“Follow the Fiber” Yarn Truck By Elizabeth Morrisey

“Follow the Fiber” Yarn Truck
By Elizabeth Morrisey

We all know about the ever popular food trucks, but what about a yarn truck?

A local truck called “Follow the Fiber” is one of less than a dozen trucks in the country — and the only one in Florida — that is filled with yarn and travels around to destinations that might not have a good yarn shop nearby. A mobile extension of Four Purls Yarn Shop in downtown Winter Haven, owners JD and Laura Dobratz say the truck brings the best of yarn and fiber to knitters and crocheters in and around Central Florida.

“We wanted to bring our yarn shop to other people,” says JD Dobratz, whose name tag says Truck Master. “There are food trucks, so we thought why can’t we do it with yarn.”  So they gutted a truck three years ago and added shelves, flooring, and wrapped the truck with their logo. It now holds roughly 2,000 skeins of yarn.

All different colors and types of yarn can be found aboard the 20-foot truck. Laura Dobratz is the driving force behind the truck’s very existence. Deciding to add a truck to her shop, which already boasts Central Florida’s largest selection of yarn and fiber, was a no-brainer.

“We have a lot of customers that travel an hour or more to shop and I hear over and over again, ‘I wish you were closer, we don’t have anywhere to buy good yarn around us,’” Laura Dobratz says. “One day it hit me, I could have a store in every town around us, it just had to be movable and only open once in while.”

Follow the Fiber makes its way to events at least once a week in the winter months, which can often mean the Dobratzes are working seven days a week. They take a break over summer because of the heat and go back out in the community in the fall. JD Dobratz says the closest yarn shop to Four Purls is about an hour away so the truck also helps with advertising their brick and mortar store.

“A truck is the perfect complement to the store full of yarn,” Laura Dobratz continues. “It is our lifeline. It gives people an idea of what we carry in the store. The truck is pretty essential to the success of the shop, we rely on the travelers that it brings back to the shop.” Both the shop and the truck carry brands that cannot be found at big box stores, such as yarns that have been hand-dyed or milled with high quality fibers.

Some who happen upon the truck by accident would never never have thought to seek out a proper yarn shop or even know that better yarn does exist.

“Men are particularly intrigued,” says Laura Dobratz. “When we attend markets, couples (who do not knit, crochet, etc.) will stop and the husband will want to go up into the truck and look around. We can pack a fair amount of yarn in the truck so it makes for a very impressive ‘booth’ at fiber festivals and events that we attend.”

“When (customers) come to the truck they know from the brands we carry in it that the drive to the store will be worth it because it can only get better,” Laura Dobratz says. “Having a big store also means that we can rotate the inventory so that every time we take the truck out they can see new things.”

The truck makes regular stops at different fiber events, conferences, markets, and if a local knitting/crochet group is big enough, they can book the truck to come directly to their meeting place.

Some of the places people will find ‘Follow the Fiber’ is the Mount Dora Village Sunday Market, The Black Sheep in Orlando, and large annual events in the state like the Florida Fiber In and Distaff Day. ‘Follow the Fiber’ became a regular on the third Saturday of each month at The Black Sheep in the College Park area of Orlando when the store started focusing more on needlepoint, but still wanted to offer yarn to its customers.

“It works better to partner with them,” says Judy Dziuban, an employee of the Black Sheep in Orlando. “It certainly helps our business. It’s a very beneficial, reciprocal relationship.” If a customer makes a request for a specific type of yarn, they can call Four Purls and they will bring it the next time they roll into town.

The truck has been to 55 plus communities for their residents and knitting groups. “We cater to certain groups and what they might want,” JD Dobratz says. “Mobile businesses are expanding. It’s expensive to run a store.

“We could probably have it out a few times a week but we lack the staff,” he says, adding that they may hire more people in the future.

The couple also enjoys partnering with coffee shops, cafes, breweries and other businesses. “It’s mutually beneficial,” he says. Customers can grab a coffee or snack and snag some yarn for a project.

Even though the truck is a regular sight now for longtime customers in Polk County, it’s still somewhat of a novelty. Laura Dobratz says that truck is just plain fun and she says the look on someone’s face seeing the truck for the first time never gets old.

“I feel proud and excited that I’ve brought a bit of joy to their day,” she says. “What is really exciting, though, is when I see the same person walk into the shop for the first time because they visited the truck and just had to see the shop, too.”

“People are usually a bit shocked that they can walk up into the truck and that it’s full of yarn,” Laura Dobratz says.

“Sometimes people are like, ‘So you bought a truck and filled it with yarn and now you drive around and sell the yarn out of your truck?’ And I’m like, well, when you say it like that it does sound a bit crazy, but yes,” she says laughing.

“What fiber artist doesn’t want to walk up into a big truck and be totally surrounded by yarn and roving? Plus if your town doesn’t have a yarn shop it’s a great way to meet and hang out with other knitters, crocheters, weavers, and spinners,” she says.

Four Purls Yarn Shop opened in 2010 and business has been better than ever. “We’ve seen an increase in interest in knitting and crocheting,” says JD Dobratz. He and his wife moved to Winter Haven from Michigan 12 years ago. “(Laura) had a need for quality yarn and didn’t want to drive far.”

With the shop itself, JD and Laura Dobratz have provided a place for creative individuals in the community to gather.

“Hopefully people feel like it’s an extension of our living room,” he says.

“To me that is almost as important as the yarn the friendships that form over wool and needles,” Laura Dobratz says. “Sometimes, because we are in towns without yarn shops, the people who visit the truck have never been in a ‘real’ yarn shop, they have no idea how wonderfully beautiful yarn can be. All they know is the craft store and it’s a big difference.”

From 12 years old to 97 years old, the use of yarn for all different projects is growing in popularity.

“There are more knitters than golfers in the US,” says Laura Dobratz. “It’s very trendy,” her husband continues. “It’s not your grandma’s knitting.”

Four Purls holds knit nights on Tuesdays with nationally known teachers, classes, and special events. The bulk of their clients are retirement age and even a handful of males sometimes try it out. “The community is growing. More people are utilizing the shop to relax and be creative.”

As for the future of the ‘Follow the Fiber’ yarn truck, the Dobratzes say they have plans to eventually upgrade the truck so they can travel farther distances.

For more information on Four Purls Yarn Shop and the ‘Follow the Fiber’ truck visit FourPurls.com.