We slightly tweaked our survey this time around and had a total of 25 responses, which is good given how busy we know our customers are and around 1.5% of our mailing list made time to do this and help us to get it right! However, it was well down on the 72 last year although we think the results will still be of interest.
We have tried various perks to encourage people to complete the survey and they have all had a mixed response: for instance the £50 reduction from orders was simply not taken up by a quarter of those who earned it. This year we offered a free dye batch, and given that we have reviewed and closed our dyeing service partly due to low demand, this was perhaps not an attractive incentive! So the lucky winner will in fact gain an extra 10% off their next order instead.
Which breeds do people keep?
Everyone answered the question about the breeds they keep:
- 19 breeds were mentioned, with 2 respondents not keeping stock
- 5 people have Shetlands, 4 angora goats, 4 Herdwick
- 3 people have Hebrideans and 3 have alpacas
- 2 people each have Jacob, Southdown, Blue-faced Leicesters, Hampshire/Dorset Down or Mule
- then the others were single flocks of Gotland, Icelandic, Soay/Boreray/Balwen, Ryeland, Blackface, Zwartbles, Manx Loagthan, Wensleydale
This is pretty representative of the proportions of breeds we actually work with in the mill, though we do have more Portland and Dorset as well. Last year 39 breeds were mentioned, but again Shetland was the leader, followed by Hebridean and alpaca, then Ryeland and BFL, so the breed breakdown is similar.
What type of customer are they?
Over a third were regular customers, with another 20% having processed twice, 15% were first time customers, one processed with another mill and 25% had yet to try us. The long-term customer responses were similar to last year, although in 2017 more of the 1-2 times people responded and fewer first timers.
Over 80% of the customers produce the wool themselves but around 15% buy it in from local farmers, friends or business partners and this is a growing trend as some of our customers’ businesses have grown.
In terms of quantity, 25% process 10-20kg, which will mainly be scoured/carded fleece for felt making or hand spinning and this type of processing has grown steadily over the years. The bulk go for 20-40kg although we are seeing more at the 30-40kg order size, and then we are also seeing an increase in larger orders of 40-100kg, which are now just over a fifth of the total responses to the survey and this is representative of our overall order intake.
So, once the fibre is processed, 40% keep it for personal use, 44% make and sell craft items, 52% sell on through online shops, with 20% also selling through their own shop plus 12% through stockists, 36% through craft fairs, and 24% using other outlets, such as socks, or still developing their business.
How do people find out about us and are they satisfied?
People mainly find us through internet search at 42%, with word of mouth contributing a further 25%, followed by 8% each at shows or through social media and 4% through the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Ark magazine. No other magazines or breed societies were named and 2 loyal people have been with the business since it was in Wales, as we know many others have been as well.
Almost everyone was satisfied with the information they received, with 80% rating it as good or very good, while almost 100% said prices were good or very good, and 80% rated customer service and 90% rated quality similarly. However, as might be expected only 43% rated turnaround time as highly and the same percentage rated it as poor, with 1person saying it was terrible, along with information (no email was given).
We know that this has been a challenge particularly in the last 18 months and while we are working hard to reduce turnaround we note that we are still probably the fastest! We have seen a large increase in orders combined with high staff change rates which has meant that we have produced more slowly. This is something on which we are working really hard with both a new training programme across the whole team and also management of our order book to optimise throughput according to order type, while also reducing the work done for one regular large customer and Blacker Yarns to enable more small customer orders to be processed. Even so, over 60% of customers would recommend us, and we are pleased that our quality rating, customer service and fair prices are recognised.
How can we improve?
We then asked a couple of more open questions:
- Half the respondents said they didn’t have more requests for additional services
- 2 said we were doing a good job
- 1 wanted to work in the mill on their order
- 3 wanted boucle, brushed or super chunky yarns or yarn cakes
- 1 wanted something for second quality alpaca
- 1 wanted a separate wool shop, and 1 wanted links to people making products from yarn
- In addition 4 wanted more regular information and communication about order progress, on which we hope we are now doing better
- 1 had a quality issue with a particular batch.
We do in fact have a range of links to businesses who weave and machine knit, but not so much to smaller scale individual craft workers, so this is perhaps something we can work on, possibly with the help of Blacker Yarns and we can also advise on where to find such people locally. We are always happy to discuss ideas, do a bit of research and link to our network of contacts as this both helps our customers sell their yarns and also helps the whole industry to grow.
Some things we cannot do: either for health and safety reasons or because the cost of the equipment does not match the demand for the process or product. So we cannot make brushed or boucle yarns and sadly we don't know of anyone in the UK who does so now. We cannot allow people to work on our machines as it takes around 6 months to learn the basics and considerably more for things like carding, though we always try to ensure customers can see around the mill and can arrange for this while processing their fibre or to take photos for them.
So we have been given some useful ideas and will keep you in touch via our newsletters and blog as well as individually with our progress on your orders.