every order. "Don't trust to memory," cautions Mrs. Panks. "Write down to whom you sold, what the item was, how much it sold for."
You really don't have to wander far from home to make a little money. Why not take stock of yourself! Most women have some creative ability. The smart ones, like Helen Panks, are putting that talent to use and "banking" on the results. Do you like to knit? Then why not put some of Mrs. Panks' ideas to work and maybe you'll come across your royal road to riches?
DIMES!!—Dimes in every
mail; money comes so easy it will