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Monthly Archives: January 2012

  • Catstycam Past Present & Future

    A brief history of the Outdoor Industry.

    When I started working at Catstycam about 15 years ago the outdoors industry was totally different. Companies were set up by outdoors people with an idea or the motivation to make things better. It was very much a cottage industry and lots of brands were still manufacturing in the UK, but the tide had already turned towards Far East production. We used to sell Mountain Range that was made in Alston, North Cape from Stirling, and Calange tried to continue with UK manufacture but the British factories could not compete with China on quality, so they moved too. The best factories in China, Mexico, Sri Lanka, and all the other new manufacturing countries have invested in the very best technology and are the best in the world at what they do. Far better than Britain.

    The Outdoors Industry trade show was called COLA and held at Harrogate every September. I used to love it. It was the annual get together of a cottage industry in a lovely town under the autumn sunshine. We would see all our suppliers through the day and put the following years range together while jumping from stand to stand to compare products.

    The Majestic

    The scene of much partying/hard work

    It was always a very friendly informal show and the parties held on an evening were legendary, as were the hangovers. For a health based industry there were a lot of experienced enthusiastic boozers to party with. And I’ve always been easily led (I remember Brian the Zimbabalooba guy getting so drunk he never once attended his stand over 3 days after spending a few grand for the space. Ouch!). As brands moved their manufacturing out to the Far East they needed to give the factories longer notice and September was too late for them to get forward orders from retailers. So they moved the show to August but it didn’t work for everyone and eventually fizzled out. The guys from VauDe tried to start a new trade show called Anoraknophobia which unfortunately didn’t last, but what a great name!

    I suppose it was around this time that the Outdoor Industry grew up a bit, got more professional, and starting making more money, which brought it to the attention of the money men. We used to get loads of freebies, taken out at trade shows and given bottles of booze for Christmas but that all stopped about this time as well.

    When Anoraks became trendy

    Mountain walking Elvis

    Elvis getting into the Outdoors Lifestyle

    The Great Outdoors was becoming fashionable and moving into the high street and the fashion shops. Instead of being the woolly hat brigade and the brunt of many an anorak joke, we were now a showcase for the wonderful lifestyles available to anyone wearing a North Face jacket. Or so we were told, but the majority of our customers were (and thankfully still are) regular walkers who love the outdoors and want good kit that is fit for purpose. As outdoor clothing started becoming trendy we struggled to source traditional long jackets with a fixed hood, the most reliable piece of clothing you can have on top of Helvellyn in the winter. This was because they make you look like something off a 70’s sitcom, rather than a rugged Range Rover driver heroically scrambling his way to the top of some peak before paddling back down to entertain all of his very good looking friends, which is how we were meant to look. There was a period when all outdoor brands got very excited about “Lifestyle” and seemed to forget that people were still wanting good practical kit for the hill, but that has changed now and the quality and design of the modern outdoor clothing we sell is fantastic.

    So where are we now?

    So that is where we have come from. After selling outdoor clothing and equipment in Glenridding for 21 years I am happy to report that we are in a good place and I think very good at what we do. Catstycam has been in my family for over ½ of my life and I have been running it for more than a ¼ of my life. The quality of the goods we sell has steadily increased over the years, especially in the mid range. A jacket that costs you £50 today will be just as good as a £100 jacket from 10 years ago. Considering my initial opposition to all this lifestyle nonsense we were supposed to be selling, I love selling more fashionable clothing now. The shops look great and we can create fantastic window displays, and if we were only selling serious outdoor clothing we would have gone bankrupt years ago. Every year we see great new fabrics and styles of fleeces from Sprayway. Gelert and Regatta offer unbelievable value for money and produce clothing that could happily wear a Berghaus badge, and selling brands like Weird Fish and Animal help to keep us young.

