Balance. It’s something you seek constantly when running a small business. Balance between life and work, price and profit, consumer choice and production efficiency. As 2017 draws near, I’ve been considering what line Rogue Panda will walk in the new year, and what balance we will find.
This has been a fantastic year for Rogue Panda, no doubt. We started the year with one employee (me) and we’re ending it with five. We introduced our rolltop framebags and made a lot of improvements to our framebag production queue. And heat pressed vinyl has recently expanded the way we can personalize framebags.
On the other hand, the last three months have been really tough on me, personally. I’m spending more time managing and emailing and less time sewing. Don’t even talk to me about how much time I’ve spent riding. Plus, our response time on custom and backordered items has gotten longer and longer. I’m not really happy with that, and I want to change things in a big way for the next year.
My dream for 2017 is pretty simple: to have the shortest framebag lead time in the industry and keep all other items in stock. That and ride some more. The first part is pretty simple: if we have enough people dedicated to making framebags every week then we will keep on top of that. But keeping the other items in stock at the same time? That means working on large batches, and simplifying the product line a bit.
That last part is where consumer choice comes in – stocking lots of bags in lots of colors is, well, a lot of work. How long do we hold on to a bright orange downtube bag before it gets bought? And if we don’t stock it, how do we deal with backorders? You might think that we should just charge extra for rarely ordered colors. But the bottom line for me is that the shop is the most fun, most productive, and least stressful when we work on just one or two projects at a time. Even if we get to charge extra for it, having someone do one-off bags just makes the whole operation less focused.
This leads to the conclusion I’ve made, which is no longer allow backorders, and simplify the product line by dropping some color choices. We’ve already dropped a couple overall, and some rarely-ordered bags will go down to fewer options. Framebags will still be custom made and this will let us have a little more time to focus on them.
It’s a hard decision for me to make, because I want somebody to be able to log on to our website and order a full kit of bags in whatever fun color they choose. But I also want the bags to be delivered promptly, at an affordable price, and made by happy workers making a living wage. Putting all of that together means we have to simplify the product line. I’ve put a lot of thought into the alternatives and none of them strike the right balance for me.
Which brings us back to where we started. One of the beauties of running a small business is that you get to balance your goals yourself. It can be stressful, but it also means that you get to focus on your goals. For Rogue Panda, my goals trend towards low cost, short lead times, and a good work environment. These changes will help us make that happen, and maybe I’ll spend some more time in the saddle as well!