Sometimes we suck.
Like a lot of things that have been going on at the moment, I’ve been trying to finish this posting for far too long. The fact that I started it weeks ago and have been bouncing about trying to finish it and feeling like I’m getting nowhere, encapsulates a lot of what’s happening here at Shand right now.
Ok, I’m going to come right out and say it.. deep breath… we suck at delivering bikes on time. There, that feels better. Actually, it doesn’t. And saying it doesn’t make it any better for those of you waiting on bikes or have had to wait too long. But it needs to be said.
A little history to put things in perspective. Shand have been building bikes for 10 years. But the makeup of Shand now bears little resemblance to the previous decade. For the first 4 or 5 years, I was building made to measure full custom bike frames, mostly in my spare time. Never more than about 10-12 per year. It was a hobby, a sideline, something that never really made any money. The next 4 or 5 years, I was much more focussed, I started to care about processes and not just developing the bikes I was building, but also developing the way I built bikes. Everyday was a school day.
Fast forward to now. No longer is it just me working away in my home-workshop in the middle of night, but there’s 4 of us in a nice big space and it’s a proper job for all of us. We’ll probably build more bikes this year than I built in the first 8 or years years put together. We’ve spent money on marketing, tooling, people and space. All so we can build the volume we need to in order to make this a sustainable business. And everyday is still a school day.
And here’s the rub, it’s bloody hard. Having a great team of four dedicated individuals fully committed to building the best bikes we can, feels so different to beavering away on my own. Compared to the past few years it feels like we’ve turned into some kind of huge corporation and I need to keep reminding myself that we’re still a tiny dot in the bicycle industry landscape.
Since we relaunched the brand about 18 months ago, things have gone crazy. The sales volume has soared, the feedback about the bike we’ve had from customers has been great. We’ve been featured in magazines, films, national press, local press, we’ve won awards and we continue to be bowled over by the feedback and reaction from people who, heartwarmingly, genuinely seem to want to support a small British bicycle company, either by buying bikes (or t-shirts), speaking to us on social media, sending us quirky letters (yes letters, in post, with stamps on), or just sending us emails to say ‘Hi, love what you’re doing, keep it up’.
And here’s the but. The orders roll in and we come in each day and build bikes. Somedays, it’s great. Other days it sucks. Tools break, deliveries go missing, ideas we had prove to be duff, we make mistakes, we get ill, our kids get ill, we run out of coffee. We screw up, our suppliers screw up and sometimes our customers screw up. Everytime something like this happens, we fall behind in our schedule. Because we’re so small and we’re working at the limits of our production capacity, once we lose the place, it’s almost impossible to catchup. When you’re only building 10 bikes a year, and you fall behind, a couple of calls to the 2 people next on your waiting list takes care of things. When you’re at our level and still building customers bikes to order, we can have 20 or 30 people on our list that are potentially impacted by delays rather than 1 or 2. And this is the part that we (well me specifically) suck at. Communication. Most people buying a bike from us have chosen us for the exact reason that makes delays and late deliveries more likely. We’re small.
We need to be better. We realise that. So we’re taking steps to make us ‘not suck so much’. We’ve got more real live people taking on customer communications. We’re putting processes in place to try and mitigate against the almost inevitable supply chain issues. We’re changing the way we take orders and estimate delivery time as well as actually reducing leadtimes. We’re developing new systems for the building of bikes that will enable us to be more efficient. We’re being more pro-active rather than re-active. We’re streamlining our product offering. As boring as all this sounds, it makes me really excited, it feels like we’re moving forward in the way we want to rather than conducting forest fire management.
It’ll take a little time but we’ll get there. I’m looking forward to having time to get out and ride my bike instead of calling customers to explain their bike is going to be late.