I’m back in the shop early Saturday morning the 14th of January after a beautiful, amazing, 2 week vacation with my wife and family in the Yucatan. I had to borrow to do it, but it was a success. I don’t think I’ve had a trip like that in a very long time. It’s always a wedding, or something and it’s not about vacation. Throughout the whole trip, due to time and thanks to multiple daily trips to the beach or this or that cenote, all the little black metal splinters one by one worked their way out of my hands. Cuts healed over with no new ones immediately crossing them, finger pain all but disappeared, I watched some smaller calluses slowly sluff off in dried patches in the last few days, and my feet no longer hurt! As all this was going on, I felt cleaner than I’d felt in years, and the Sun. The Sun was out every day, and I got a much needed dose of vitamin D. Even in the Spring and Summer here, I’m in this shop, Sun starved a lot of the time. I read 2.5 novels (short ones for sure), which is a big deal because I find it very hard to read anything but poetry (it’s easier to pick up and put down) in my routined life here because of so many distractions. I hadn’t read a novel in 4 years prior to that. And I ate, boy did I eat.
All this being said, you can understand how I’d want to think carefully about carrying this healing through the new year. You can imagine how I’d want to revisit how I do “life/family/work” going forward haha! I really enjoyed the absence of self-promotion on this vacation. I don’t know if I’m ready to start posting again, because it is so draining, but real life does return, and I’m here, back at it. Here is a long newsletter to read if you so choose. I’m not forcing it into anyone’s inbox, and there’s no sign up to get more. I’ve just made a link for this page. Thanks for even stopping by!
The Covid Bike Boom has given way to an industry wide slow down resulting in the shrinking payrolls all over the country we’ve all heard about. I tried to keep giving hours as long as I could in 2022, but in the Summer it became painfully obvious that I’d have to go it alone again. Going back to working solo all the time again has been surprisingly jarring, as I’d gotten used to the company and become close friends with employees. In terms of general numbers, things were strong. I spent $15,763.14 less on payroll over the last year, $1,000 less in bank fees, and $1,000 less in shipping, only taking in $3,000 less in sales, all in spite of missing 12 or more weeks of business due to family emergencies/new responsibilities, Covid, and some other things which were out of my control. For instance, in October I was open only 7 days but took in $5,626 over the previous October’s $7,298! My best month was June with $12,831.83. The shop costs around $2,800/month for the business to keep up with its expenses, small loans, bills, rent, etc. etc. and a meager payout to me. I obviously want a not meager payout, LOL. In 2022 the business netted $103,260.11 (that includes tips and gift card purchases) after fees and sales tax, whereas 2021 saw a net of $106,623.18 at lower rates and higher expenses. Even though we had a slower and shorter year, the shop kept heaps more of its income than the years prior and I was able to spend more on the business while taking no less for myself. In no way does this mean I feel like I worked less, but I definitely felt less like a chicken running around with its head cut off.
Major level-ups occurred in terms of equipment, organization, skills/services, and toolage due to both putting more of the money back into the business and due to our SEED grant award, which I’ll get to in a moment. I had hypothesized in the thick of the bike boom that if volume continued to demand I have year round help the shop would need to bring in around $150k, which was frankly not possible at this location and size. From here on out, I’ll likely just need seasonal part time help and a solid sub in crew so that I can take some long weekends, and live my life a little. I am not sure how to make that an attractive opportunity, but I got a month or so to figure it out.
Let’s talk supply! Oh MY LORT the supply! Opening up in March after housing my grandmother for two months, I immediately sensed that things were turning around in terms of supply. Let’s just say I’m happy the bike boom is over LOL. Very few times this year was I unable to source what I needed to source due to availability. I took on 9 more dealer accounts this year, including Fairdale, Linus, White Industries, and Paul Components.
