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Supporting a Co-op

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Supporting a Co-op

Old 10-31-17, 10:28 PM
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Supporting a Co-op

Hi folks,

Iím posting this here hoping itís the proper place. In addition to providing a valuable service to our community, this co-opís primary business is older bikes. Most are refurbished, some are overhauled, a few are vintage and many are just old.

Iím seeking inputs to improve the operations, sales & cash flow, of our local non-profit co-op in Salem, Oregon. Iíve been volunteering there since early this year. Itís located ~40 miles from Portland, which is known a very active cycling center. This co-op is a full service shop that sells new & used bikes, has an ďEarn a BikeĒ program and provides training classes. Iím primarily involved in refurbishing bikes for the less fortunate and as a flat fixer (actually, a tube replacer, since we donít repair tubes). The retail portion supports the shop and the salaried staff. Volunteers and interns help with refurbishments, recycling programs and site maintenance. There is also a heavy reliance on donations of cash, supplies and bikes.

As the bike selling season is winding down, weíve been discussing ways to keeping people coming in. The shop had added a line of entry level bikes in hopes of drawing people away from department stores by emphasizing professional assembly and a ďrealí warranty. Iíd like to assist with their business development program, however, my sales/marketing experience is in supplying equipment and materials to the computer chip industry. Iím sure that some of my experience applies, but I have very little retail experience.

The co-op has received some unique bikes in recently; a Reynolds 531 tubed Puch, a couple of Italian Bianchis, several better Treks, an interesting Univega with a cromo double butted frame and wild suspension fork, an upper level Peugeot, some mid level French bike, an Italian bike from an unknown builder, plus some nice Japanese bikes. Just this past weekend a 531 tubed Argos with a Campagnolo Gran Sport groupo and a super nice 80s Canondale touring bike that appears to be a custom build were donated. Iíve also discovered a bunch of vintage parts, like Weinmann/Dia Compe brakesets, Shimano and Suntour components, SR bars/stems and several sets of Mafac Racer calipers. Again, these need to be marketed.

In the industrial setting we used trade shows, product releases, trade publication advertising, sales calls, etc. as sales and marketing tools. Other than some applicable advertising and possibly a pre-holiday open house, Iím having difficulty putting this together. So, any inputs, suggestions, guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks and regards,

Van
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Old 11-01-17, 01:01 AM
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I'll just be brutally frank. No disrespect intended, but I have seen a lot of bad ideas in my association with the co-op here, and the result is that it always seems to be stuck where it has been for many years in terms of any improvement of the operation or forward motion. So with that preface, take all this for what it's worth (and you're getting it for free, so probably worth not much.)


...if your co-op is significantly staffed by volunteers, so you are well equipped to deal with the off season that every bicycle business (both for profit and non profit) experiences. It's difficult to advise you on whether it's a good or bad idea to expend a whole lot of effort trying to "keep people coming in", because the bicycle business is seasonal in nature. As I recall, it always has been somewhat that way. Depends on what the payroll is you need to come up with to support your paid staff.

...the entry level bike business is a loser. If there were any chance of competing in that market with places like Walmart and Target, shops would still be doing it. The bikes are junk, and they will be a constant source of repairs and replacements you don't really have the time for. Because those folks will ride and break their bikes in the busy season, just like everyone else. It just turns out to be a lot of trouble with low profit potential, and the risk of bad word of mouth publicity. ("Those guys sold me a lemon.")

...certainly you can get money for those nicer parts you are selecting out from your stream of incoming stuff. But it requires a person to list, inventory, advertise it on e-bay, and ship it promptly when sold. IOW, pretty much one guy who does just that job. We never had that much extra staffing in terms of knowledgeable volunteers about older stuff, and certainly no one who wanted to do it to the extent required. And you can't make enough money from it to justify having your paid people do it. It turns out that selling it over the counter at your co-op for half what you might charge online brings in almost as much cash with a fraction of the hassles.

...those donations of cash, parts, and bikes were the primary source of operating expenses for us. To a lesser extent, the occasional fundraiser, but those did not always make money. We were all volunteer, no paid staff.

...I've not seen an "Earn-a-Bike" program that I thought was a good one. Certainly ours was disastrous in the impact it had on day to day operations. It might be different with the ones targeted at kids.

The theory is that you have low end bikes that you can afford to give to people, and to get them to invest some time in helping at the co-op by cleaning up, or disassembling bikes, or some other sort of contribution to the effort for a certain number of hours. Then they get the bike and you help them fix it. The reality turns out to be people who have little interest in your overall well being as a business, and who have few skills that you can use to keep things moving, hanging around for the prescribed number of hours to get the bike. they are then less than happy with it because it was a POS when it was nes, so is even less reliable now. they keep coming back and taking up space on the shop floor trying to keep it going...usually for free, because you gave them the bike and promised to help them with it.



Rereading this I guess it sounds a little burned out. I'm very sorry if that's the case, because I mostly enjoyed the 5 or 6 years I was heavily involved with the one here, but found the whole structure very resistant to positive change. Maybe because you have that payroll to meet, your management core will be more embracing of a solid business model. But I've seen several bike co-ops from the inside, and for some strange reason it seems to be an environment that embraces eating their young. The dysfunction out in Davis, over the years, has been the stuff of legend. Too many managers, too many meetings, and nobody really feeling empowered to just make a decision and follow through on it with all possible speed and deliberation.

