2019 No. 3, Feb 6: State of the Bunion
Posted on February 06 2019
For the 11 years from 2007 thru 2018 our yearly sales were concerningly stable at $2.85 to $2.9 million a year, which would be fine if expenses were also stable, but that's not how it works, with rents and raises and u-name-it going up. Last year sales were $2.65 million. For the last 5 years our average net income has been $8,900. Our average daily UPS shipments have gone from 40 to 20, and some days it's in the low teens. Bike sales are still decent, and maybe blindly we're forging ahead with product planning for this and next year, including such complicated things as tandems--which, oddly or ironically, have saved us recently; and we have been enthusiastically digging in with refinements and (bigger than refinements) revisions of current models and a whole new model or two altogether, just as we'd do if we were doing great. It's not stupid to do this, it's irresistible. It's just so much fun, but the bikes have to make sense all the way around. They can't be just "fun."
The pull to pretend and to keep going is so strong, as strong as the belief in our purpose or mission or plan to put something positive out there. To me, it doesn't seem like it should be a niche, but in fact it's a micro-niche. That's never been more obvious than it is now. The thing is, I think all this stuff--from steel frames to friction shifters to lugs and saddlebags--should be the universal defaults. You should have to look hard to find an unattractive, tight-clearance, impossible-to-be-comfortable-on-for-more-than-a-minute carbon road bike. Instead, it's oi vey up the wazoo.
Coming to work has always been fun, because we're friends. Mark's cut back his pay 40 percent to reduce our payroll, but he seems to have cut his hours back about 10 percent. Spencer raised his hand to cut back as much, too. Robert and Jenny are down to 40 percent, too (related to not enough boxes to ship out). I've cut my pay significantly but am working the same hours. Isn't that how it's supposed to be? I want Rivendell to survive for the benefit of the others. I don't need it to survive for legacy or ego reasons, just for jobs and whatever we have to contribute. Now is what counts, and how do we keep it going, keep these jobs and all of us together? Bikes and bags and bars? If not those, what?
It's puffed up to believe we really matter, but I'm contented with our attempt at a contribution and effort to make bikes that are as good as we can make them, and look pretty good. After the safety and function are in place, we work on overall proportions, shapes, and details. To a large extent, that has meant lugs, and we've spent ungodly lots on tooling for them--more than $130,000 over the years. We have more than 48 different investment casting molds for various lugs, fork crowns, bottom bracket shells, and dropouts. At some point somebody else will own them. What will they do with them, I wonder? It depends on who and the circumstances.
In many ways we've never been better. Roman and Will and Vince are at their peak, like 27-year old outfielders in a way, all of the youngster nits and burps are gone, they understand so much about this business, there's nothing they don't know, they just couldn't be any better. Corey is still the new guy and I don't know what his plans are, but I hope he stays, too. There's potential for good jobs for a long time here, and a good contribution, if we can keep it going.
Still, of course I have thought about selling Rivendell. I'm not pursuing it. It's not easy to find (1) a buyer; and (2) a buyer who understands that it's the people that matter most, and keeping "the culture" as it is, at least insofar as the culture helps and doesn't hurt. When you sell you can't dictate that. You can refuse to sell, but at that point what's Plan B?
Plan C is giving it to the employees. Do they want it? I don't know. They'd probably rather have some kind of job security than an albatross around their necks. I would. I would right NOW. I don't know if they want it. Would it be overwhelming? Are they looking for other work now, and I'm just super deluded? Does "the mission" carry any weight? Is it bad or brainless of me to think I hope it does? It's too much of a burden, to put that on them.
Plan Z is an angel investor who buys Rivendell and supports it and perhaps supplies a benevolent genius administration that can snip a few nose hairs, lance a boil here or there, and polish it up all shiny and keep it going.
Despite the gloomy sound of all this, here's what we're working on (some of this was mentioned in a recent BLAHG). I'm not going senile, it just seems a good place to put it here, as an optimistic flip at the end of this post:
A fancy 25th Anniversary model. It won't be anybody's idea of what a 25th Anniversary model should be. I don't actually even believe in self-congratulatory models like that, but it'll be an excuse to go wacky, have fun. Not bad-wacky, by the way.
FINALLY getting the SILVER2 shifters. What a hassle, but those will be worth it. August?
Wrapping up and satisfying the 35 HHH (Tandem) buyers, getting them their bikes with no glitches, on time, happily. We're getting in ten extra frames, and they'll go for $2,000 each.
Getting the GUS BOOTS-WILLSEN out there, and presenting it to the world with some kind of a HILLYBIKE/RIDING manifesto that has an impact on how trails are ridden...and also, odd tho it may seem here but it'll make sense when you see it, brings to light/to your awareness the problems that modern Mongolia is having, which are both fascinating and gut-wrenching, and how you can help. There will be a future BLAHG on this, or maybe even an email update, which has much more reach. Maybe THIS will go in the email update. I dunno.