The Community Repair Fund had a great Spring, and has gotten a lot of attention and support this year for which I’m incredibly grateful. Some folks have come to rely on it, and others are surprised with a burden lifted! It was highlighted in Style Weekly, and received funds raised during three different alley cat races this year, with which I had nothing to do, planning wise. Bike Plant NYC took the idea and ran with it as well as two other shops in town. In 2022 as a whole we raised $5583 to help folks access full service and repair here and still have $1412 for the winter and beginning of Spring. On Christmas day I installed a public repair stand, right of entry and insurance is all in order, at Jefferson park as a gift! I’m down to maintain the tools and improve the anchors when/if needed, add a pump, and add a physical repair guide in due time. A little bit here, a little there, as it goes, but it’ll all get done. Then the process will begin to install a second stand in Petronius Park in Randolph, which is my neighborhood.
In December I partnered with Rag & Bones bicycle Cooperative and Bellemeade Community Bike Shop to bring a “Kid’s Bike Swap and Trade-up Program” to Mosby St., seeing 50 kids get on new and used bikes in 4 hours. And yes, that means I’ve signed up to take care of some returning portion of those kids’ bikes for the foreseeable future so that our donations can go farther. Also in partnership with the coop, in the Spring I will begin an advanced bicycle repair workshop series which will be held at their new location on North Ave. This will occur on some Sundays throughout the season, and the entry will be sliding scale donations to the organization. I will be teaching advanced concepts and the subject of each workshop, the expected time required, will all be announced ahead of time for informed sign up.
Keep your ears peeled for the announcement about that.
This shop is in large part a product of the coop. I spent nearly 6 years there volunteering heavily, running programs, teaching, learning boatloads, dreaming, succeeding, and of course failing. For big chunks of that time it was my entire life and mind. At any point in time, shops in Richmond currently employ or have in the past employed Rag & Bones volunteers. One heads VCU Ram Bikes. Some even survived the latest bout of layoffs at Specialized. At over a decade of organizing and educating, the coop deserves support and all the good vibes for having done so much grass roots work of educating the market, looking out for those less fortunate, grounding the workforce, and creating youth programs and summer camps, all WITHOUT corporate sponsorships, government endorsements, very limited grant writing, and without brand support. Some of the core members which were there in the beginning are still there! Having grown, having tried and tested ideas having dreamed. All the while the goal being to create something in this city which is really an anchor, something really useful and compassionate and fun! This is commendable, and should be recognized. Their move into Northside proper is a huge deal. The area is comprised of a lot of very diverse neighborhoods, and has been shunned for 25 years. I imagine against hope that my experience is replicated but in Northside through the life of local youth who take advantage of all Rag & Bones has to offer. So suffice to say that though I’d taken a hiatus from being involved while I worked on my business, going forward, consider the two projects sister experiments. Read more about the coop at ragandbonesrva.org, and stay tuned!
This year I finally shelled out to get oxy/acetylene tanks, basic brazing equipment to begin doing little modifications and repair on steel bikes. A first step towards a long term goal of mine to one day construct frame sets. I’d like to create a truly all encompassing bicycle shop in terms of craft. Serendipitously, the Seed Grant folks from Inunison came to the shop to inform me of their initiative and what we came up with was essentially outfitting the shop further to do more of this work. This award was about $9,000, and has served as a time jump for me. Lots of steel material, toolage, equipment, practice pieces, a few tutoring sessions, and enough material to be able to put in the torch time required without a heavy cash investment. The business has received a big assist here! Services will be added as time goes on and as I get more time with my setup to hone the craft, but I do have a general idea of what it’s gonna look like this year. Little stuff like adding rack, fender, bottle cage mounts, and cable stops to frames and forks will be the most immediate and most practiced rollout. I’ll also be doing dropout replacements and repairs, as well as constructing lugged forks! After a while I’ll start messing around with whole tube replacements. This also thrusts me into the wild wild world of spray painting, which seems like a whole nother thing to learn, but I’m pretty stoked on it.