    Unfortunately the global economic meltdown has reached Ullswater, and for the last few years we have seen our takings drop considerably. It is obvious that people just don’t have the money in their pockets that they used to. People will always come to the Lakes to enjoy the finest hill walking, but they are not coming into the shops and treating themselves or their children like they used to. We have always made sure we cater to everyone who wants to get out on the hills regardless of income, we just have to make sure people realise the difference in performance according to how much you spend.

    bad news

    A typical boardroom chart yesterday

    Because most of the quality boots we sell come out of Europe, the pound crashing against the Euro in 2008 put them all up about 15% overnight. Then manufacturing and transport became more expensive and put everything up even more. Now we are at a point where we are no longer selling brilliant boots that we have sold and loved for years because they have become too expensive for our customers. It will be interesting to see if prices come down again when the pound gets stronger, but I won’t hold my breath.

    And the future?

    Although our takings are heading in the wrong direction to please the major share-holders (my Mum and Dad), I am very optimistic for our future. Hearing about Blacks problems makes me nervous but thankfully we don’t have their overheads and we can react much quicker to the crazy events that keep unfolding on planet Earth. As an independent retailer our quality of service has always been our major strength. We will happily spend hours and hours with people to get them into the correct boots and then modify them for free. I can’t see a manager at any of the multiples with shareholders shouting up for bigger returns allowing his staff to be tied up like that. Some of the big chains can offer certain things at discounts we can only dream of (but we do manage to get hold of some great bargains for you), but they can’t come near us for service, contrary to what their expensive advertising campaigns may claim. One area the chains do help us in is offering a stark contrast between their ill-informed dis-interested Saturday staff and us. We constantly hear people grumbling about being sold an inappropriate product or boots that don’t fit from some kid doing a Saturday job in a multiple. There is a massive difference in the quality of advice, service and after sales help you will receive from an independent retailer rather than a chain. This is true in all industries and I will only buy things that I need help in choosing from independent shops and I avoid chains as much as possible. Speaking of which, thanks to the lads at Dave Hudsons in Penrith for the new dishwasher. You may have saved my marriage.

    oak entrance

    An artists impression (well, Mikes) of the new entrance at Glenridding.

    This winter we are having a new entrance built for our Glenridding shop out of light English oak. The dark redwood entrance we have is starting to look tired and a lighter front with bigger windows and well lit display cases should make us look more inviting. We are also sanding the wooden floors and having a bit of a shift around to make the most out of the space we have. It is a lovely old building (originally the Greenside miners co-operative) with great original wooden walls and it is time we gave it a bit of a freshen up. Every winter when it is quiet we do various jobs that need doing to keep us looking as good as we can, but this year is a biggy. We are also getting more lighting in the entrance and windows of the Pooley Bridge shop. Because it is quite dark people can’t see in that well and you can feel like you’re in a fish tank as people push their faces up to the window to see in.

    So that is what we have planned over the next month or so, then it will be time for the new Spring Summer 2012 stock to arrive. We are really pleased with this summer’s range. Jamie has taken control of my usual disjointed buying and we have applied logic to this year’s range. We will have cheap middle and best offerings in all the different types of jackets and trousers we sell. We have Dachstein boots coming in March and they are going to be a great addition to our boot wall. The Austrian boot makers have been making quality footwear since 1925 and we have negotiated incredible discounts from them so we can sell all Dachstein footwear at about 20% off RRP. We also have Edz Merino clothing coming in soon. Edz are based in Maryport and make great no nonsense clothing at great prices (they remind me of North Cape).

    Georgia will be running things at our Pooley Bridge shop and Mike and Jamie will be looking after Glenridding as well as steering catstycam.com to be a great place to spend time and find out the latest news and advice. We will be needing someone to work with us full time from early March until October again this year, so if you are interested or you know someone with a love of the outdoors who would fit into our great little team, please get in touch. We have the great looking shops, excellent products and the best team I have worked with in all my time at Catstycam. The only thing missing at the moment is a new colleague for the summer to help us continue giving the best advice and service in the Lake District.

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