Trickstuff has stopped taking new orders for three months after it has struggled to keep up with an explosion in demand. The German boutique brake brand announced it would be pausing on November 16th and has a planned re-opening date of February 15, 2021.
During this time, Trickstuff won't be taking any more orders or providing purchase advice. In lieu of sales, Trickstuff is hoping to reorganize its structure and processes, move to a larger building and add more people to the team. The manufacturing and sales won't totally pause however as it will process backorders if they are available and carry out service and warranty work on its products.
The reasons given by the brand for the shutdown include massively increased growth and demand over the past few years, a lack of space in its current facility and the looming impacts of COVID. We fired some questions over to Dag Freudenhammer, the marketing manager at Trickstuff, to get a better idea of the reasons for and implications of Trickstuff's decision.
How fast was Trickstuff growing?We have tripled our staff in the last three years and employ 21 people now. Our sales have grown even more than this. The big difference is the immense increase in the attention we get from large companies such as distributors, bike manufacturers etc.
These multiply the demand for Trickstuff products and we wouldn’t be able to keep up while maintaining our quality standards. So we prefer to grow at our own rate. We have grown steadily and we plan to keep on doing so. But at the end of the day, we want to love what we do. So all the business and growth mustn’t stop us from doing what we love - making incredible bike parts simply because we love riding our bikes. It may sound a bit like a cliché but we really enjoy coming to work every day and we want it to stay this way.
What were the limiting factors that were stopping Trickstuff from keeping pace with demand?The limiting factor keeps changing. It used to be the production of parts for our assembly. Once we had solved this, the limiting factor was our assembly, later the speed of our quality control. Also, cash flow had been a problem. We want to grow using what we have earned before. Without an investor with big money, it can be tricky to be able to afford production for more and more parts from one day to another. At this point, the financial and machining capacities are there and we didn’t have to sell any shares of the company or compromise our products for mass production.
The problem right now is space. Our facility is simply too small. We can’t employ more people and can’t store more parts. This is why we will be moving to a new nearby building in January.
What was your decision and why did you make it?We decided to restructure. In summer we employed more people and began training them in their new jobs. The problem - new structures are necessary if you want to work in a bigger team. In a company of six passionate people, everyone has their tasks, people have lunch together every day and everyone can do a bit of everyone's job, and each employee somehow manages most of his tasks in his head. We hit the point when this wasn’t possible anymore. We needed better structures, needed to manage the knowledge about our products and operating procedures. One new employee put into words by saying:
“I spend one hour a day to learn how something is done, I spend the rest of the day trying to figure out all the exceptions from this rule that [my senior co-worker] is managing naturally because he’s the one who came up with all the exceptions over the last years and knows them all."
Well, he didn’t say 'senior co-worker“'… but I took the name to avoid the risk of pointing fingers at someone.
We soon realised that with the extra workload in this COVID year and a team of people who are already working more than they signed up for, there won’t be any time to change how things are done.
So we had a look at our numbers.
We have 12 months waiting period on brakes and had almost no pads and discs in stock. If we decided to stop taking orders and limit all communication to an absolute minimum, we could focus on restructuring our internal processes and prepare everything for our move to a new facility in January. So this is what we are doing now. We are busy catching up on all the things that were neglected over the last few years.
At the same time, we are building brakes and shipping them to customers also all other pre-ordered parts are shipped once they are ready for shipping. Our service technician, Jakob, is still servicing products and answering questions of people who own Trickstuff products and need our help. We haven’t stopped our business – we are just saying, "Wait a moment, I need to finish these existing tasks first before I can give my full attention to you."
We are not doing this because we are going broke. We are at our all-time best right now but we know that this will change if we don’t change things now. So we are doing this as long as we can do it in a healthy way.
Has COVID had some impact on this decision?Definitely. It has made everything even worse and forced us to take action. Workspace became much more important. So we rented rooms down the road to have enough space for everyone to come to work and still keep a safe distance from their co-workers.
The bike boom that came with COVID has caused a massive increase in sales in spring/summer. People did extra hours to manage to get the work done. Our manufacturers couldn’t keep up with the demand during the peaks of the pandemic. Now our shelves are empty, we are still as busy as before managing requests and communicating with waiting customers. All the extra hours and extra sales during summer have filled our bank account but drained the tanks of our employees. We had to find a solution and become more effective.
Will all staff still be paid during the shutdown?Of course! We are doing this whole thing because we don’t want to do this on the back of the employees. Everyone gets paid. Everyone comes to work every day. Shipping out pre-ordered parts and building brakes keeps around 1/2 of our staff busy. The other half is working on our new structures and planning the move to a new facility. We couldn’t ask this of the team while maintaining the regular day to day business.
What will be different about the new facility Trickstuff is moving into?It is about three times as large as the old one. It will allow us to give every task the space it needs and not share space that is too small already. Also, the extra space will allow us to open up a bit more. We have never had our own store but always said that we have an open door instead. It will still be this way, but the door will be a bit bigger and more open!
And of course, we will be able to hire new people.
How many new staff will Trickstuff be hiring? What roles will they be in?We are currently talking to all the staff about their wishes and ideas about their personal development within the company throughout the next years. This will have an effect on the job description of our job openings. But in general, we are looking for people in:
- Quality Control / - Management
- Sales / Customer Service
How much greater will Trickstuff’s capacity be after the transitional period?We should be a lot faster when it comes to customer service and shipping. Also, we will be able to store more parts so brake pads, discs etc. should be available throughout the whole year. What will take some time is the growth in brake assembly. We hire skilled mechanics so that every bolt or seal is double-checked during assembly simply because the person installing knows exactly what they are doing and how it should feel. This is not only important for our quality control of each brake, but also for the development of new products.
Another issue is the time-consuming QC of parts for the brakes and of the assembled brakes. Our brakes start at €900 per set, people have a right to expect high quality. So even though our mechanics are absolute professionals, there must always be another person double-checking their work. This will also need new people and takes even longer. A lot of things can be measured but at the end of the day, the brake must feel right in the customer's hands. This job needs experience.
We are aiming to increase the capacities in assembly and QC throughout 2021 and plan to at least double our output.
Do you have any further comments you wish to add?When we sent out the news about our restructuring, we were a bit scared about how people would react. The overall reaction was complete affirmation. Our dealers and partners do not only understand our decision but also support it. We are very grateful for this and want to thank everyone for their support.
We look forward to the work that lies ahead of us until February and even more to the time after that when we pick up our regular business again.
More information, here