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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

Way Back When Machine

By Kenny Stocker | 01, Oct, 2009

Celebrating our first 5 years.

We have been Alpine Dreamin' since way back when but it is just 5 years since the first order crunched its way through our website. Since then we have moved twice, employed three staff, expanded our product range from 9 t-shirts through 1000 skus and done loads of other good stuff along the way. We are pretty proud of what we have achieved, and now for the first time we take a little jaunt down memory lane with the help of our Way Back When Machine.

2004 - Starting Alpine Style

We land with a bump way back in 2004. There goes Nick on his way to the Post Office with our first product, a t-shirt called 'Alpine Start'. Check out our orignal pdf catalogue! I guess this sums up how we started Alpkit, we simply got up early and got stuck in. Even the best alpine climbers find their first few steps in the morning a little stiff, but you soon loosen up and get into your stride. What we did wasn't rocket science, but we were the first to do it and we have done it as well as we can since then. In October 2004 we processed a hefty 3 orders, total! but at least we were on our way.

"We had a 0870 number so no one would think I was answering the phone in my dining room". Nick, Alpkit

Rolls of brown paper, sticky tape and stacks of Phuds filled Nick's lounge. We had to move so we found a small unit in Ilkeston with a view of the abandoned ski centre. We built a small climbing wall with holds kindly donated by the Nottingham Climbing Centre but they were polished, it was winter and the heating was not very good. Each day started by religously putting the kettle on followed by a game of Doom to warm our fingers. By lunch time we would be ready to check the system to see if any orders had come in. The phone was eerily quiet and we sent each other emails just to make sure it was still working.

A lot of our time was spent on another website that had just started.. UKC. Yeah, we should have just gone climbing or something but I guess we felt we should stay close to the phone in case a customer should actually phone. After a bit we decided we may as well advertise.. at least we could then justify this as work.

I'd like to think that we haven't changed a thing since we started but this isn't true, back in the old days we didn't actually have a lot to do, even so we seemed to fill the days up. We never took it easy but in the first 3 months of the store being online we had only had as many orders as we now get on a very quiet morning.

2005 - Building a brand

"What is the general idea of this lot? I like some of their kit but why do they have so very little? I also found their trials and info on sleeping bags VERY enlightening, but still can't work out if they are a shop or not and why such different kit? Is it because it's better than leading brands?" smonki on UKC

Someone had spotted our ads on UKC and wanted to know if our odd mix of cotton t-shirts, goose down sleeping bags and a cheap headtorch made us a legit brand. It did for us, we were an outdoor brand and we were living our dream. In the real world we were unknown, our collection odd, but it just happens that many of the products we launched over this period have proven to be amongst our most enduring: AlpineDream, Phud and our Airic sleeping mats.

In March of this year we dug deep and attended the Outdoors Show in Birmingham, a massive commitment considering how little we had. Our stand resembled something out of an IKEA catalogue rather than many of the other stands binning out last year's unsold products. We liked it, we got a bit of attention and more people started to talk about us on UKC and Outdoors Magic while we tried our best to live up to what people were saying about us.

We made Christmas special by recording some carols and giving away a personalised Alpkit iPod in our Christmas competition.

2006 - Gear shortages

The year started with a few hicups. We had our first major issue with a factory leaving us seriously out of pocket and out of stock. Petrol prices were also fluctuating causing the price of our Phud bouldering mats to increase which was followed in turn by a carbon shortage causing the price of our trekking poles to skyrocket so much that we didn't even place an order because we knew we wouldn't be able to sell them.

Good news finally came in the shape of our new lightweight Quantum PipeDream sleeping bags and we were nominated in the Outdoors Magic Reader's Award.. which we won for our entire product range!

Our problems continued as we took our titanium mug offline with a rival company claiming to own our mould and more seriously we ran out of Airic sleeping mats a lot earlier than we could have imagined. Obviously this wasn't going to be easy.

Somewhere along the road we had gained a climbing team; Polly, Beth and Ashleigh were ripping things up at the Nottingham Climbing Centre. Beth and Ashleigh went on to compete in the European Cup in Kranj this year and we took them all out to MelloBlocco in Italy before returning later in the year to explore Val Bodengo and produce our own offbeat Val Bodengo bouldering guide. It was great to finally do something together again.

Soon after our trip and despite being out of stock of many items we moved into a bigger unit. The biggest shock of the year was PC stalwart Nick switching over to Mac, and just for the record he wouldn't switch back!


