Around this same time every year, I try to set aside space for myself to step away from the shop to reflect on the past year of business and make plans for the next. I hole in up coffee shops, cabins, and at my kitchen table and surround myself with highlighters, spreadsheets, financial statements, scratch paper, books and an endless array of cups of coffee and tea.
During these retreats, my first order of business is always looking at the dollars and cents of it all, combing through our financial statements to see where we did well, to look for places we struggled, and then to come up with strategies for how we could be more profitable. This is, after all, a business. And while responsible financial management and realistic budgeting may not be the flashiest topics to talk about, they are what keep our doors open, keep us serving our customers, and keep our staff well-paid.
Let's be real, though: This isn't the part of retreats that I get excited about.
Though healthy financials are necessary and nice, I started this business with a mission in mind before profit, with goal of disrupting the norm by examining what was already out there, appreciating and learning from the good, reflecting on the not-so-great and ultimately attempting to do things differently in an effort to better serve women through this one local bike shop, as well as trying to play a small part in pushing the conversation about gender inclusivity in the bike industry as a whole. And so it's the second part of my retreats that really gets my engines flaring, 'cause this is the part when I get to look back on the past year and try to decipher how well we've done at working towards our broader mission as a shop.
And as I looked back upon everything we did this year, I had the realization that what I was studying was the story of a whole bunch of ideas. It turns out that trying to re-imagine a business model and do things differently means coming up with a whole slew of new ideas - SO MANY IDEAS - in search of a good one.
To me, a good idea is one that:
(a) Addresses a need, whether or not people knew the need existed before,
(b) Is fun, both for our customers and for those of us who work here,
(c) Is inclusive of our community of women, trans, femme, gender non-conforming and allied folks,
(d) Makes our community feel more excited about riding bikes in some way, and
(e) Introduces more folks to who we are and what we're about here
With that definition in mind, I'm proud to say that we've had a lot of great ideas over the years -- from the Saddle Library, to the 'Cross Curious Club, and even cycling caps slathered in donuts in space. But, I also can't deny that for every good idea we've had there have been at least three times as many that have fallen flat. (Remember when we decided to have fresh baked goods at the shop every day? I hope not; that was a really bad idea.)
Which brings me to this past year.
2017 has been filled with some really great new ideas -- the BikeAble bike touring series we collaborated on with Makeshifter, a new structure for our basic maintenance classes, some new bike brands in the shop --, but, well...this was also a year of more than a few flops, things that we thought would lead somewhere, that never really panned out. And I'm okay with that.
Though it's rarely fun in the moment, the sense of dejection that can come along with a bad idea is ultimately worth it: It means that we're still trying to to things differently, sometimes failing miserably, sometimes hitting one out of the park, but always trying.
And so, coming out of this year's retreat, instead of dwelling on the ideas that didn't work out and committing to playing things safe(r), the overarching goal I have for the shop in the coming year is to embrace bad ideas and keep 'em coming. Because it's in that parade of mediocre, so-so and not-quite-right ideas that magic also appears.
Here's to more bad ideas!