Cadence Kidwell, Fuzzy Goat on Opening a Business Post-50

Cadence Kidwell, founder of The Fuzzy Goat, a yarn and knitting shop in Thomasville Georgia, used the words “methodical” and “community” at least ten times each during our brief interview about how she changed her life and pursued a new dream, post age 50.

On the former, about being methodical, Cadence shared how she worked with her local Small Business Development Center while still working full-time to create a solid plan. On the latter, her vision for community, Cadence says “if I don’t love it, and if it doesn’t make me laugh, then what’s the point?  I didn’t quit my full time job and give up all my benefits to do something boring!”

Cadence had a job she loved at a public university. But she had mastered her work there to advise students on international exchange programs. Could she do this for 10 to 15 more years she wondered? “I’ve got one more big push in me,” she thought. And noting a freedom that comes with age, she supposed “My kids had all left. What was going to be next?”

Cadence’s “methodical” approach to opening a business.

So she came up with a business idea, did extensive research, met regularly with the local SBDC, had a solid plan, and opened a business. Today is The Fuzzy Goat’s 3rd birthday celebration. In those three years Cadence has been nominated by her peers for National Super Hero Day. She was a top ten finalist from across the country for the Independent Small Business of the Year Awards. Southern Living Magazine recently did a photoshoot of her and her shop that will appear in the December Issue.

The thing is…We love the downtrodden. People who overcome obstacles even (or especially) when they are due to human frailty. Or someone who has a near death experience that drives them to drop everything, change course and follow a dream…something that makes them amazing and “lucky”… an easy out to avoid acknowledging that it’s simple, old-fashioned hard work that goes into building a business.

“I hadn’t really thought about starting over in a whole other life,” said Cadence, but figured it couldn’t hurt to talk to the SBDC. “I really like knitting and I like learning,” she reasoned. “I loved the intellectual challenge of having to figure out how to run a small business.”

Methodical is the word Cadence uses for being thorough and planful and paying attention to detail when creating her business. She wrote plans. She crunched numbers. She researched industry data. She listened to knitting podcasts. She visited other yarn shops across the country that she admired. It was finally her business advisor at the SBDC who said “enough! What are you waiting for…it’s time to act!”

Cadence on How She Named it The Fuzzy Goat

Layered Community

Community is at the core of everything Cadence does. Even before opening the store, she relished the idea of the process of planning and connecting…just the idea of that community. There’s her local business community—she chose Thomasville just for that. Even though she’s not right on Main Street she’s a part of the community’s energy and sits on the Main Street Advisory Board. She and her fellow business owners partner on cross promotions: the clothing store provides jeans for the mannequins wearing original knitted tops; each store carries marketing flyers and promotions from the other.

There is the community of knitters. “Knitting is all about community. That was really important to convey that in the way I set up the shop,” says Cadence. At the center of the store is “the lodge” where people of all ages can relax and knit (“even a few men,” says Cadence…”we have to bust the old lady stereotype!”) Anytime someone finishes a piece at the shop they ring “The Goat Bell” and often post a picture of it on Facebook as well. “Sometimes people will wait to finish their project until they come in, for the fun of sharing it with others.”

“Knitters in general are nice, because we’re humble,” says Cadence. “We mess up all the time and we have to ask, ‘how do you get out of this?’ You turn to the person next to you and ask ‘how do you do this?’ As adults we hardly ever say ‘I messed up, how do you fix this.’ But with knitters this happens a lot.” With the common bond of knitting, Cadence loves that her shop is a place where people convene for civil conversation, to talk about their lives and “to learn about people who might think differently than we do. To me, that’s a really important part of serving the community.”

Lu Shares her Fun Day out at The Fuzzy Goat

Lu Feels Warm & Fuzzy at Fuzzy Goat from Lu Was Here on Vimeo.

As far as a web-based community, “yarn is a very tactile experience. I do not sell it online,” explains Cadence, also noting the competition among online sellers. “People like to talk about which yarns and stitches will work best with which patterns.” She ships products out once or twice a week, usually to people who have been in the shop on their visits and then have gone back home. But with her website and social media presence Cadence sees an online community growing.

Then there’s the indie community. “We’re a truly indie business with 90%+ merchandise created by other indie makers,” says Cadence. “What I like about knitting is that a hand dyer has made it her life’s work to figure out how to dye this yarn and now I’m a conduit to her community, by making curated choices around which yarns I carry.”

What Does it Mean to Be an Indie Yarn Shop?

Thoughts on Opening a Your First Business Post-50

“I could not have done this when I was younger,” says Cadence, with full respect to women who do this and still go home to manage carpools and such. “I will never make out of this business what I made when I had a paycheck and benefits, so a large part of the process was severely cutting back expenditures, which wouldn’t have been possible in the thick of raising kids.”

As Cadence shared in an interview for an upcoming PBS special on “Aging in Place,” sometimes life throws you curveballs. She and her husband were still living in Tallahassee when they purchased the building and she opened the shop, preferring to keep their house and commute the 30 miles to the “main street” community in Thomasville. But when her husband’s company downsized him out of a job, they needed to rethink their plan. That included moving from a 2,300 square foot home to a 1,000 square foot house just four blocks from the shop.   

“It was funny; the other day I had somebody say, ‘oh this is exactly what I want to do when I retire!’ And I was like oh honey this isn’t retirement. I never worked so hard in my life.” Yes, there’s risk, and yes, the shop needs to make money and support them, but that’s where Cadence’s inclination for the “methodical”  has really helped, with so much planning and building and bringing in expertise where she needs it to keep things moving forward.

Society’s View on Aging Doesn’t Matter

Not Yet Time for What’s Next

Mostly, when she thinks of age, it’s an abstract idea down the road. “What’s kind of on my mind as I do get older is at what point do I have to think about the future of the store without me.” Daughter Carolina, 25, works at the shop but the business side, books, purchasing and such, are all with Cadence.  “The business runs completely on me. If for some reason I was not able to do it, right now it would not exist.  So one of my questions to myself is, how do I set things up so that there is somebody to keep things going. We’ve created a community that I now feel really responsible for. “

For the short term, however, Cadence continues in build and grow mode. “In my mind, if you are going to do something, it’s not that much harder to do something well,” reasons Cadence. “If I was going to brand it, I was going to brand it completely,” she says of connecting to a local graphic designer,  who had national clients. And when she wanted to boost her retail savvy, she hired Retail Mavens, “which is one of the best things I ever did,” says Cadence about this consultancy whose sole purpose is to make retailers more successful.

“I wanted to create a place that I really wanted to go to,” says Cadence. And she did. I can imagine her today, glowing as she celebrates the store’s third birthday. Eating her self-proclaimed favorite foods (cookies, cupcakes and wine…my soul sister!), surrounded by a lot of wonderful, warm, nice and creative people…that she brought together.

Learn More about The Fuzzy Goat

The Fuzzy Goat

Fuzzy Goat on Facebook

Fuzzy Goat on Twitter

Fuzzy Goat on Pinterest

Fuzzy Goat on Instagram

Fuzzy Goat on Ravelry (a social networking site for knitters and crocheters)

Thanks to Retail Mavens for introducing me to Cadence