Sunday, December 15, 2013

State of the Union...

Seems like the profession of custom bicycle fabrication opens it's self up to a diverse group of individuals who choose to pursue this career for differing motivations.  For such a small niche, it gets it's inordinate share of folks who are passionate about being a "framebuilder" and have decided that THIS is the path they will walk on.  The problem is, so many want to run down the path before even looking to see where it leads.  A quick romp through the forums or a day at NAHBS will provide you with a number of these "professionals" who will shower you with fancy business cards and tee's before they've ever fabricated their first frame on their own.  It is this phenomenon that spurred a thread on Velocipede Salon, found here...

Click here!

I threw down some of my own thoughts, which can be found below.  They are of no significance to anyone but me, but since I'm paying for the Google Storage for this blog content, I thought I would preserve this moment of clarity to reference later when I can't remember what the hell I'm doing...

First post added...
Never understood the perspective of many sitting on the edges of the industry that frame building is all marshmallows and pink unicorns...

Earning a living from bicycle fabrication is just plain work.

This profession is undervalued and professionals attempting to earn a living wage have to compete with those willing to "learn" their way in, who charge less due to the starving artist sacrifice syndrome.

Success as a professional is inversely proportional to fabrication time...have a thoughtful business plan, learn customer relations/human dynamics, practice solid accounting principals, know that you are the product and represent accordingly, then produce the highest level of fabrication possible while continuing to strive for better efficiency.

Random thoughts...thanks for the impetus.
Second Post added...
Frame builders who fabricate for a living are fighting an uphill battle in respect to how our work is perceived by the whole of society. As builders, we perceive the bicycle as a multi-form tool that satisfies many client needs; function, recreation/performance, aesthetics, and personal/emotional expectations. It is, however, a vehicle for transportation and must be crafted with all the care and precision that is required for the safety of it's operator. The assumption of this risk is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the fabricator, requiring experience and maturity from those that choose this career.

Those who are embedded in the cycling profession, whether wrenching in a shop, selling inventory, or crafting product, recognize and value the form. However, society as a whole still sees the bicycle as a toy. When I commented that I believe the profession of fabricating bicycles is undervalued, I am looking through those eyes.

Folks accept that highly skilled trades executed by professionals demand a certain level of monetary compensation. Plumbers, Electricians, auto mechanics, etc, have hourly shop/job rates that reflect the value of the work they do. Demographically these rates vary, but in my region it is not uncommon to see an hourly cost of $80-$150 per hour for these skilled trades. It is necessary work provided by a skilled tradesman.

Conversely, many frame builders have a difficult time requesting the fair monetary compensation that their level of skill deserves. It is not until they have solidified their place in the market, suffered through many storms that build experience, and learn to operate a business efficiently that many exhibit the confidence to set a living wage without feeling the necessity to justify it. Sustainability/Longevity is the measure of success.

It saddens me to see so many promising builders start up, only to leave a few short years later because of a lack of small business tools and market awareness. This cyclic renewal of participants is present in every trade, however, it certainly feels like we have a greater turnover, perhaps because the community is smaller.
Many entering this profession do so because they feel passionately about it, but have not invested the appropriate care and time in creating a sustainable business model and cultivating a market for their work. In order to keep the flame alive, many will scrape by in an attempt to keep following their passion...thus the starving artist. These practitioners ultimately fail, often leaving behind economic upheaval in the customer base, tarnishing the niche as a whole.

The trades mentioned earlier mandate education, experience, and certification before allowing one to venture out and begin a business, stacking the deck in favor of the new entrepreneur. I often feel that we create an ill defined path to success...we have limited educational opportunities, mentoring is done impersonally through 1's and 0's, and very little information queried and shared centers around small business tools vs. what torch/cutter/etc do you use.

Is it the responsibility of established fabricators to develop those who wish to learn? Morally, I believe an effort should be made. Many have accepted this moral responsibility and have contributed, "setting the table" for others to achieve the beginning steps to success. It is the responsibility of those accepting such information to wait until they are well prepared to hang out a shingle and become a "professional". If not, our niche as a whole will never achieve the level of professional value it deserves.

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