Photo by Kevin Morgans

Prior to 2020 Stolen Goat still technically fell into the UK definition of a micro-business. We now find ourselves deep in the category of a Small Business but I don’t remember pausing to celebrate, which is a shame. We should all celebrate our minor victories a little more. Otherwise you’re just moving from one crisis to another.

2021 has, without a doubt, been the biggest test for us as a company & team. Covid-19 plus Brexit is a heady combination that has caused us some major logistical issues this year. Let me explain a little…

As a small business we’ve always run in an agile way, certainly in terms of stock management and cash flow. We are definitely not alone on that. Businesses have become super optimised. Supply chains have become tight, short, and “just-in-time”. That’s been useful for large corporations but it’s also allowed small, well managed businesses to grow and frankly survive. For big companies – short, tightly managed supply chains are an efficiency optimisation exercise. For a small company (or micro-business), a well managed supply chain is a route to market.

For Stolen Goat specifically, we can create a wide range without having to go deep in stock. This has many advantages – we are rarely over-stocked, we don’t need to do discount sales, we can be more adventurous in the range we stock (for example we were one of the first brands to have parity across men’s vs women’s products – long before the women’s market was ready for us demand wise), we can push quickly into new categories etc.

Prior to “The Great Cycling Frenzy” that was caused by lockdown, we got away with pushing this to the limits I’d say. But lockdown highlighted the major downside with stocking in such an agile way – if demand suddenly grew then we had to frustrate a lot of people with lack of stock. The phrase “this is a good problem to have” was used a lot last year, and that’s true. We got lucky last year – the right setup in the right industry, gave us a lot of “good problems to have”. But it highlighted some logistical weaknesses based on assumptions we made in the past and because we did things the way we’ve always done them.

A project I spent a fair amount of time on last year was developing an in-house tool that leverages machine learning to forecast our demand in a more scalable way. This has been useful to say the least but nothing could prepare us for the antics that would happen in 2021.

We prepared for Brexit like many other companies… by stock piling before the event. This process felt very unnatural to us but the demand was exceptionally strong and we considered it a necessary risk. Frankly the government gave us little choice. We ended 2020 with more than double the normal amount of stock we carry.

Demand was stronger than expected in the first half of year, with 3 times the normal web traffic, double the number of orders and thousands of lovely new people joining the collective Herd. As per the forecasting tool, and our experience, we ordered more stock in to meet demand (even though we started from a very strong stock position) but that stock took months to move from Belgium to the UK, yes months. Normally it takes 2 days.

A supply chain is exactly that, a chain. And as the old adage goes “a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.” For us, the freight / courier part of the chain well and truly snapped. Boxes of stock went missing, wouldn’t show up or were held in customs despite us frantically trying to contact them each and every day.

Some stock that was sent in May, still hasn’t arrived with us now in September. Other bits were sold by UPS as “lost stock” via auction to scavenging ebay sellers!

All of this has massive knock on effects. You need to re-order, wait, delay, apologise, wait. As a result our AW launch that would normally kick off in August is now pushed back to October.

All of this is frustrating. But that’s all it is – frustrating. We still have a solid business and I am very grateful for that. We have a superb new season about to drop, including some brand new products developed from the ground up.

All of this highlights the importance of counting your blessings and celebrating your victories – however minor. Here are some victories that we probably should have celebrated a bit more:

  • Doubling the size of the team in the last six months
  • Introducing 11,000 brand new customers to Stolen Goat over the last 12 months
  • Increasing website traffic by 143% over the last 12 months
  • Winning “Best Women’s Cycle Clothing Brand” in 2020
  • Partnering with new stockists across the UK and beyond
  • Chatting with and, in some cases, getting to ride with members of the Herd via the Herd Facebook group
  • Creating some exciting new partnerships ;-)

Many businesses fail in the first 10 years. For those that make it, the trajectory to stability is not a straight line – it’s a roller coaster ride. Frankly I personally enjoy the ups and downs as it makes things interesting.  And it’s all the more enjoyable now that we have a great team who can tackle just about any problem. Regardless, lets make sure we celebrate those mini (or major) victories!

I know you guys are all waiting for AW21 to drop – it’ll be here in October. The good news is it’ll be well worth the wait – it’s a stunning collection with some real gems. Stay tuned.