Monday, 14 January 2019

Digesting 2018: YOLO & Vagabond (pt 1)

We're two weeks into January and I haven't even begun to digest last year. It was one helluva ride. 

This was my lowest blog-count year since 2006! It wasn't that I didn't have anything to write about, I just didn't get around to putting my thoughts down.

My memory of much of the year is actually pretty fuzzy. I worked too many hours on too little sleep, which over many months definitely messed with my memory.

While the year left me feeling like I'd been run over by a freight train, it had a dose of good with the bad. I have to really think about the good because bad has that awful way of permeating into every aspect of one's life whether it really was a significant proportion or not.

YOLO Compost Tumblers
My year started out with a bang on the YOLO  side - very, very busy. 

I had stock in the factory from before xmas and by the end of the first week of Jan I was all out. On one side, this is a great position - sold out and having a product that is in demand. On the other, being out of stock means a lot more admin. Customers have to be kept in the loop about how production is progressing and when they can expect their unit. This significantly ramps up the amount of communication needed for each order.

The year went in waves of building a little stock and then having orders exceeding production speed.

The winter months of June and July were quiet (as expected) and gave me the chance to focus on Vagabond (see below). August kicked off with the Decorex show, YOLO's second time there. We had another good show. The show coincides with spring, when people are searching online about gardening and composting... We've been busy ever since.

We do sell YOLO through Takealot too, although I've found it challenging to keep enough stock there. Mainly because I setup a production list including orders and a bunch of extras for Takealot and for factory stock and before I even get all of the units from the factory, I've already assigned them to direct orders. I've had quite a bit of stock on Takealot since mid-December.

We'll ramp up production this year. I'll have some more units going off to Australia in February.

YOLO really is a delight and I thoroughly enjoy my interactions with customers. I've learned a lot about composting since I started YOLO (most two years ago) and I keep learning from experience, articles and my customers as we go along.

It really is heartening how many people are trying to do better with their waste at home by refusing items that they don't need, reducing what they consume and use, reusing where they can, recycling what can be recycled and composting organic waste. Makes a huge difference!

If you haven't liked the YOLO Facebook page yet, please do so.


Our new company, Vagabond Kayaks, has dominated my existence since before we launched at the beginning of July 2018. My role kicked in a few months before with the design and building of our website.

This is the biggest and most complicated website that I have ever created. I created well over 100 pages  (110 pages just for kayaks), wrote content, designed and created all of the graphics... In the build-up to launch we were working crazy non-stop hours with barely any breaks to eat or sleep.

All the while we were working in the factory and Celliers and our incredible team of workers were making moulds for the kayaks, running test kayaks and dealing with hundreds of elements that makes manufacturing what it is - not for the fainthearted. You need the constitution of an ox to wake up every day.

We went to a tradeshow in the US at the end of August, squeezed in a one-week roadtrip from Parys to East London to Cape Town to Parys, meeting with dealers along the way. I spent almost every hour in the car on the phone (email, calls, whatsapp, internet) and managed to flatten my battery every day. I didn't see much scenery despite the perfect weather. We got to paddle briefly and hangout a little in Cape Town.

Me paddling in a super-fun novelty event at Paddlesports Retailer in the USA.
An early morning demo session. Here I am paddling with Celliers on Zandvlei. What a magnificent morning! Photo by my friend Ray Chaplin.

Three days later we flew to Germany for another paddle sport tradeshow there - PaddleExpo.

Getting to tradeshows means a lot of logistics, especially where you have to ship kayaks over. Your heart lodges in your throat as you wait for them to arrive safely on the other side.

Returning home meant a lot of juggling here as we entered our main summer season and needed to build relationships with people we met at the shows ahead of their seasons in 2019.

So most days were really about getting as much done as possible. From building our new brand through social media to fulfilling orders, dealing with transport logistics (not anyone can transport 4.5m kayaks!), interacting with dealers, responding to customers on Facebook, email, whatsapp, Messenger... If the platform exists, people use it. And as a company, we have to respond - fast.

We've been trading since August and the two single-seater sit-on-top models that we think will do the best are only going to come out this month. These will complete our recreational sit-on-top range.

There is no doubt that Celliers' designs are the best in the world and our kayaks outrank other brands in performance, stability, features, quality, strength and design. No debate here. Any new company has a lot of work to do.

Our Vagabond year ended with a three-day trip on theOrange River. My personal kayak is the Marimba, the longest, narrowest (but still very stable) and fastest in our range. I knew it would be good but it was even better!

Back home on the 23rd, I had a few days with chunks of work and then took off the whole week of 1 Jan. I really needed it. I didn't turn on my computer, I didn't check email on my phone and I mostly ignored everything.

We had beautiful rains that week and magnificently cool, overcast weather - perfect for a bit of Netflix indulgence.

With the rains and water release from Barrage, came higher water levels in our Vaal River.

2018 was marked with very low water levels in the river for pretty much the whole year - starting from January. We tripped occasionally but it was rocky. After 1 Jan, we got water! Instead of the usual 15 to 25 cumec we'd been having, the river went up to a beautiful 70 to 80 cumec and even higher (up to 130 cumec) for a bit. We did two trips with our Marimbas before getting back to work.

// end of part 1

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