One of the questions that people often ask me revolves around the ordering and shipments of yarn, many of them assuming that I receive weekly yarn shipments from my vendors. No, as fun as it would be to unbox new yarn every week, I do not, and here's why.
First, the yarn industry isn't like the grocery store. We don't have standing orders or automatic shipments like you can do with Amazon's Subscribe and Save.
Unlike a large big box store, small retail Local Yarn Stores are independent businesses. This means that we're generally owned and run by a single person. Sometimes a store does well enough to add an employee or two to payroll, but more often than not, an LYS is owned and operated by one person who does everything--ordering, staging, sample making, selling, advertising, inventory, paying bills, cleaning, etc.
So, while big box stores have a nationwide or even global network of warehouses and can ship out of stock or overstocked items to other store locations, LYS do not. We have contracts with our vendors where we order from them, usually at specific times of the year, and we have to pay for all that yarn, fiber, notions, etc. up front, in advance, when things are shipped to us. So while sometimes a vendor will decide to discontinue a yarn and offer it at a discount on their own retail side of the house, LYS who still have that yarn in stock already paid full price for it. We aren't sending sales money to the companies after the fact. The companies have already been paid by the LYS before the yarn is even entered into inventory or placed on the shelves.
In addition to these initial out-of-pocket expenses, many of our vendors have very specific order minimums that we have to meet where LYS need to purchase a particular weight of yarn or spend a particular dollar amount on each order to meet the terms of their contracts. This is why we talk about the two seasons of the yarn industry--Spring and Fall. Generally speaking, most of us place our spring orders in the Fall, and our Fall orders in the spring, which means there's a good six month or more time span between ordering and receipt of those orders. This is why you'll see LYS making announcements about their spring or fall shipments arriving; it's because we have to place these larger orders to fulfill our vendor agreements so far in advance, so we receive large shipments of yarn from a vendor all at once.
Also, we buy in wholesale bulk. That is, if we want to stock, say, the color white in a basic worsted weight, superwash wool, we have to buy whatever the vendor offers as a FULL BAG of that yarn, and a bag usually consists of 10 skeins, but, depending on the particular yarn or if the vendor happens to be an indie dyer, may only consist of 3 or 5 skeins. This is why "special orders" in most cases would require a person to buy a full bag of yarn and not simply one or two skeins unless the vendor has a set up like Berroco's DropShip program. This is also why a number of vendors don't offer "special orders" because such orders wouldn't amount to the order minimum that LYS are required to purchase based on their contracts. And that doesn't even get into the issue of freight costs.
The other aspect of ordering yarn revolves around trends, new colors, retired colors, and discontinued products, which is another reason we don't receive automatic shipments--there's no way to be sure a yarn or color will still be in stock in six or twelve months. Just like the clothing industry, yarn vendors are constantly trying new things--whether its a new fiber blend, a new weight of an already-popular yarn, or new colors. Older colorways are discontinued to make room for new colorways that match the current trends. Yarn lines are discontinued for a variety of reason--sometimes because the vendor needs to make room for new lines they are adding. Other times because of a materials issue, or because continuing with a particular blend or milling process would cause too much of a price increase. Sometimes a line simply isn't performing as well anymore, or they've found that people simply want something else. While the yarn industry doesn't move quite as quickly as the clothing industry in terms of what's in and what's out, it isn't stagnant, either.
What many LYS will receive on a pretty regular basis are club kits offered by some of our vendors. For example, HW stocks Wonderland Yarns' DeSTITCHnation and Blossoms Garden Society Club kits. We set up these orders typically two or three months before the start of the new year, and then they ship out the kits one month at a time and bill us when they ship. This, though, is different than your average yarn shipment because the kits are pre-ordered in advance, and they're part of a club, and they exist outside of the traditional yarn order.
So, that's the basics of how ordering yarn works at an LYS and why you'll see flurries of "Spring Yarns" and then "Fall Yarns" cropping up twice a year. It's also why many shops will go months without new shipments coming in--because we tend to only order during particular seasons.