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The Catstycam Blog

  • Boot Lacing Techniques

    In the Heart of Boot Country.

    Being at the foot of Helvellyn, on the Coast to Coast walk, and slap bang in the middle of the best walking area in the Country, we get a lot of people coming in with boot fitting problems that are spoiling their holiday. We always enjoy a challenge and it’s great to be able to help people and send them on their way back into the hills. Especially when people come in with a long face expecting to have to buy a new pair of boots and we can sort them out with a pair of socks and some good advice.

    We know about Feet!

    There are many different ways to change the fit of a boot, or relieve pressure on a point of your foot. Here at Catstycam we have all been on the Anatom Academy boot-fitting courses, and we have learned a lot from our customers over the years, as well as improvising and winging it which is a favourite of mine. I wouldn’t like to guess at the amount of feet we have had in front of us, some real freaky ones too but I don’t want to name names. What I am trying to get at is we know about feet, and boots, and how to bring those 2 things together in a comfortable and long lasting marriage.

    There are about half a dozen things we are always telling our customers to try, to improve the fit of their boots.

    1             Lace up your boots as tight as you can, starting at the bottom and making sure every section is good and tight, but don’t do it so tight your foot turns purple and drops off.

    2             If you have a high instep and get pressure on the top of your foot then simply don’t cross the laces at that point, take them parallel up to the next D ring.

    3             You can have the top of your boots looser for easy flat walking without the looseness working its way down the boot. A lot of boots have a lock-off nut, if not simply do a surgeons knot a few hooks from the top. Remember to tighten them up again for ascents and descents though.

    4             To relive pressure around the ankle without making the boot loose, from the 3rd hook from the top, go straight to the top hook then come back down and tie your knot on the 2nd hook from the top. This can also help with heel lift as you can pull the boot tight around the ankle without losing the flexibility.

    5             Volume reducers, heel lifts, tongue depressors and Superfeet. All great ways of changing the fit of a boot. Reducing volume from above or below the foot, or to eliminate heel lift. Superfeet do an amazing job, not for everybody, but certainly for most people. We will go into more detail on Superfeet in a further article.

    6             Socks. These should be number 1 really because a good sock can make the world of difference to the comfort of a boot. Thick or thin to make the boot fit, different fabrics for different temperatures, and most importantly Ladies, not your husbands’ old socks that are 5 sizes too big for you and ready for the bin anyway.

    I know these aren’t the best descriptions and it would not be easy to follow them, but thankfully technology is at hand! We have made a video to try and explain the different ways to lace walking boots by showing you on a giant boot we borrowed from Meindl. Thanks Meindl! It is a really cool boot. It is probably about size UK25 and it is a real boot. It’s made the same way as their fabric and leather Gore Tex boots. But massive. How cool is that?

    Watch & Learn.

    Click here to see our video on getting your boots to fit properly

    I hope this video can help you to make the most of your walking boots and maybe solve some old problems. Please come and see us at Glenridding if you need help getting your boots to fit right, or if your boots need modifying for a better fit. And when you are ready for your next pair of walking boots please come and see us for a coffee and a proper boot fitting.

  • The importance of holidays (or at least getting up a hill)

    Boarding in the 3 Valleys

    Above Meribel in the 3 Valleys France

    Holidays are very important. Believe it or not sailing the good ship Catstycam through difficult waters takes its toll on a fella, and now and again I need a break. Winters are always easier for us because it is a lot quieter, but the last few winters have been scarily quiet. What's wrong with everyone? This weekend we have had blue sky and plenty of snow on the mountains.

    Ullswater winter 10

    Looking over Ullswater from Heughscar

    Around Ullswater it's like the Alps on days like these, but you're not coming to enjoy it. I hope you're not going to the Trafford Centre or the Metro Centre shopping for bargains when you can cleanse your soul with a hike in these beautiful snowy mountains for the price of a bus ticket.

    We have had a big project on this winter to distract us from the lack of customers, the new entrance at the Glenridding shop. It is not finished yet but what's done is looking mighty fine, and when the new show cases and lighting are in I defy anyone to walk past the shop without thinking “that looks like a nice shop, let’s have a look in”.

    Anyway, back to holidays. I have just come back from my annual pilgrimage to sliding around on the snow on a tea tray, or snowboarding to give it its proper title. I love snowboarding, it is one of the few activities I can actually do, not being a naturally sporty or co-ordinated chap.

    A big rock

    A big rock high in the 3 Valleys

    To be in the high mountains, surrounded by big snow-capped peaks, with beautiful sparkling snow all around gives me a buzz like nothing else, and that's before I start swooshing and zigging and zagging my way down the slopes.

    I came back from holiday feeling refreshed, optimistic and with a sense that all is well in the world. Then I got back to work, saw the bills that need paying, and how little the shops have been taking, and the harsh reality of life soon kicked out all those happy memories and replaced them with the need to think carefully about the business and do some hard work. So after a few days back in work the holiday is already a distant memory and my sense of well-being gone. But I found it again! On top of a mountain of all places.

    Snow on t'ill

    The Top Of Blencathra

    I went up Blencathra with Mary and Sete and my sense of calmness and order returned. I'm not about to get all hippy or religious on you, but a good walk in a beautiful place does more to replace my faith in the world than anything else (except snowboarding). When life gets tough, and it is getting a lot tougher for a lot of people right now, the desire to crawl onto the sofa and block out reality with a good dose of TV can be a strong one in me. And I'm not knocking it either. I love TV. I have learned most of my wisdom from Homer Simpson and Bear Grylls. But when you feel like you could really do with life giving you a break, get up a hill and look around you. Take in the beauty of your surroundings, marvel at the crags and valleys and the millions of years they took to form.

    A big mountain

    A Big Mountain in Austria

    Follow the lines of rock in the side of a mountain and imagine them as sea bed getting pushed up thousands of feet by continents forcing into each other. This planet has been here a long time and nature has had plenty of time to get it right. We on the other hand, are living our lives in a completely new way. Disconnected from nature and the planet, told what to do by the most disconnected people of them all (politicians of any party), we are living as alien a life as it is possible to on the planet of our birth, unless you believe in the Golgafrinchams, which does make a lot of sense to me.

    I have great faith in nature, and thousands of years of human evolution has seen us living in small communities, made us hunters, then farmers, then in five minutes we have all become computer programmers or middle management, not producing anything and wondering what life is all about. To turn our back on nature and live our lives in towns and cities must come at a cost.

    And this takes me back to holidays. A chance to re-connect with the planet we call home. A week in the Alps snowboarding, a long weekend in the Lakes, or three hours on Blencathra.

    Snow in the valley

    Looking South from Blencathra

    It is vital to feel the connection we have with nature. Without it we get overwhelmed by modern life and all its stresses and pressures and we forget that we are all animals, still evolving (though I fear Health & Safety has put an end to Natural Selection), trying to make sense of ourselves and each other.

    There are two phrases I find myself saying a lot these days. “It's not easy being alive in the 21st Century” and “Be kind to yourself”. Both of these are quite relevant to what I have been saying here. Life's not easy, so accept that and give yourself time to connect with nature, get things back in perspective, spend time with people that matter and who's company stimulates you. Come to Ullswater with a group of your favourite people and climb a big hill. Or a little hill. Or walk along the Lake-shore path. Just do something with people you love in a place that feels natural and it will have the same effect as a week’s holiday on your well-being.

    Crazy Chick with an Ice Axe

    Mary on Blencathra

    The other phrase is “Be kind to yourself”. So if you fancy getting drunk, eating everything you can then spending a day in bed do it. Life's tough and a bit of what you fancy does you good.

  • 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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