Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Selling out......

Back in 1988 when I got my short music career behind me and decided to be fulltime in the frame building craft I didn't have any plan at all. My goal was to try to get better at the job and hopefully have a reliable clientele based on the kind of service I would try to provide. Sure, I had a lot to learn in all respects ( I still do...) but I was a 32 year old with energy, a few tools and a number of frames under my belt. I was not alone in Nor-Cal in those days-a few others were a bit ahead of me in terms of brand name recognition and product offerings. One of my competitors even had a patent or two. Two of these framebuilders would eventually sell their buisnesses and get back some of the money they had invested working hard for really low wages , considering the skills and comittment needed for the job. Both of these builders had done a lot to spread the word of thier brands with t-shirts and small accessories that were perfect for folks who wanted to buy something with the comany logo but couldn't spring for the bike.These two builders had built thier shops into small companies with between 20-30 employees . Not being a big thinker , I had no such accessories, no patents , a small dealer network and no employees. My company had stayed small because I was afraid of losing control of the situation.....also, I really liked the building process itself and didn't want to wind up in an office , away from the set of tasks that were the reason I was in the trade in the first place. Here it is, 2010 and I'm still at it as a sole proprietor in a small shop. I still build the frames myself and as of now have no employees, a small dealer network and seldom have any logo-emblazoned stuff that finds itself into the consumer market. Folks come to the shop and say " Dang, you have to be one of the only guys from the eighties who never sold out or quit .". Yes, it may be true that almost everyone who was building when I started out has ether sold thier companies or quit the buisness. Some might think that it was dedication and commitment that has kept me at it all these years. At one time I used to say that unlike my brethren, my company was not for sale. "You can't sell out if you are not for sale!" The bigger truth is that I never had any offers worth considering-the only one I got was from a German distributor who actually laughed at the paltry sum I was asking for permanent ownership of my trademark for all of Europe . I didn't lower my price as I pretty much figured that the German company was looking to get something for nothing and even though I really could have used the money , I was not willing to give away all those years of labor for chump change . The real truth about selling out is this : " You can't sell out if nobody is buying." So, along with the fact that I like the process , I was unable to cash in back in 1998 when people like Trek were scooping up every cult bike name they could . The money would have been nice but I would have missed all those years since in my shop..........can't put a price on that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Listen to the pros and the bros.

While I drink my morning tea and eat my daily three pieces of toast at 7:30 a.m. I get a chance to read what framebuilders are discussing...or sometimes arguing about on the forums. That's right-while I'm no longer a part of these scrums I do check them out from a distance. The eternal battle seems to be framebuilders vs. engineers. The framebuilders have actual experience with tubes,lugs,brazing , etc. The way a framebuilder finds out if something dosen't work is if it comes back to the shop broken. The way and engineer finds out if something dosen't work is much the same except for the fact that most engineers do their work in labs and never get to actually build the final product themselves. Framebuilders see this as a disconnect. Engineers see framebuilders as primitives who by the seat of their collective pants put things together in sometimes a haphazard fashion that wouldn't cut it in the world of testing labs. The truth is that egineers and framebuilders benefit from each other and need each other for problem solving and real-world feedback. Where would framebuilders be without the engineers figuring out the best alloys and processes to make tubing ? Conversely, where would engineers be without framebuilders putting the torch to these raw materials and finding out if the engineering really adds up to a success for the end user , or if it falls short. Neither framebuilder nor engineer is immune from making a blunder but each of them are very sure that the other is missing something in the equasion of bicycle building. I read on the forum where a hobbyist-builder was asking if silver solder was better for attatching cantilever bosses than bronze as it melted at a lower temperature. Several experienced builders gave evidence that silver was a bad choice, to which the hobbyist replied : " I'm going to use silver, check the engineering data". Hey, mr. are ignoring the most important data-that of people who braze on hundereds of cantilever bosses , exactly what you are trying to attempt for the first time. While the engineers will tell you properties that are very valuable, the engineers are not actually building the bikes, brazing on the bosses and dealing directly with the results. Think about it-free advice from seasoned pro builders.......years ago when I started out, this advice was almost impossible to come by. While we as builders depend on the engineering community to a large degree it is we, the guys in sheds all over the world who really knows what works in the bike building shop and the advice to " Read the data" from someone with little or no experience is downright laughable. To Mr. "Read the data " I say : Dude, we live the data....hell , our frames are the data . We , as builders accept responsability for failures that could be ours, or could be the data . Maybe you need to check some data of a more real-world kind-Hey, it's free !