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.


  1. Northern California builders active in the '80s who didn't sell out in no particular order: Ed Litton, Bruce Gordon, Peter Johnson, Bernie Mikkelsen, Albert Eisentraut, Steve Potts. I am sure there is a number of others.

  2. Everyone has different goals and a different vision of what they want to do with their lives and where they want to go; it depends on what you want out of life.

    You're very fortunate to have the career you do have. Most of us would love to be our own boss, working with our passion rather than just making a living.

    The fact that you have such a small dealer network and engage in very little advertising yet are able to earn a reasonable living-you're more successful than you think...

  3. Some didn't sell out-they just quit for one reason or another. Jeff Lindsay ended Mountian Goat in the '90's. Dale Saso is still building...the temptation to collect a paycheck instead of the randomness of self employment is always there. Waiting to get paid is pretty high on the stress-level scale for a builder.

  4. My husband used to work for a guy who owned his own pipe-organ building/rebuilding company up in Felton. I think they did about 2-3 contracts a year. Waiting to get paid was definitely stressful... there were a couple of years where he only got paid every six months- 12 paychecks and thousands of dollars at one go. Changed our perspective on budgeting for sure.

  5. Bike Ride Stories you need to check your list. Ed and Bernie are now both at least semi-retired for medical reasons. Albert hasn't built for a decade or so, it's his son now. Peter is mainly a machinist and never built that many bikes. Bruce and Steve are both still around though.