In the real bike industry, bicycle (unit) sales are down 10 percent in the last year, but average retail price is up four percent. It must be the electric "bicycles." What does that even mean? What do WE do with that? We're on the ocean floor, a mile below the tsunami and the floating plastic, with our own way more immediate concerns. These industry trends and statistics mean nothing to me. I don't know whether or not they should, but they don't.
You can expect bikes to go more electric and automatic in the future. There will be more categories. There will be electric gravel bikes, if there aren't already. Triples will go away. Front derailers will go away. Levers and cables will go away, replaced by buttons and hydraulic fluid. The spoked wheel will die. Pneumatic ties will die in 30 years, replaced by solid foam with all the feel of air.
In a couple of weeks I'm going to start posting some different things on instagram. Sort of like single-frame comics. It's all just commentary on bikes and riding, a sentence or two at a time.
Do you want to see what the best riding bike in the world looks like?
Best on asphalt, anyway. Really super. And here are some good winter grips:
Wool felt over doublestick carpet tape, then twined. Yadda yadda, I know....you've seen this before. I see it every day and still dig it!
Here's an interesting book:
It makes me scared to utter and twitch and breathe, and makes me mistrust myself. It's probably good to. It at least leads to lots of internal discussion, and...this.
I don't know what the author had in mind, but that may have been part of it. I often wonder (and people around here know I wonder) about how many people of color we have as customers. How many read this. How to refer to people who don't identify as white. As "people of color"? That seems safer than "black people" and is more inclusive, and "African Americans" rules out people of that particular color who came here not directly from Africa, although an argument can be made that everybody who's reading this now has ancestors who evolved in Africa. But black people living in England aren't "African Americans," are they?
I have TEN friends who I suspect check off African American when there are boxes like that to check off. I would like to talk to them about some of these feelings and ideas I have that center around skin color and histories, but it's hard to start that conversation. ("Hey, Miesha, it's Grant. Say....") I don't see them every day or even every month, so it would be out of the blue. Would starting a conversation like that put them in the position of representing ALL people of that similar color? Can they? Would I be thrusting that responsibility on them, talking to them as generic black people rather than my friends? Would it change our friendship?
I want to know what you think, not because it'll affect what I think, but just because I want to know. I can't respond or get into debates. I can say "I want to know..." sincerely without that meaning I have what it takes to take on discussions...about, for instances, these things:
Is the afro-hair shocking or offensive because I'm showing it to you and I'm white? Is it OK? Or is it wrong just because black people are super-minorities among cyclists, still? Is the peace sign less acceptable with the afro than it would be with blonde hair? The illustrator originally drew it with a simple head like the others. I suggested the hair, and I think it looks boss. The saddle needs repositioning....
Assuming that the progression represents some stages of evolution, is the afro any more acceptable to you when you consider that the first humanoids were, in fact black (and from Africa), and that in these stick figures might as well NOT arbitrarily turn white somewhere along the way? If the afro seems out of place, is it because you assumed the figures represented white people?
Is TALKING about this "unnecessary"? It isn't to me. Bicycle riding has not been as friendly to black people as to white people. To suggest that it's equally accessible to all people, or that skin color doesn't play a role because the bicycle is inanimate, and what about Major Taylor and Nelson Vails, is naive. I'm not calling YOU naive, but if you think bicycling is not as popular among black people because there's something about the skin color or the culture that makes riding a bike less fun for black people, then yep I'd say that was off.
What about these two? —
What would you be thinking or how would you respond any differently if all four people were obviously black? Or if the parent/guardian/whatever and the child had way different skin colors?
These are the kinds of things that, according to the black-and-white book above, white people can't see from a black person's point of view. I agree with that. I still wonder: Among the four people, are is 4W OK, because it's the most familiar scenario to the majority of people reading this? At what point does "mixing it up" get weird, or turn into appropriation? What's politically correct here, and is the term "politically correct," out of date because it's been used to disparage people trying to be sensitive or do good or at least not do bad? If one of the figures was clearly black and with dark skin, how would people respond to that? I'd be uncomfortable with it because I'd be afraid it would be taken like some kind of comic-stip blackfacing. Is showing 95 percent white faces acceptable because it represents the current reality?
Is it possible to show black faces (and other "faces of color") without coming off as tokenism? If there was a book of these things or I posted two or three a week and they were ALL white, I don't imagine I'd get any grief. If they were all black, what would happen? Where does this fit in with political correctness, tokenism, affirmative-action kinds of stuff, quota-ism, and something Reni-Eddo Lodge calls "positive discrimination"? On pages 73 to 81 of her book. She seems to be for it, and I'll vote with her, but I'm not perfectly clear on it.
If any PofColor are reading this, I'd like to hear your thoughts. I may get zero responses. If you are a PofC and respond, identify yourself as one, because I know for sure tons of white people will respond, and I want to see if there's any difference. Don't be a white person pretending to be a black person, for heaven's sake.
Everything is complicated. I don't know which way to look for anything. Will it all get sorted out?
Next one, more bike stuff. Cheers & tally-ho! and :)