If you've ever been cycling in the Alps (other forbidding and notorious mountain ranges are available), you'll have some sense of 2021 at VeloVixen. Lung-bursting climbs that feel like they'll never end, followed by hair-raising descents that have you hanging on for dear life.
That's been our year.
Obviously we're not alone in having had a challenging / stressful / exciting / life-affirming 2021* - so many businesses, large and small, in cycling and elsewhere, have been through similar. But we thought it might be interesting to share the highs and the lows to give you a small insight into running this show.
* Delete depending on how many cups of coffee or glasses of wine you've had...
Let's get the trying bits out of the way first: our 5 biggest challenges of 2021 (scroll down for the cheerier bits!):
1. Overseas customers
There were none. Simple as that.
We're too long in the tooth to pass comment on the relative merits of a certain referendum back in 2016.
Suffice to say that our figure of precisely zero sales to customers outside the UK would suggest it hasn't yet been an entirely happy outcome for small businesses like ours.
Incidentally, we can't wait to find a way to make it work in 2022.
2. International Suppliers
It hasn't just been hard for our lovely patient customers in other countries. Importing cycling gear from overseas is now also that much more complex.
Gone are the overnight deliveries from Italy, the Netherlands and elsewhere. In 2021 we've had to be patient, confront higher prices and - even after the boxes have arrived at VV Towers - brace ourselves for that juicy import duty bill through the post a couple of weeks later. Harumph.
Yup, that. We're all in the same boat, so we shouldn't grumble. There's nothing to be gained by wishing it away.
At the end of the day, we're all still alive and healthy (although at one point even that was looking iffy).
Covid clearly isn't going to disappear for a while yet, so here's to a further dilution of the misery it brings for 2022. Fingers crossed.
4. Supply Chains
Again, almost every business has been affected in 2021. From a global shortage of containers to a shortage of HGV drivers in the UK, getting goods around has been hugely challenging.
Add to that shortages of raw materials, ballooning energy prices, social distancing in factories and widespread staff absences for covid-related reasons and it's small wonder that getting hold of the right products at the right times has been trickier than usual this year.
All of these issues have contributed to the cost of 'things' going up. From food to fuel, few expenses have remained stable in 2021. That includes cycling gear.
Our costs have risen, for many brands by 10% at least. The problem is that - quite understandably - most customers don't really want to pay more. Nor would we.
So that leaves us needing to be decidedly nimble with the resulting lower margins to make it all add up.
* * *
So those have been the toughest headwinds we've needed to confront in 2021. What of the friendlier tailwinds, you ask? It certainly hasn't been all doom and gloom - far from it.
These are the factors that are allowing us to confront 2022 with a spring in our step:
1. Our customers
Every day we are reminded of just how fabulous our customers are.
It's not just the fact that they support our business by choosing to buy consistently from us. It's that supportive note included with a returns package, the understanding email when a product is delayed an extra day, the glowing review left by a first time customer, the kindred spirit at the other end of the phone line.
The loyalty of our customers blows us away: for the first time ever, 2021 saw our existing customers spend more of their hard-earned money than newcomers to VeloVixen.
If you are one of our customers, old or new, THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts. Without you, we would not exist (clearly!). We truly appreciate every last one of you.
2. Our Facebook Group
An extension of our customer group, our Facebook group has continued to thrive and grow throughout 2021.
It remains the best way for female cyclists to ask questions, compare experiences, support one another and discover kindred spirits. From complete beginners to seasoned experts, nobody is left feeling anything other than welcome and positive. And there's a lot of laughing and comparing of cake stops that goes on!
Some raw figures for you: in 2021, there have been nearly 13,000 posts, over 240,000 comments and more almost a million reactions. We salute you, Facebook group members!
3. Our VeloVixen Brand
The VeloVixen collection is now our most popular brand. Whilst we aren't prone to self-congratulation, this feels quite a feat given that it's up against some of the most established and recognised brands in cycling.
More importantly, it's a sign just how much people have come to trust our judgement in cycling kit. It's also a reflection of how the designs ROCK!
4. Our Team
Once again, our small but perfectly formed team have done amazing things this year.
If ever one person has flagged, the others have unfailingly rallied round. Fran and Eleanor have led from the front, ably supported by Madi, Iona, Zoe and others.
More crucially still, customers' orders have been fulfilled efficiently, questions answered charmingly, exchanges exchanged, and returns refunded - all often to the backdrop of showtunes sung at full volume. You are awesome.
Without our team, our customers, our suppliers and everybody else involved in VeloVixen - all of whom have had their own challenges to deal with this year - the good ship VeloVixen would have long since sought safe harbour away from the storms. Thank you all.
Instead, we are surging into 2022 with the wind in our sails, excited to explore new lands and take whatever the high seas can throw at us.
We love that as a small, specialist business we are making a real difference to people's lives. We know because we hear it first hand from our own customers whose lives are enhanced, or simply made more bearable, by cycling.
We wouldn't change it for the world, and we have a sneaky feeling the next 12 months could be defining ones for us.
Happy New Year and happy cycling in 2022 to you all!
Liz & Phil x