As we near the end of 2019, it’s that time again to take a look back at the previous 12 months and try to establish things we did well, and things we’d like to improve on going forward. We do this retrospective every year and it always amazes me what details and intricacies you pick up on that may not have been apparent at the time.
The year started with a full re-design of our protection products. This actually set the stage for the year ahead, leading us to refer to 2019 as a reset year. As I outlined in a previous blog post, we had designed and created a whole range of protection products over the years, but never specified a design ethos that translated across the entire product range. The outcome of which was a collection of products that weren’t cohesive, distant cousins as apposed to a tight-knit family if you will. Once we had finished this project we turned our attention to the rest of the product lines.
What started as an innocent overview of the products we offered, quickly escalated into an existential discussion about various aspects of the business. For example, from the inside it made complete sense why we sell the various products we do. From the outside however it could be construed as disjointed, and unfocused. This ‘outsiders’ perspective has really troubled me recently, and got me thinking a lot about narrowing our focus as a business to the more functional products. As a first step down this road we started to discontinue some product lines that fell outside of this mandate. Most of which had seen declining sales in recent years anyway, so there wasn’t any particularly hard decision to make.
The other facet of this new, more narrowed approach means we can focus our efforts on say Protection or Safety products, which we hope will lead to more innovation as we’re no longer casting our net too wide. This is something I think we’ve done badly in the past. The adage “if you can, you should” might be good when it comes to going after a Strava segment, but not introducing new product lines.
So if 2019 was a Reset year, then 2020 will be a Focus year. Where we continue to sharpen our skills as we head towards a more nuanced future. A future and a past for that matter, that couldn’t happen without the support from our customers, of which I’d like to say a big thank you, happy holidays and all the best for next year.
Over the past 7 years we’ve introduced a host of new protection products, from chainstay protectors to full bike kits, but all on an individual basis. As new ideas or requirements cross our path, we design a product that does the job and move on to the next. While not a particularly terrible process, it struck me the other day just how disjointed the various products have become. Disjointed in their design ethos.
Let me clarify my interpretation of design direction vs ethos. I see design direction as the requirements that make a product viable, competent if you will. For example we use rounded corners on all our protection products to avoid unwanted lift or dirt ingress and we have set minimums for this radius. This is an element that dictates the direction the design goes in. Ethos on the other hand is the symbiotic relationship that underpins the aesthetics that give each product a familiar look or feel. It’s this ethos that I think we were missing, with our protection range being a hodgepodge of different styles instead of being part of the same family.
The first step was to pull all the designs into illustrator and proceed to stare at them for several days. As a collection they were horribly disconnected and I wasn’t sure why it had taken so long to realise this. When you’re on the inside of a business it’s difficult to view what you do and how you do it, from your customers perspective. With everything in one place however, it allowed me some insight into what may seem plainly obvious to someone browsing our website.
The first step down the road to redemption was to pick out the elements I thought worked well and cast aside those I had aversion for. It was then a case of translating those elements across the different applications, but do so in a way that didn’t compromise the design direction. This was where the real challenge was. When it comes to products like this it’s function over form every time. They’re designed to serve a purpose, and although this exercise appears to be about making everything look good, it’s actually about imprinting each product with a shared identity while maintaining that function.
Going into this my perspective was mostly centred around a compulsion to have everything looking uniformed. But very quickly it become apparent that by sharing the ethos across the range it started to impart a brand identity onto what were largely generic looking products. This was reinforced by adding our logo onto several of the designs that helped to cement them as ours.
So my biggest hope in accomplishing this re-designs is actually that not many people even notice. That our products continue to get used and continue to server their purpose, just with a little more unity.
As we head into March and spring gets ever nearer, I wanted to take a minute to share with you what’s been happening since the New Year as 2019 started with a big decision for us. Back in January we finally made the move to a new vinyl supplier for our protective clear film.
For the past couple of years I’d had my reservations about the film we used. Customer feedback has always been positive and the failure rate was near zero, but I still wasn’t in love with the end product. So with this in mind I set out to find a replacement, which proved to be a long and painful road.
When it came to sourcing a new film, the most important factor for us was price point. Price is what gives the customer a frame of reference by which to uphold an item or service and determine if it represents value to them. This is important to us because some alternative film options would have required a 3x price increase, which gave me serious pause when it came to ‘representing true value’. I say this because a 3x increase in price would not equate to a 3x increase in film performance or longevity.
The vinyl we use (and did use) is rated for 5-7 year exterior use. But this rating only refers to the UV degradation of the adhesive and failure of the film. This rating does not account for the user experience of a crank protector. Riders who have an aggressive cleat angle may need to replace their protectors once a season, but others find they swap bikes before the protector reaches the end of its lifecycle. This is then one of our limiting factors around representing value. For the heavy user who is forced to replace their protector once a year regardless, a price point of £5 is presumably better than £15.
There are other considerations too, including vinyl thickness, adhesive quality, film clarity…and even what backing paper the film was on. Sadly we don’t do the type of volume that would be required to have a custom solution manufactured, so we were limited to what’s already on the market. This lead to 2 years of emails, samples and testing which never produced an option that was viable. Late in 2018 however, we found it!
