Thursday, October 28, 2010

The shrinking pot

2010 has been an interesting year , at least for me. During this economic slowdown my business has not slowed down-it actually set records in terms of incoming orders in 2008 and 2009 and looked to be doing the same in 2010 until about mid August. Suddenly, the phone stopped ringing.....normally I would welcome some hours where I could just weld and not have to jump up and go to the phone every 10 minutes. Now , a typical day will be largely devoid of the phone ringing and I can merrliy weld away on the now rapidly shrinking list of orders. Last year at this time I had about three times the orders on the list as I do now in the fall of 2010. Is this the economic slowdown finally catching up with me , or did I do something to piss off the frame buying public at large ?
This is the dilemma of the self-employed small framebuilder: What ca we attribute a sudden silence of the phone to ? Economic trends ? More competition from newer builders ? Maybe our style has become outmoded as we have not evolved with the ever changing trends in bike building ? It is stuff like this that keeps people like me awake at night .......what did I do to cause this and what, if anything can I do to turn things around ?
Maybe , there's a reason I'm not really taking into account-perhaps what has caused this lull in new business is something I didn't cause and maybe it is something I can't do anything about. I know well that what I do is largely a luxury and not something of an impulse purchase.....people plan ahead to get a custom frame, way ahead in most cases. Sooo, if the slowdown in my business isn't caused by me and cannot be changed by me , what the heck do I do ? Maybe I should shut the hell up and do my job, at least while I have it. As I have said before , I'm very lucky to have work in this fickle field and the run of the last 7-odd years has been exceptional. All over the world people are looking at situations much more grave than what I am faced with-it's time for me to take whatever resources I have and do something for folks less fortunate than myself. If my business does not survive this slump I would rather go out on a note of having done some constructive and community-based work rather than having some sort of 'fire sale' or the like. Maybe a lull like this is a time when I can attend to projects long neglected........maybe all I need to do is to start restoring that old Colnago and as soon as I get about halfway though , the phone will start ringing again and all of my noble efforts will come to a grinding halt while I go back to earning a living.....or not !

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This is why there aren't any pretty frame pictures

There's new noises in my shop-sounds of sawzalls and hammers banging and prying out nails. In a quest for more storage space my building superintendant has appropriated my office. I had a nice upstairs space that was part of my shop, although technically I was not charged any rent for it. I moved into this shop in late 1996 and have accumulated a lot of stuff since then. The 160 square ft. office was about 25% of my total space and it was a good place to store my old music gear that was choking my house. This photo is a view of where the office used to be, up a flight of stairs. It had a window that looked down on my workspace, a colossal 538 square ft.
This is not where you want to stand in the event of an earthquake. I have no doubt that a good deal of this stuff that used to be in the office will come cascading down with anything 4.0 or above on the Richter scale.
This used to be the office. I have no idea what it will become , but I know that I will no longer be welcome in this space. While it is always good to periodically purge and try to keep an orderly shop, this practice does not come naturally to me and I was not really ready to give up this space, especially on only two days notice. For better or worse, Rock Lobster cycles is shrinking. Maybe I'm only a Langostino now

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The powers that be

Sixteen years ago I had the good fortune to to find an affordable shop space on the west side of town, only about 10 minutes by bike from my front door. The space was pretty small, about 530 square feet but there was a bonus included in the rent, or rather, not charged for. The bonus was an upstairs office of about 160 square feet that was up a small flight of wooden stairs. I don't know about you, but give a guy like me some extra square footage and enough time and I'll fill that space with lots of crap -most of which I probably should have thrown away.
Flash forward 16 plus years later and sure enough, the shop and the office are jam packed with all sorts of stuff that framebuilders accumulate : Lots of frames needing repairs that are abandoned, some day to be resurrected into rideable classics when the work load gets thin ,posters of bike racers and catalogues from bike component companies,bike magazines,jerseys-can't seem to part with them, even if the moths have eaten many holes in them......old frame drawing..on and on. In my sixteen years of occupying this space I had done a good job of filling every square inch of space and a bad job of throwing stuff out.
A few days ago the building superintendent came by and gave me a real surprise-my office was going away. The landlady was supposedly appropriating the 160 square foot office and stairwell for storage. I was to lose my universal catch-all space for all the stuff that wouldn't fit downstairs in the shop. My desk, computer , rollers , sales and tax records, shipping boxes and old musical gear would have to find a new home, most likely the recycling center at the county dump. The superintendent gave me all fo three days to re-arrange 16 years of accumulation. Saddled with this new unexpected task ,I was trying really hard not to be mad , sad and or sentimental. What I had to do was to get a lot of stuff organized downstairs and make room for whatever I felt was too essential to either give away or throw away.
With grim determination I began the task of looking through all the boxes and piles of stuff upstairs , trying to really not get too caught up in looking through memory lane and stay at the task of downsizing my substantial accumulation. Ignoring the stories in each box of stuff was pretty much impossible for me and I began to get sidetracked in looking at receipts for frames sold in years past , trying to remember the faces of the people who had ordered them. I came across names of people who have passed on, bike shops long out of business , prices that were so low that I wondered how I survived. I looked for a time at the old books but soon figured out that I could easily run out of valuable time spending the day looking at things I had ignored for over a decade. I came to the conclusion that placing the receipt books in a box and keeping to the task at hand was needed, although this sensibility did not come natural to me. I thought about all the years I had been building bikes and what all of this stuff represented to my personal history. After pondering this I had a moment of clarity, a kind of resignation that whatever value this mountian of stuff represented to me, most of it would have to go-personal history be damned.
I got in the mode of "Get rid of anything as long as it hasn't been useful in the last two years"......this amounted to nearly two truck loads. Lots of bike parts got donated to the local "Bike Church" self service bike co-op. A lot of metal got recycled-fancy US made aluminum tubing ,about the equivalent to $ 1,500 worth became $ 38.40 in recycle value. My oldest bike drawings, many of which were from the early '90's went into the dumpster . Old catalogues and magazines got recycled or went to friends. It was a blood-letting of personal accumulation like I had never had-more like something that should happen when someone dies, but I wasn't dead yet. Maybe it was the death of something else, the passing of my inability to cut loose of all the junk that I thought held my identity and told my story. I had the thought , who really cares about this junk anyway ? who wants to know in such rediculous detail the complete and unabridged archeological evidence of my time on earth ? If I had been ignoring it all these years , wouldn't it follow that even I couldn't be bothered to pay attention to it ? I started to feel pretty empty and started thinking in jest about leaving enough room in the dumpster for myself ! After all, nothing lasts forever.