Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stubborn Can Overcome Stupidity

I think it was 9/11 that started me on the downward spiral.  The year following that awful event left me and apparently the rest of the country in a funk.  Whatever happened, it was around then my business and my enthusiasm for it began to wane.  Each successive season found me struggling to create enough cash flow to stay out of hock. The old Bike Shop Business Model just was not cutting it.  The Internet, the economy, and my decreased interest in the business created serious roadblocks.

In a desperate move to keep things afloat, I used credit cards and loans to try and borrow my way out of the hole that seemed to grow larger no matter what I did.  And then the economy really tanked.  Thankfully, I had already decided on some bold cost cutting moves months earlier and when it did tank, I was in no worse shape than before.  I had not tied into any new debt for that year.  I did not order any new bikes on credit.  I made no huge Pre-season parts orders on credit.  I decided that if I could not pay for it, I would not buy it.  All this in an effort to try to pay down the old debt as much as I could and then close the shop.  That was 2008.

I was sure I would not be able to keep the doors open after September, 2008.  I was wrong.  September, 2008 came and went.  2009 came and went.  2010 came and went.  And here it is April, 2011 and I am still in business.  Far freakin out. 

Remembering where my head was at then and where it is now makes me grin.  I had been doing business a certain way for I guess almost 20 years, and suddenly I was throwing it out and adopting a new business model.  No new bikes on the floor.  Parts inventory kept slim and thin.  I adopted on time inventory, ordering many parts for repairs as I needed them.  And I dropped my help down to one full time employee (yours truly) and one part timer who was paid a percentage of each repair he did.  My gross income dropped dramatically, but my profitability on that gross increased.   And I have successfully nibbled away a large chunk of my old debt.  I am not out of the woods yet, but there is certainly a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.  Enough of one that now I am looking for ways to create new business without taking on huge new debt. 

I would love to give myself full credit for this turn around.  Yeah, I was too stubborn to quit.  That certainly helped.  But what else was I going to do?  I had been my own boss for over 20 years and I was damned if I was going to go back to driving trucks.  All I saw and still see is if I am not at the bike shop, I am at Loew's, Home Depot, Walmart, or Mickey D's wearing some shitty uniform and making just above minimum wage.  Of course minimum wage would be a wage hike for me.  I haven't drawn more than three or four thousand dollars out of my shop in at least the last three years.

My tenacity was certainly the driving force for where I am now.  But without timely help from my landlord, my creditors, Bike Shop Jim,  and most of all, my loyal customers, I would not be here right now feeling so grateful.   Instead of seeing nothing but struggle and trouble when I open my doors everyday, I think of running the shop as a fun game.  A serious game, but that's all it is.  Me against the evil economic monsters who wait behind every spreadsheet waiting to take me down.  I have stepped up my game and learned even more than I thought I could about retail.  I have found creative ways to cut costs.  I have found money in old bikes and old parts.  But of all the things I have learned these past few years is that if I am comfortable or feeling full of myself, then I am in trouble.  If I am not trying to grow my business when I can and shrink it when it needs to be cut back, then my business will die.  I figure another two years of this and I will be back in the black or damn close.

Happy Trails......................................................


Doc said...

Forgive me Mike for not being by more often but life has a way of eating my time. I just read your "Joy of Living" post and I felt obliged to throw in my two cents. I too, have tried to end my life and the aftermath is more ugly than what drove me to try and snuff it in the first place. At the tender age of 39 I find out I have bipolar disorder only after I have sunk so far that there is little going back. It is an ongoing battle, with no win, lose, or draw in sight. I am comforted a bit by the pills they feed me but it is a small comfort at best. Your story of survival is a great reassurance and it is one I won't soon forget. For that, I thank you. I'm glad to hear the shop goes well and that you find both feet on the pedals now. It is a feeling one must bank away for the dark days. Good luck old friend and we miss you at Flash Fiction Fridays.

Yours in ink,

Mr. Charleston said...

Stubbornness is the single most important ingredient of success... at anything. As often as not, simply showing up wins. By opening your doors everyday for 20 something years, you've already beaten 90% of the bike shops in America. I've seen more bike shops come and go than restaurants. A tip of the hat to you Crum.

Chef Cthulhu said...

Inspiring, thanks for sharing that. With sense like that, you need to run for Congress.

John Myste said...

Inspirational. One of these days I am going to get a skill and then start a shop where I use it.

Speaking of bikes, I need a kinder gentler bike seat. Do you have any advice?

BBC said...

9/11 had no effect on me and what I was doing at the time but others I know sure used it to place some blame on for their troubles.

That's a cool looking building and sign. In the parts business parts are tracked by sales and popularity so I always kept the most popular parts in stock. In the price lists they were listed as A B C, etc.

And some things I sold at a low profit just to get folks in the door, price leaders we call them. Like spark plugs, I only made about 10 cents each on them but they would also buy other things I made high profits on.

And there was always free coffee, candy, and bullshit.

BBC said...

Speaking of bikes, I need a kinder gentler bike seat. Do you have any advice?

A tougher ass. :-)

Demeur said...

Wow! It took you this long to realize you were on the wrong side of the debt curve? I figured that one out years ago. Had I not raced to pay off loans and mortgage then I'd be eating out of a dumpster right now.
Here's my advice or two cents if you will. Take 10% out of the till and stick in savings right off the top. Soon you will be in a better financial position and have a better attitude. You can then borrow against that cash for very little interest (who wants to pay credit card rates when they don't have to).
As for write offs and deductions you'd be amazed at what you can deduct. I could write a book on that and I'm sure there are plenty of books on the subject out there.

And we all know Billy is a hard ass so just send him the brochure on the porcupine seat covers. :-)

Beach Bum said...

What Doc, Mr. Charleston, and John said.

Randal Graves said...

Hand over all your money in a paper bag, or we're calling the Spreadsheet an' he knows people who knows people.

El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Excellent, Mike. Just excellent. I'm dang proud of you. That's a great looking shop and its owner is a great American. Keep up the great work.

And I concur fully with Demeur's comments. If you can't swing 10% while you're paying down debt, start with 5% until you've eliminated the debt, and then crank it up to 10% or 15%. I started this in 1992, when I was up to my arse in personal debt. Within a couple of years I was out of debt (except for the mortgage, and even that was paid in full by 2001) and it's been a good ride ever since.

Well, financially speaking, anyway - other areas of life always present their trials.

Have a Happy Easter, Mike. I'm going to be crossing the state of Maine tomorrow (entering at Calais, exiting at Coburn Gore), and lucky for you I'm not heading your way, or I'd be dragging your ass to Mass.


wow..good for you..you stubborn ole coot...watch out that that light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train.

muddleglum said...

A rather elaborate excuse for not blogging every day, but one I'll happily accept -- if you starved to death I wouldn't be able to read your posts at all.