86-Year-Old Entrepreneur Sells 100,000 Knitting Books
At 86, Betty Lampen is a mom entrepreneur we can all learn from. In 1991, the knitting pro, who had worked knitting children’s sweaters, decided she would help others take up her favorite craft by creating a series of knitting books. She focused on miniature sweaters, then expanded to create books about hats, teddy bears, and dolls. Today, she has 12 books and also sells handmade dolls.
Betty advertised in knitting magazines and created a website, and over the years has sold 100,000 copies of her 18-page books. And aside from the printing, she still does everything for her business herself -- she creates the ads, stores the books in the basement of her San Francisco home, and mails them out to her customers.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Betty after giving a speech at The Century Club of California, and I couldn’t be more excited to feature her here. I loved her spirit, and was thrilled to see someone so devoted to her passion and lifelong learning. In this interview, Betty shares with us her fascinating life story, and how she built a small business that keeps her going.
Tamara Monosoff: Describe your company and your product:
Betty Lampen: Betty Lampen Knitting Books consist of 12 little 18-page knitting books, which I have written over the last 19 years. All are self-published and stored in my basement. I advertise in many knitting magazines and get most of my business through my web page. My patterns are for miniature sweaters, sweaters for teddy bears, hats, dolls and all kinds of animals.
Why did you start this company and when?
I am 86 and have always been a knitter. For many years I knit children's sweaters, but found it very stressful, so I decided to put my patterns into books and let others do the knitting.
What were your initial goals?
Sell my books. And lately I have been knitting soft 12 inch dolls that my friends really like, so I have started to sell them, too.
What is your background and how does it relate to your company?
I learned to knit from my mother when I was about 8 years old. But knitting became a passion when I took lessons from an expert while in college back in the ‘50s in Boston. I am a fifth generation San Franciscian, and I married a English Royal Naval Officer 65 years ago. We lived in Australia for 10 years and our two sons were born there -- they are now both in their 60s. We returned to San Francisco and have lived in our 1889 Victorian home for 50 years. My knitting has kept me sane!
How did you determine your product's marketability?
I have always been able to sell. One selling point is that my patterns are written as they used to be in the '40s -- very simple, and you might say they have more detail than patterns nowadays.
How did you start selling your books?
I found a wonderful printer who made my books very professional. I have sold over 100,000 copies altogether, but the advertising, postage and packing keeps me in the hobby stage. I do all the ads and mailing myself.
Were there any setbacks that had to be overcome?
Just occasional mistakes in my patterns, and I personally make the corrections myself -- like 3,000 times, as I get my books printed 3,000 at a time.
What secrets have you learned in terms of marketing your product?
Never give up. There is always somebody out there who is interested. You just have to find them. I am always happy to talk about what I do. I also have three knitting classes a week with all kinds of knitters with all kinds of lives. Life is never boring.
How long did it take to get your books from idea to market?
About a year, starting with my first book and a new book printed about every other year.
What keeps you going?
I just need to keep busy, and knitting (and swimming) has always been the way to do it.
What surprised you most about the process of starting your business?
If you can do what you love to do you’ll be happy forever.
What advice would you offer other moms developing their ideas?
Go for it. You can always find time to do what you love to do. And get any children involved that look like they’re interested -- I used to get my son to wind my wool at 2 cents a ball back in the ‘50s.
Thank you for sharing your story, Betty! You can learn more about Betty's knitting books at BettyLampenKnitBooks.com.
If you have a great story to share about your product or business, we’d love to hear it! And if you’d like to connect with other amazing women inventors and entrepreneurs, join the Mom Invented Community!
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