Before opening the shop I drew out a detailed business plan, and through that I theoretically understood that it would take time before the business would be profitable, that things would start off slowly and it would take a while to build up a customer base.
But, let's be real: All the while I actually believed that I was somehow different. I would be that one in a million overnight success.
I harbored this unspoken delusion up until the day that I opened the shop...in the middle of October...the rainiest October we had seen in years...aka, not a popular or profitable time for bike shops...especially brand new bike shops that no one had ever heard of. And so I would sit for hours in an empty shop, waiting for customers to arrive, every day feeling like I’d planned myself an extravagant birthday party that no one bother to showed up to.
To deal with the special kind of shame that comes along with running a struggling business, I would put on a charade and tell people that this was all a part of the plan; that I wanted to open up during the slow season so that I could get my processes and procedures in order before entering the busier summer months. (I'm a pretty awful liar, but people at least pretended to believe me -- thanks for that.) In actuality, it was a result of poor planning and stubbornness. All businesses make mistakes in the beginning, and this was definitely one of mine.
In addition to dealing with my own emotions during my first slow season, it was also tough because I had employees. All of my business classes and books had taught me that if my workers were't actively doing something productive (i.e. money-making) at all times then the business would most certainly fail and our lives would be ruined and Santa would no longer bring gifts to even the good kids (or something like that), and so I would create all sorts of random projects for them to do and assign them with a false sense of urgency. Even if we weren't actually busy, we at least needed to pretend at though we were. You know, no leaning, all cleaning.
Again, we all make mistakes.
Fast forward four years later, and I'm still making all sort of mistakes all the time. But, I'm also happy to report that I'm more used to the slow season and much more comfortable within it. People don't ride as much when it's raining, we don't sell as many bikes and we don't perform as much service. And that's okay. It's a part of the cycle (pun intended) of running a bike shop in this sometimes sunny and sometimes rain and gray town. I plan for it, I save for it. The business is prepared.
And so instead of needlessly worrying about the seasonal drop in business, I embrace it. It's a great time for us to work hard on things that we can't get to during the grind of the super busy days -- brainstorming new ideas for classes and events, writing manuals, hanging fixtures, reorganizing and sprucing up the space -- and it's also a time for us to embrace the fact that each of us here is worth more than how much work we can get done over the course of an 8 hour day.
Sometimes the most important work we can do is to just chill out, slow down and have fun with one another. So, in addition to the various projects we all take on over the winter, we also take time to listen to our coworkers and learn about them as people, to talk more with customers and and build relationships with them, to take a lunch that's a little bit longer, to write silly blog posts, to break into a song when a jam comes on the radio.
Then, come Spring, we're ready. We're not only recharged from having some extra time off to play, we also know each other better and are better aware of how to support one another, and ready to hit go and go into high gear.
So, here's to the slow season! May it be short, may it be useful, and may it be fun!
(Side note: Typing all this out makes me realize how astoundingly lucky that all three of the people who were there to help me open the shop are still with me today. THANK YOU FOR PUTTING UP WITH ME.)