So vinyl 2.0 as I call it is a marked improvement in all of the technical specifications we required. But beyond the adhesive clarity and gsm ratings, i’m more proud of the final product. It feels much closer to my ideals than before and I think that translates when customers first open their order. That initial contact and experience is very important to me, and something I look for as a customer.
That leaves us with the issue of price point. The new vinyl is more expensive than vinyl 1.0, but we’ve made the decision to not pass this cost onto you. As a business that relies on positive experiences and word of mouth, we see this as just an investment where it matters most. And as such we will continue the endeavour of perfection and bringing those who support us, the best possible products.
Since returning to cycling 6 years ago, I've had the same pair of Shimano R077 shoes. They were supposed to be a temporary solution while I got back into the swing of things, at which point i'd look for something a little higher spec. Before the R077's I'd had a pair of Nike Poggio's (in all their chrome silver glory!) and before that a pair of hand me down Sidi's.
What I learned over the years is I really like the simplicity of velcro straps, no gimmicks or chunky buckles to deal with, just clean straps that allow me to rock my much loved over socks...think Iban Mayo circa 2003. I'm sure the Boa lovers will disagree here but I find straps easy to adjust and achieve an acceptable tightness with a fair degree of granularity. Now having never tried a pair with Boa fittings I can't speak on how they perform, but the fact is i'm not sure I like the look of the Boa, and you know cycling is all about the aesthetics!
So a couple years ago I decided to go on the hunt to finally replace the Shimano's and the first place I landed was Rapha. I'm a big fan of Rapha's design philosophy and so I was immediately drawn to the Climber's shoes, which at the time were about to be discontinued and so they only had a limited number of sizes left. I normally wear a size 42/43 and all Rapha had close was a 41.5...needless to say they were way too small and after much searching online I couldn't find a larger size anywhere.
Another year goes by and one afternoon I find myself browsing the shoe sections again. My picky requirements however soon narrowed down the options to not a lot...except the Giro Emipre's. Ok so not velcro but laces looked just as sleek so I ordered a pair of the ACC's. Now i'm not here to debate the merits of any shoe tightening system, but for me laces just didn't work. I've spoke to many who swear by them, but I couldn't get onboard with the added hassle of pulling through each lace to achieve the correct fit. I'd say I'm semi particular about how I have my shoes so perhaps that added to the distain.
Either way I was left shoeless once again.
Then I stumbled across an Instagram post from an unknown account that had leaked Fizik's new Tempo powerstraps, I was in love once again! Luckily only a day later Fizik would actually announce them officially and list them on their site. I got a size 42.5 which fit me perfectly, the straps (at least on first impressions) offer good support and adjustability and they look incredible.
It's early days so I don't have a comprehensive review but their composite soles are a big improvement of the Shimano's, they're a much closer cut and fit too which I think is a sign of the added quality you get from a doubling in price. Either way I'm just glad the search is over.
Cycling Stickers will continue to be a family run business, dedicated to creating great products for cyclists. We started life as a small shop on several sales platforms and over the past 5 years have strived to carve our own path. The launch of our own site came just over a year ago and we’ve received amazing support from the community. Moving forward we’ve decided on a name change and slight rebranding to help better position ourselves for what’s the come.
Looking forward our aim is to become a real player in the bicycle protection world, protection for both you and your bike. We will continue to offer our decals and custom design services, but moving into 2018 our R&D focus will be on improving and integrating new protective products for frames, components & equipment.
We will also be continuing our partnership with PW Cycle Coaching to offer a wider range of .FIT workouts, with Power based training currently in the works. This means we will be looking towards formalising RideFit as a stand alone brand with the addition of a dedicated website. Until then the RideFit products will be available on the CyclingStickers/Cyclistick website.
The remainder of this year will be focused on Cyclistick products, making improvements to existing lines and introducing new ones. As we roll into the new year a larger portion of our efforts will be focused towards RideFit for both the training plans and clothing range. Nothing will change with the day to day operations of Cyclistick, our same day dispatch policy and eagerness to provide the very best customer service are going no where!
But we want to do more and RideFit allows us to explore new avenues. We consider it an experiment both in terms of product development but also in terms of business development. Our long term mission is to collaborate with the very best in British cycling brands to deliver new and interesting products, and help build exposure for them. Early next year we’ll release a post detailing this goal further, but for right now we’ve got stickers to make!
Thanks as always for the support
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I often end emails, blog posts or Instagram comments with, Thank you for the support. This isn’t just a subconscious positive wrap up to a message, but instead a truly heartfelt response to the support that you, the customers provide. As a small, relatively unknown business our reputation is vitally important to our continued development and growth. As such we truly care about every order, every mention, every email we receive, and consider it our duty to provide the best possible experience.
To further our commitment to providing great products and a great service, we’ve introduced product reviews to the site. Now this does require an additional time commitment from you guys, but once you've had time to test your purchases we’d love to hear your thoughts. This also helps new customers understand what other people’s experiences were, adding to our ethos of transparency.
We believe the seller/consumer interaction should be a two way conversation, not just a transaction. We’re lifetime cyclists, creating products for lifetime cyclists. We’re as much a part of the ecosystem as anyone else and conduct our business according to how we feel cycling should be represented.
Happy riding out there,
and thank you for the support!