Spun, the yarn store now located on the first floor of the Kerrytown shopping center off N. 4th Ave is a success story built on bravery, trusting your gut and a community-centric culture by Carol and Pete Sickman-Garner.
Prior to Spun, Carol was an editor, first at the University of Michigan, then freelance while Pete worked in Marketing roles at Zingerman’s, a local business well known for their employee business training programs and innovative business models.
Pete’s background at Zingermans, paired with Carol’s history of freelance, and background growing up on a farm, led the two down the path to small business. It was Carol’s love of knitting, and both their desires to do more than a typical 9-5 job that culminated in the founding of Spun. After many local yarn stores closed the couple saw an opportunity to serve the community and start a business. When a high profile Kerrytown location became available, Carol and Pete knew to make the business successful, they both needed to be all in.
Through the startup research process the two came across the resources at the Michigan Small Business Development Center. Even before opening their doors in 2015, they were able to meet with Business Consultant Ron Stevens, now Associate Regional Director at the Greater Washtenaw Region SBDC. Seven years and many expansions later, Ron remains an indispensable member of their team.
“He provides the perfect balance of cheerleading and telling us how it is in the business,” says Carol.
Ron has helped with everything from inventory management, understanding business financials, overseeing a transition to ecommerce, and helping move locations. Over the years the trio has developed a nuanced working relationship where Ron provides a traditional business-minded, analytical perspective, while Carol and Pete are able to use their intuition to guide decisions about what their community and customers want.
The skill of being dialed into their customer base did not develop overnight. Through the years of running Spun, Carol and Pete have acquired this and many other skills: creativity as business owners, trusting employees, accounting, data analytics, and developing an eye for quality.
Dealing with the pandemic created a whole additional host of learning opportunities for the small business, but store closures, employee illnesses, and navigating the rapidly changing regulations only served to strengthen the company. The business is now a click-and-mortar retailer, utilizing online and in-person means of selling. Although Carol and Pete never imagined having an e-commerce presence when they opened their doors, now it’s a major portion of sales, allowing them to expand into their current location.
Success for Spun is deeply connected to the community of Ann Arbor. Beyond traditional business success metrics of profitability, which the business has certainly achieved with growth to over a million dollars in revenue, Carol and Pete emphasized their commitment to community. It was important to provide affordable workshops and a gathering space in their new location. Similarly Carol and Pete personally use the business to do good by donating to many local charities such as We the People Opportunity Farm, several Woman’s Centers, and Jewish Family Services, among many others.
“We want people in the community to have access to a better space, even if we’re not making money off that. Running a small business is difficult, and having a reason beyond just making money creates a more rewarding experience,” they shared.
Rather than focus on rapid growth Carol and Pete are satisfied with a better quality of life for their family and sustaining the community-centric culture of the business. The couple plans to retire from the business in 8-10 years, and are already working to ensure the transition is smooth, and Spun maintains its culture with an emphasis on sustainability, and service to the community of Ann Arbor.
Published June 2022