Four Lessons for Leading with Purpose: How Lion Brand Yarn Is Reaching the New Values-Driven Consumer

As a leader, it’s always a challenge to help your business compete and thrive in a volatile business environment. These days, given the high rate of inflation, the ongoing supply chain challenges, and lingering public health challenges — just to name a few! — the environment feels more volatile than usual.

And that’s why your brand’s purpose matters more than ever. Waves of new research studies highlight the growing role purpose plays in creating value for businesses and consumers. One example is the KPMG CEO Outlook, which shows that most global CEOs now focus on driving purposeful performance to create long-term stakeholder value.

That’s certainly the case at Lion Brand, a near 145-year young, privately owned, fifth-generation leading knitting and craft yarn marketer and distributor. We don’t just sell yarn — we market our brand and products to support our purpose. We create comfort, care and connectivity. When someone decides to take the time to knit or crochet a gift for a loved one, that gift takes on a special personalized meaning and provides a lasting memory. We take great pride in knowing that many precious memories start with Lion Brand!

I joined the company as CEO in mid-2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up in scale. In addition to closely navigating through the ongoing vast product supply and cost challenges, our team has consistently pushed Lion Brand to reaffirm its purpose, mission and values — and to lean into those enduring strengths across the business in everything we do. The company’s purpose and mission drive our business goals, and employees are rewarded and recognized based on how they demonstrate our company’s five shared values.

Now that purposeful approach is paying off! Here are four lessons we’ve learned along the way.

1. Your products should be an outcome of your purpose.

Lion Brand’s meaning and positioning align with the needs of makers everywhere. The brand’s purpose of “Creating a More Colorful, Connected, Comforting & Caring World” is especially resonating with core makers and waves of new ones, particularly around its alignment to and support of the mental health benefits associated with the craft of knitting and crocheting. The result is overall growth and elevated maker engagement and satisfaction levels, as Lion Brand meets the needs of consumers and retail partners. The brand is facilitating a growing community and is driving category traffic and engagement through its purpose!

2. Drive social engagement through an omnichannel strategy.

Our purpose also inspires and informs our outreach to consumers. Today, Lion Brand engages with makers across various social platforms, including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and TikTok. The company has become a significant content producer, creating and posting how-to videos daily. In all, Lion Brand has amassed some 350 million views across its digital platforms, and one of the essential sources of outreach and engagement for the company is our encouragement and support of the creativity and passion of our many influencers. This has created a greater sense of community and expanded usage for the industry. Increased social engagement drives traffic to retailer stores and online sites.

In addition, Lion Brand’s partnership with meaningful and relevant social causes and their communities creates even further engagement and interest in the category. Success for us isn’t just putting a product in a retail store and hoping the consumer will go to the store and buy it. We invest tremendous energy and resources into connecting with consumers in the ways, platforms and networks they want to engage with today.

3. Value and understand your retail partners.

Lion Brand’s commitment to the purpose of all of the ‘good’ that our brand and products provide and our ability to drive category engagement and usage fosters a collaborative relationship with our retail partners.

Understanding your product, brand and category’s role within the context of all the products and categories your retail partners manage is essential. More importantly, understand how your products and brand can help drive retailer traffic, sales and profit. I regularly visit customer stores and don’t just look for our products or category. I look at everything they’re selling. I look at the experience shoppers have in-store or online. As a leading category brand, it’s vital to understand your retail partners’ focus, strategy, challenges and constraints — and then look for ways to help your partners drive traffic and generate sales to support those strategies and overcome those challenges and limitations.

4. Empower your teams to win.

The success of a business is driven by its people. Business is a team sport. And as in any team sport, the best ‘teams’ win! As a leader, you need to ensure the team has clarity in direction, that they are aligned with and guided by your goals, and, notably, with your purpose! An engaged team united and driven by a meaningful purpose can deliver outstanding results while making the world better. Set the direction, ensure you have the right people in place and let them run with it.

As you look to finish the year strong and enter 2023 with greater momentum, think about how your company’s purpose can enhance the value you create and deliver for your customers, partners, and employees. No one can predict the future. But here’s one thing you can be certain about: Purposeful leadership will help you drive meaningful performance and can play a key role in taking your business to new heights.

Chris Mills is CEO of Lion Brand Yarn Company, a cutting-edge, fifth-generation, family-owned business and one of the leading innovative knitting and craft yarn marketers in the United States and other countries. Lion Brand yarns and accessories are sold in-store and online at craft specialty chains, discount chains and independent shops.