by Mel @troubleon8wheels
I'm just reflecting over the last year of running a small business. Many people may start a business thinking how brilliant it will be to work for themselves (yes it is). Get up when you want, have the business 'fit in' with your life as we lust after that elusive work / life balance.
Well it *is* pretty amazing, but there are certainly terrifying times in equal measure, as you see all your hard work and investment teeter on the edge of catastrophe. As the business builds, you have more to lose. I have had to do some very deep inner work to understand what I'm doing and why, which gives me the determination to carry on.
Here are some of the snippets from the last year - most are achievements and I'm noting them here mostly for myself to refer back to. It's still too easy to focus on always improving or the next thing, and I'm certainly guilty of not taking enough time to appreciate the efforts of my work.
In September 2020, I decided to open a Royal Mail business account, as they offered daily collection from my business address - my home at the time. I learned how to use Click and Drop with some telephone support and trial and error. Once it was up and running it became a huge time saver, as the parcel collection massively saved queueing up at the post office and waiting for the parcels to be processed as well as typing in all the tracking numbers.
I've just had a look at the annual statistics - just over 7000 sales online in the last year, which is over 130 packages a week! I can't believe that when I opened the Royal Mail business account I was worried that we may not do the minimum required of 25 packages a week.
Let me assure you that I have made every single mistake possible with this system. If you have used Click and Drop, you will understand! I have posted items to the billing instead of shipping address, applied the wrong postage, put the wrong label on the wrong packet, struggled with international packages with this system as it continued to change throughout the year. All the time, our customers have been kind and patient while I sort out the mistakes. Thank you.
This time last year, I was in the middle of a build, transforming the our first permanent shop unit as fast as possible into our very own roller skate heaven. I was ably assisted by Dan, who helped to make all the display and storage, and plenty of our team. Katy, Karen and Sarah were particularly available for painting and glitter duties. I am incredibly grateful, as we turned the space around in 3 weeks!
We celebrated the opening of the shop with cake and a pom pom party. With social distancing still very necessary, and no vaccine, we invited a few members of the Gang to mark the occasion with us. The pom poms are still part of the photobooth in our shop and were made by lots of different members of the community. They serve as a reminder of the community that supported RGG through the toughest of times!
Of course, the shop opened, only to be closed a week later in the second national lockdown. But this time, I didn't have a kitchen full of skate products, so it was at least a little more comfortable at home!
However, access to the new shop was limited to only a few hours a week, and the post was then collected from my home, so I was dashing to the shop and then home again for about 2.5 months. Why didn't you just move the collection point to the shop though Mel, I hear you ask. I tried, but Royal Mail were snowed under with Christmas volume of packages and parcels, which they had been handling since April 2020. Yet, they had fewer staff at the sorting offices, due to the pandemic. Not surprisingly, my request got lost in the system somewhere. Thankfully, I was able to move the collection over to the shop in January 2021, and a small glimmer of work/life balance was looking likely.
Settling into some sort of routine is something humans long for. Routines feel calming because we know what comes next. We don't need to think about what to do, we can go on autopilot and just do it. I had calm for a short while as the only thing that is certain, is nothing stays the same.
My Roller Skate Journey Subscription Box
Also in January, I launched RGG's first ever subscription box, called My Roller Skate Journey. It was designed from scratch with Irene @doom_skates in Italy. She was a joy to work with and we pulled together designs on a tight deadline in 2020 to launch this - late due to printing issues - in January 2021. It's important that with RGG having a non-profit status, I try my best to keep products as affordable as possible. I have since learned that making a profit would actually be okay, as it can be reinvested into the community!
The beautiful people who signed up must've had no idea what they were signing up to, but I guess trusted me... The simple aim for the subscription box was to create a journal, which would build month by month, to document your skate progress over time. I was keen to make sure that the skaters of lockdown #1 felt supported and motivated to continue their journey, rather than hang their skates up.
Of course, the subscription box turned out to be far more work than I had ever envisaged - sourcing the products, having everything designed and made each month and packing the boxes takes time. So does making sure everything is labelled correctly, writing emails to everyone, creating the monthly challenges online that go with each physical box, remembering to try and promote the boxes... The three monthly Zoom calls were joyous though. Although we have a FaceBook and WhatsApp group, the Zoom calls allowed us to connect in a lovely way. They allowed us to bond as we developed a trust, understanding and appreciation for one another, even if our skates and styles were very different.
I've seen folks emerge as leaders within their local areas, driven to support their local community as best as they can, and share their successes with the group. We've supported each other through sprains, breaks, equipment malfunctions and so many changes of plan due to weather! We've also been there to celebrate the little wins and big ones. I think that the little wins are maybe even more important than the big ones. We all really enjoy pet parades and food. And the opportunity to meet in real life for some members of the group was something really special. The group has surpassed everything I could have hoped for, and I've absolutely had as much support from the members as I feel that I've given. Even though they all have my number, NOT ONE member of the group has overstepped the important boundary of messaging me about skates, the shop or classes privately.
In July, I took the decision not to re-open the subscription box to new subscribers, as the members of the group have become far more important than money. The group feels like a very safe space online, and that is not an easy thing to achieve. Every member of the group wants that and we all guard it fiercely.
So, the shop was ticking along nicely, and the subscription box had started. The instructor team and I were running a series of online classes and realised that we would be able to start outdoor classes from the end of March. Roller skating in March, outdoors, in Yorkshire?! Madness!