Some may be wondering why I’m spending time learning an antiquated method, or spending time on a less popular material. The vantage point I enjoy encourages me to, and it dismisses the ubiquity of carbon and aluminum. Sure I deal with aluminum and carbon plenty, but man, there’s a lot of steel. This isn’t the West End or the Fan so not a ton of it is particularly rare, exotic, or famous steel, but that can change with experience. I can’t sell new bikes really, even though I played around with Fairdale and Linus this past year, so why not dig into the whole vibe the shop’s got going for it, and fix what’s broken? I hate the overproduction we see all the time. There is still so much good steel out there. If it can bring me new jobs and even new clients, and if I can then really charge what it’s worth to do, would I not then be in a better position to consider hiring help more consistently? To get a larger space? To open an extra day? Maybe not all of those at once. And then part of this is just me being able to do more of what I want to do. I love all of it, but I really love lugged bikes and I love working with metal. I happen to be pretty good at silver soldering and I am like best friends with my hacksaw and files. So from where I sit there’s enough going on to encourage me to do it. We’ll see after two or so seasons if going full into frame building is the logical expansion for the shop or not. Few have tried. I am not sure this market can handle a shop that looks like some of those which have tried and closed, but whatever happens, it’ll be mine and it’ll be awesome.
Lastly, I wanna talk prices. I’ve settled on essentially an $80/hr shop rate for the three tune ups I offer. I’ll stick to this for the next year or two watching cost of living, inflation (which is not something I’m really worried about), and the market. I do also remain aware that charging more communicates more experience and expertise, and so as time goes on, I gain more and more experience, however, I believe that rates have spiked across many industries during a high demand length of time, but will fall again and that some places may find themselves lowering their prices or running deals/promotions to continue getting new clientele. I’ve settled on what the tune ups include, the possible variations or add-ons they can have or not have, and I’ve settled on what to do about material costs and install fees. Both of those are done differently at all sorts of shops. It can sometimes get convoluted and confusing though, so I’m just laying a flat $15 on top of each tune up to cover materials consumed and the extra time to find and install new or used parts. So the Basic is $95, the Deluxe is $175, and the Super Deluxe is $250. I’ve reintroduced the Vintage Refurb back to the menu and added a lot of new tasks to it. Like, a lot. Base rate is $300 but may be more per each project, not including parts. These packages and more are all detailed fully on the services page of my website.
In 2022 I gave away 8 used adult bicycles, 5 of which I’d been trying to sell, and 2 brand new bikes, which cost me a lot of money. I did not “recoup” that cost from the repair fund, as that’s not what it’s for, but I do need to figure out how to make that function more logical. It would be great to sell bikes, but I really don’t have the space to stock the inventory required to get people coming out to test ride on a regular basis and I don’t have the time to let my money just sit on the floor (or in this case, the sidewalk) for months and months while people wait to see the perfect bike to buy on Instagram. So, I. An effort to find the best use of my time and cash, I may seek to go the other way and raise charitable funds to source and give away 15 or so bikes per season. As long as it doesn’t cost me much money, and I figure out how to distribute in an ethical way to people who need it and will care for it, I’m fine doing the work and sourcing and the continued maintenance on free bikes.
Many of you are aware that I’ve had to respond to some family unrest following a Covid outbreak and subsequently assumed some new responsibilities. Generally there is NOT the sense that this new role will require my closing the business, though it’s a reality that will take me away unexpectedly until such time as an assisted living placement is secured for my grandmother. Thank you everyone who have reached out in support and comfort. It is difficult to care for someone two generations separated from you with no help from anyone. You speak different languages. You were raised differently. Expectations are totally different. And there’s an uncomfortable need to stake out your claim on this moment in time. 50+ years separate you. So, I just do what I can.
Here’s to personal growth, an upcoming season of utter potential, and good people all around! Thanks for reading this ridiculous thing.