Will we close?
Sell, Hail Mary, Close
The long and short is our staffing outlook for the season has changed dramatically in the last week and we are faced with some significant choices. This post will carry into who we are and what we’ve been doing for the last six years. If you’re more of a cut-to-the-chase type of person, we need to sell the business, come up with an alternative staffing idea (immediately, that works for our family), or shutter the shop.
Where we’re at now:
For about the first four years at the shop I was there six days a week March through December. For the last year or so I’ve been trying to physically be at the shop about two days a week, sometimes more during Spring and busy influx. I’ve also been handling custom build project coordination, email, social media, ordering, taxes, payroll, events and general planning. As of last season we had planned on making a formal transition with a more traditional manager role taking on those back-end tasks. I’d still be coming into the shop two days a week, but I’d free myself of those ancillary time commitments. For those of you who are local customers and know David (our manager/mechanic extraordinaire), he’s leaving on happy terms and you’ll likely see him around the shop in the next couple weeks. He’s a dear, we’re close and I’ll always love him like family. Right now, we don’t have any prospects on how we would staff the shop which is slated to open full summer hours starting 4/13/19. Starting the season trial by fire with new staff and no transition time seems to be a recipe for disaster with a time commitment that I cannot meet. Part of me writing this blog is to perhaps consider ideas that I may not have thought of yet. I’m open to suggestions, but don’t be bummed if I don’t reply to your idea/inquiry. The next couple of weeks are going to be bananas.
What we’ve been doing:
At heart, we’re passionate about bicycles as transportation, everyday tools for the everyday person. Secondary to that, we have a niche for aesthetics and adventure by bike (touring, bike camping, family biking). That sounds lovely on paper, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to high volume sales. In addition, we are probably too good at selling people good standard replacement parts rather than trying to point them towards a new bike or unnecessary upgrades. We’re a retail sales contradiction. By design, we’ve been very particular about how we approach the business. Our strategy boils down to low overhead and a highly focused reputation. This has been the plan since day one so we could be true to our passions and not make compromises.
In the last six years I went from a man of leisure to married with two kids. I love my family and the shop has always been something that required a good deal of re-balancing. My wife would kid that she had no idea how I could spend 10 hours at the shop and then come home and look at more bike stuff for “fun”. It would make her a little crazy and rightfully so. Those realizations would make me half proud because doing what you love doesn’t really feel like a job at all. As my kids get older, my obsession with bicycles gets tempered with the miracle and privilege of being a parent (while doing my best to combine the two when I can).
We’ve been trying to buy a building in earnest for three years. From day one the plan was to see if we enjoyed retail enough to stay in long term. From there we would buy a building to secure and stabilize our overhead. This step was also key in making the venture financially rewarding. Up until this point the shop did a wonderful thing in offsetting my tax liabilities as a geologist/environmental consultant. Enter the new tax law and the new standard deduction effectively wipes that advantage off the table. Not having a building to invest in at this point along with the new tax law is a double whammy that’s particularly significant from a financial perspective.
I won’t go into a major rant, but I will say that the pursuit of commercial property in Rochester has been a frustrating one. Between archaic zoning restrictions, speculator investor market inflation and dishonest sellers we are thoroughly demoralized. We’ve been under contract four times and spent much time, money and emotional investment along the way. I’ll end this paragraph by making two general statements. One, we need to find a way to allow small business owners to remain independent and self-financed with reasonable overhead. Two, the speculator market in Rochester means that there is the commercial version of slum lords commanding high rents and unsustainable high market values for independent retailers. This creates a renter class and a developer class separation that is hard to break. It’s truly anti small business especially if we are meant to keep the last vestiges of small volume independent retail alive.
In the end, I am wildly grateful I began this adventure and I know I would be full of envy if someone else continued it. In my humble opinion, a low overhead model with the owner working the majority of hours at the shop is viable and rewarding. If you’re lucky enough to score yourself a building for the right price, you might be looking at your ultimate dream job.
Who knows how long we will let these decisions simmer but in the meantime we’ve adjusted our first return to full summer hours to start Saturday April 13, 11am to 6pm, tentatively Tuesday through Saturday. We’ll also be there this Saturday (4/6) 11-6……come by, say hello, buy a bicycle or two.
-Alex, David, Brandi, Adalyn & Holden (The Yellow Haus Family)