However I got in touch with Bodington Fields and asked about that Sunday session they wanted us to take before lockdown... We were in.
We ran outdoor classes for 22 weeks in total! Yes, sometimes it was wet. I've already written about the events held in the Summer, read about it here.
Back at the shop, April and May saw more restrictions lifted and customers allowed back into store. We had to be tidier! Packing had to be done in the shop and not spread out all over the concourse! We were still receiving a high volume of online orders (thank you folks!) So I decided to give our online customers a couple of hours each day of dedicated time, by opening the shop to customers from noon. That way, we could answer emails and messages and pack orders without distraction. We still do this each day and get our online orders packed before opening the doors to our customers. We do our best to take time and get things right. It's hard, as I made every mistake under the sun when I packed orders by myself. Wrong address? Yep. Incorrect number of items? Wrong colour of laces? Absolutely, I've done that, but learned something every time I made a mistake. I developed a way of packing orders so that fewer mistakes were made, and then was able to pass this method onto the gals who now work with me at the shop.
It's still a tricky job, as we receive back orders from our various suppliers at pretty random times. It is still very difficult for manufacturers to predict when their next shipment will be ready (although they try!) and then they need to secure a shipping container, which is hard! As a result, we NEVER know when products will appear in the shop. Most products are now only listed as being in stock if we actually have them and can lay our hands on them . Occasionally, okay regularly, our inventory is incorrect, but we *think* we are on top of checking it a lot to make sure when you place an order, it actually is in the shop and we can send it out quickly. So we correct the mistakes on our inventory before you even realise. Most of the time.
I've also chosen not to take pre-orders for the vast majority of items. Having at times over 200 items on pre-order as we waited for shipments to arrive, was very stressful, and it's not worth it! Sure, the stock moves more slowly, which is a different kind of stress, but still preferable!
Not knowing when products will be available in the shop makes it very hard to give anyone useful information. Yes, it's frustrating, but it's currently where we are. Even with the same supplier, it can take different times for items to reach us. We only know when something is on the way, or when it's in the shop. This is why we tell our members first .
Even with all these struggles behind the scenes, when we have people in the shop who have travelled to find us, everything is worth it. I cannot believe how far some of you have travelled to get to us, that you've looked us up and found the shop - it's astounding. The conversations we've had with some of our customers and friends within the walls have been utterly humbling. You've let us into the most vulnerable parts of your lives and shared stories about your dreams and fears. You've reduced us to tears at times!
The wall of polaroid photos in the shop has become it's own feature with lots of people passing by drawn to the positive energy radiating from the photos here. We tell everyone that it is a daily reminder about how much we love seeing the joy on people's faces when you find the roller skate of your dreams. We call it the 'Cinderella moment'. The boot fits, perfectly, and you realise that skate boots are quite different.
Our tiny shop continues to provide as much support as possible for our community. We are one small place and I am one small human, but I will continue to do what I can to curate a range of products that we believe offer great value, comfort and will spice up your life.
Of course I recommend other small skate shop businesses - we do not stock everything and have no desire to. We also recognise that we specialise in different types of skates, and other skate shops may do this too.
In recent weeks, it dawned on me that RGG, as a specialist skate shop of quad roller skates, is often the shop for your *second* pair of skates. The first pair are often sourced from a friend/auction site /large internet retailers, as you'll have no idea about how well made roller skates can feel, compared to poorly made ones. Once you enter the world of roller skating, you may then realise it's useful to talk to us, or maybe you've been signposted in our direction. Either way, it's okay! We have had customers apologise for not finding us sooner, or feeling ashamed by their first pair of skates. Please do not allow anyone to shame you for buying products you later find out are not well made. How would you know?
I'm continuing to do what I can to offer more opportunities to roller skate. This is a passion that has become my life work, and I am committed to it.
Well, RGG is rapidly outgrowing the shop space, but at the moment can't really afford a larger space. In any case I'm holding out for a rink. We also know that our small shop space does foster a sense of security, helped enormously by the big-hearted team who work there. If you come to our shop, we do want to be able to give time to our customers to share their story, should you choose to. I'm not sure a bigger space would offer the same atmosphere...
The end goal for starting to teach folks how to roller skate in the first place was always for a rink. I have realised how much work this is going to take to build and establish it, but you know what? I'm excited.
Roller Girl Gang was founded by women and is run by women as a safe place to learn to roller skate in order to support physical and mental well being. We aim to support individuals to find their truly authentic selves and experience joy by participating in an activity they perhaps never considered. We have seen the confidence grow in hundreds of people over the last few years, as well as the transformative effect roller skating has on some people's lives. This is more than just a sport or an activity. It's a way of life.
We hope you will join the revolution on eight wheels.
ROLLER GIRL GANG TEAM
My goodness I am grateful for all these people.
Director of all the things - Mel
Event Co-ordination & Tech Support - Jen
Instructors - Jen, Karen, Ronke, Emma, Sarah
Growing Marshall volunteer team - to support smooth running of events and wellbeing
Shop Gang - Janey, Tracy, Emily and Sophie
We don't have a shop ambassador team any more, as Roller Girl Gang represents the journey you make. If you are starting your roller skate journey as an adult, we are you.
Has roller skating changed your life? Email me email@example.com and tell me more.