What are some resources for starting an animal fiber business?
C.O.MaineAnswer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information about starting a fiber business.Like you, I am very interested in natural fibers. I am glad there are businesses (and I see that Maine has several) who process and sell yarn and other items made from materials such as wool, cashmere, mohair, and alpaca and other animal fibers. One question that I have for you, though, is “How will you reach your customers?” You will want to think about that as you continue your research.First of all, I’d like to recommend several books to you. The first may be at your local library: Turning Wool into a Cottage Industry, by Paula Simmons. Published in 1991 by Storey Press, this is well-written and informative. It was written before the internet was widely used, and she talks about marketing techniques that might be especially useful to you.Ellie Winslow has a self-published book that is can be very helpful in thinking through a marketing plan. I’ve listed the book information below.For business planning, an excellent resource is Building a Sustainable Business. It would take a lot of time to complete the workbook, but it is not expensive and the thinking and planning done now will save many dollars in the future.The following are two general resources for exploring business ideas. Both Starting an Ag-Business? A Pre?Planning Guide and PRIMER for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm are outstanding, and they are different. I would read both and get the benefit of their different approaches.A more targeted resource for your idea is the Stonehedge Fiber Milling Equipment Company, in Michigan. Refer to a few pages from their website, including “Business Planning” and “Average Monthly Expenses and Income.” The proprietors offer consulting services and are available by phone; they welcome guests to tour their mill, and can arrange mini-apprenticeships so you can try out the mill-working experience and see what is involved in the operating of the business. I strongly recommend that you do this, if not at Stonehedge, then at a local mill. The Stonehedge pages from their website also list their pricing for services and include other interesting details about their business.It is good to check out other examples of similar businesses. I’ve referenced webpages for several Maine businesses, for your information. Phone numbers are included.Local Extension, the Maine Sheep Breeders Association, and Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener Common Ground Fair, and Fiber Maine-ia are good resources as well. Use these contacts to network and to try to get a sense of whether there is room for another fiber business in your state. Finally, you might want to subscribe to Wild Fibers magazine, based in Rockland, Maine. This is a beautiful and interesting publication, and reading the advertisements will help you get a sense for the market and competition. You can call the office at 207-594-9455. You may want to purchase a single issue first to see if you will want a full year subscription.References:Simmons, Paula. 1991. Turning Wool into a Cottage Industry. Storey Communications, Inc. Pownal, Vermont. 188 p.Winslow, Ellie. 2007. Marketing Farm Products: And How to Thrive Beyond the Sidewalk. Beyond the Sidewalk Printing. 170 p.MISA. 2003. Building a Sustainable Business: a Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses. SARE Publications. 280 p.Resources:Richards, Steve. 2004. Starting an Ag-Business? A Pre-Planning Guide. Cornell University. EB 2004-08. 26 p.Woods, Tim, and Steve Isaacs. 2000. PRIMER for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. No. 00-13. 24 p.Stonehedge Fiber Milling Equipment, Inc. http://www.stonehedgefibermill.com and http://www.fibermillingequipment.com/Maine Fiber Mills: Starcroft, Hope Spinnery, New Aim.http://www.starcroftfiber.comhttp://www.hopespinnery.comhttp://www.newaimfibermill.comMaine Fiber Farms Area, MOFGA Common Ground Country Fair, and fiber CSA info. http://www.mofga.org/TheFair/Areas/MaineFiberFarms/tabid/462/Default.aspxFiber Maine-ia. http://extension.umaine.edu/fibermaine-ia/default.htmMaine Fiberarts. http://www.mainefiberarts.org/Anon. no date. Handling and marketing wool. University of Maine. Bulletin #2070. 6 p.