Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Long Time No See--Progress Report and History

After a few comments that I haven't updated the blog or website in some time I decided I need to drop a line. I don't want to sound like it's a hassle or bother. I'd prefer to write than do a most of what has been taking up my time lately.

A seventy four year old cyclist stopped in the other day. He said he was too old to cycle anymore. He looked and seemed fit--in more bike friendly conditions he'd likely still be cycling, which is a shame. He had some parts he wanted to sell, which I didn't need, and I good tool (steerer tube threader with die and handle for 1") for a great price, which I bought. He also had all the Rivendell Readers ever printed, which he lent me to browse. I thumbed through the first two yesterday. I don't know if any of you have read these, but there's a section in each one that would these days be a blog. In the section Grant Petersen has entries like "Aug 12--Only two orders today. Aug. 18--Only X amount of money left in the bank and half of that is owed to people--Aug. 25 A good friend called and said he hopes Rivendell succeeds, but doesn't think it will. Aug. 31--I think I need to see if the original investors will go in for about $15,000 more." etc. etc. It isn't all doom and gloom, but there is a good bit of writing about the worry that goes on with starting most businesses, I imagine, and especially a business for which there isn't a well established model. It was frank and honest without being self-pitying. I found it interesting and encouraging.

In any case, that feature in the Reader and comments from a few customers lately reminded me how nice it is to have a business that quite a few people seem to be rooting for. Most of these people are spread throughout the country, so they don't know much of what is going on unless they call or e-mail me.

Some weeks I get swamped in the local side of the business. I never wanted to start a bike business that was primarily mail or internet order, because I enjoy the face to face with customer (most times) and I think that actually wrenching on bikes keeps me honest in a way that punching keys and putting things in boxes to give to the UPS man can't. So my model has been a local bike shop which could be for everybody but because of image and perception probably won't be, as well as wheelbuilding, parts, and (one day) bikes for people around the country who want something a little special.

Right now I'm pretty swamped with work that eats up a lot of hours to make sure I pay the month to month bills. I'm still working on carving out time to do the things that will help pay the bills in the future and build the business (website work, getting the made to measure frames off the ground, bringing in new products) so that I don't have to work 70 hours a week to make sure the family and business scrape by.

I started the business out of love and frustration. Love of the bike as a vehicle and more. Love of how it fosters affection and closeness to people and places that can't be cultivated at 45mph. Once I started using my bike to get around Dallas and starting working with bikes I pretty quickly knew that I wanted to make it a career and start my own business. That's the love part. The frustration part was working at the local Trekalized dealer and seeing customers get the wrong bikes, wrong parts, and incorrect technical information over and over again.

I was building wheels on the side for extra money and was getting a decent stream of orders (all out of town to avoid conflicts of interest). Just enough to make it hard to fulfill my wheelbuilding orders and go to my day job. I didn't have anywhere close to the amount of money recommend to start the business. Perhaps 12% of what was recommended. My background in finance was non-existent, but I knew there was a market for classic, high-quality, practical bikes and parts and I thought I was pretty decent with customers. It might have been a blessing that I acted in ignorance, otherwise I might not have started up at all. But being underfunded has made it tougher. So one of my big projects for the next few months is to put together a more formal business plan and round up the money to expand my inventory and get some projects off the ground. And build the website, of course.

The truth is that in August 2006 I wasn't comfortable borrowing (not would anyone have lended me) the recommended start up money (this usually includes at least twelve months of operating expenses). The year and half since then (I'm subtracting a couple months for the move) have been an excellent business education and I'm much more comfortable with what I'm doing now. The other upshot is that since I've built up enough business to (barely) cover my operating expenses and (sorta) pay myself I don't need to borrow as nearly as much.

I promise to update more often in the future so that those who care will have some idea about what is going on. It's also a good break from building wheels and assembly work. Next installment--the European style city bike, why it is neglected in the US, and how your particular city/town affects what will be the optimal "commuting" bike for you. Not in that order. I'll also have a frame update soon and have carved out some time to work on the website, which will soon have products, prices, and pictures. No online ordering planned yet. Maybe never. We'll see. It's nice to at least talk to someone on the phone.


veloChine said...

Good to hear that business is keeping you busy. Have you considered peer to peer lending for expanding your business. It is how a lot of small business are expanding now days.

I look forward to hear about your frames.


Longleaf Bicycles said...

Thanks Carlos,

I have had peer to peer lending recommeded to me by someone else as well. I haven't yet looked very far into financing options. I've spend some time figuring out how much I'd like and exactly what I plan to use it for, but I haven't extensively looked into sources yet.

With a business like mine any potential investor will (and should) want to see a completed website, so I need to finish that as well as a formal business plan before I go looking for money. Both those projects are coming along, and I'm optimistic about rounding up the finances to build the business.

Christopher Johnson said...


It was great to chat with you again today and yes, there are a lot of folks from all over wishing for your success. I think your problem-solving skills lend themselves to customer service and your communication skills can expand your market beyond the local and face-to-face if you so choose. Speaking of communication, I also am looking forward to future updates.