The year started off peachy. We were back in stock of CarbonLite poles, we sponsored the Birmingham Film Festival and it snowed.. and it snowed! Feeling the chill we introduced some Merino baselayers as a limited edition coLAB product. We always encouraged our customers to feed back their experience of our products, and they didn't fail us. Some people had so much to say that we decided to give them the chance to put their money where their mouth was by launching a product design competition. The final was held at the Outdoors Show and with 35,000 visitors this was a very big deal for us.

It was obvious that we liked getting out of the office. Jim organised a freestyle kayaking series picking up both Bill and Nicky along the way. We also headed back to Italy taking custom print Woomf boulder mats as prizes, however the esoteric product of the year was our very giftable LiteStix

For the first time we offered our AlpineDream sleeping bags in a choice of lengths, and it didn't cost our customers a premium. It was also about this time that we started to have more confidence in our ability to compete with the bigger brands, I guess we even thought that some companies were starting to see us as enthusiastic competition. When we launched Hunka, a great value bivvy bag we sold as many in 2 weeks as some brands sell in a year.

It was partly for this reason we had started to develop a reputation for being out of stock. You have to believe that we were doing our very best to predict sales, however we had virtually no sales history to go on, and although we had worked in the industry previous to starting Alpkit our model was still unproven. In many ways our greatest successes have also been our biggest weaknesses. The fact that we can some times sell hundreds of items in a short time span means that we can spend a lot of time out of stock waiting for them to restock. We have tried to keep on top of it, but you know we keep getting caught out.

2008 - Some upgrades

There must have been a glitch in the space-time continuum as I haven't yet mentioned our Gourdon dry bags. You should have seen these things fly out of the door, so much so that we wondered how people had been surviving without them. This year we acted on customer feedback and made some minor mods such as bungy cords and space for a hydration bag. We also said goodbye to Indigo our little LED headtorch. The new Gamma was light years ahead, we simply had to move on. Hunka was still racking up the awards for us taking the Singletrack Reader's Award and renewing our interest in mountain biking.

There were still only four of us in the office, but we no longer had time to sit around playing Doom or surfing the internet. We had to admit we needed help on the front line. We took Jenni on to be nice to customers and explain why we were still out of stock! Pete joined us a little later when we were back in stock and couldn't post stuff quick enough.

Our mates at Outdoors Magic voted us as best Online Outdoor Retailer and Col was churning out t-shirt designs with renewed vigour. On the sponsorship front Dan had got over his recurring Phud stuffing nightmares and was finally able to join us. We had a team competing in the SAAB Salomon Mountain X Race and we started supporting the Nottingham Junior Climbing Team along with Evolv.

With our site now gaining more attention we started updating the home page regularly, sending out a regular newsletter and ramping up our comps; Olympus, Satmap, One Pot Wonders, SingleTrack subscription, Wilder Swims, signed edition of Andy Kirkpatrick's book and we had yet another special treat for our Christmas competition, a nice red customised Alpkit / SMEG fridge.

The year also ended with some bizzare VAT changes designed to keep the world from imploding, Alpkit had become a full time job!

2009 - Expanding

We had worked hard so we decided to treat ourselves by closing the office and making time for a few days of staff training at the ICE climbing festival in France. Jenni and Ashleigh got their first experience of bivvying.. and at sub zero temperatures.

We also got involved with Shaggy who was planning to ride the Iditarod race, he had a cool bike and featured in the Trad Films Reel Adventure Diaries. We were also to be joined later in the year by Paul who rode for the newly formed Genesis bikes, there was indeed something curious about singlespeed.

At long last we launched the water resistant EPIC jeans we had been talking about for so long. We had a terrific response from our customers and were able to introduce a second style after just a few months. We had also started selling socks designed and sourced in the UK.

Pete was now getting more involved in design and showed he had a few good ideas winning the Innov_ex for Extremes Award with his FigFour axes. We have continued to develop these with an international debut. We were also making big plans for our first outdoor event.. The Big Shake Out which was eventually cancelled, it had started to take on a life of its own, we were getting into something a bit too big so we put it on hold.

What with the extra staff, more product lines, a teepee, all our own bikes, kayaks and stuff that had accumulated it was time to look for somewhere bigger. Fortunately the guy next door was moving out, so we moved in, pulled on our tool belts and built a new office.

And that brings us pretty much up to date. To celebrate our first 5 years we are offering one of our best selling products at 'Way Back When Prices'.. We hope you will take this opportunity to get yourself an Airic sleeping mat or maybe even two!

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