Good luck to you. Maybe it's different in Oregon.
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Old 11-01-17, 01:50 AM
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I seemed to have missed the shop.

Is that the "Northwest Hub"? I'll have to check it out one of the times I'm through Salem.

I think all the 20-somethings come down to Eugene to clean out the local co-op of any rebuilt functional bikes around this time of year. Actually, perhaps there would be a way to capture more of that early fall business.

One thing the Eugene co-op has is a shop time subscription service. Pay something like $100, and get unlimited use of the shop for a year. Sorry, I don't remember the exact cost. Or, I think it is $5 per hour to use the shop (help from volunteers is free, but additional fees for help from paid staff, as well as purchasing parts (new or used).

The Coop also runs a local Pedex delivery service, as well as bike valet parking for the Cuthbert Amphitheater, as well as other venues around town (mainly summer).

The coop can also make custom cargo bikes, although I don't think they're making that many.

Oh, and Jan will sell you a custom fender bender Perfect for the NW.
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Old 11-01-17, 06:20 AM
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Originally Posted by wrk101
Decide whether you want to compete with the local bike shops or cooperate with them.

The co-op I volunteer at has chosen the latter. Instead of undercutting local shops on repair work, we rely on those shops for donations of good bikes. And we get a lot of them. We'll show people how to do repairs, but we won't do repairs for a fee. We sell used components and gear cheap, and we sell rebuilt bikes cheap to reasonably priced. We don't sell new stuff, unless someone donated it to us (like the kids bikes below).
The local bike co-op here in Eugene gets quite a few donations from local shops. Even from "bike flippers".

They do do both "training", as well as some repairs, and as I mentioned, allow customers to buy shop time either on an hourly basis, or as an annual pass.

They do have a limited selection of new parts (tires, tubes, bearings, maybe a few lights, patches, etc). They also have a bunch of new, really low quality wheels.

They don't appear to sell things like group sets, new derailleurs, etc.

They do some fabrication, and seem to use mainly new parts and supplies in the fabrication. Also production of capes and fenders, but they don't seem to really be pushing their in house fabrication and production.
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Old 11-01-17, 07:07 AM
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As a flipper myself, other than local bike shops, I have made more donations than anyone else. In part, I am in the process of thinning my herd of projects. I was less picky in the past on buys, so I ended up with a lot of bikes that really don't make sense. So I am rapidly donating them off so I can breathe a little. I volunteer one day a week, take my truck. Typically its loaded with bikes. Its a hobby, and it had started becoming a business. No thanks!

Average price of bikes I have flipped this year is probably triple the price of years past. Make more on fewer bikes.

Most of the garage sale bikes I pick up now go straight to the co-op. Out of the twenty or so garage sale bikes I have bought in the last year, all went to the co-op. I did keep a pile of parts I picked up, and flipped a couple of thrift store bikes.
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Old 11-01-17, 08:53 AM
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The co-op here I think has an auction annually, I do know another that just had a holloween party, I do not know if that party was a fund raiser.
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Old 11-01-17, 09:25 AM
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Originally Posted by wrk101
As a flipper myself, other than local bike shops, I have made more donations than anyone else. In part, I am in the process of thinning my herd of projects. I was less picky in the past on buys, so I ended up with a lot of bikes that really don't make sense. So I am rapidly donating them off so I can breathe a little. I volunteer one day a week, take my truck. Typically its loaded with bikes. Its a hobby, and it had started becoming a business. No thanks!

Average price of bikes I have flipped this year is probably triple the price of years past. Make more on fewer bikes.

Most of the garage sale bikes I pick up now go straight to the co-op. Out of the twenty or so garage sale bikes I have bought in the last year, all went to the co-op. I did keep a pile of parts I picked up, and flipped a couple of thrift store bikes.
It's really refreshing to read this reply, and you've motivated me to get rid of old stuff. I'm the same story--I began building bikes, and in my early days, I was very naive, so I have a lot of frames, parts, and bikes that aren't really worth my time now. I've just let these things sit for years in my garage, taking up space. I'm now realizing that my space and peace of mind are more valuable than hanging onto a bike that's beneath me, for lack of a better term.
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Old 11-01-17, 09:37 AM
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Couple things that involve some work, but will raise your profile and bring folks in:

1. A Fall/Winter organized ride, gathering at or finishing at the Shop = opportunity for informational handouts plus $$ from entry fees. Could also yield cash from additional sales/repairs to participants.

2. Work with local bike club to hold a swap meet with sales tables available for a fee. A used bike sale corral featuring shop bikes plus outside sellers who pay an entry fee to include their bikes (fixed or sliding entry fee based on asking price plus a shop % of any sale.
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Old 11-01-17, 09:40 AM
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Any sort of business that sells direct to consumer retail HAS to be focused on social media, IMO. It's the easiest way to reach people, and you utilize your followers' voices to amplify your message.

The biggest drawback is it's not necessarily easy to do correctly. There are loads and loads of people out there doing just about everything wrong, and it becomes frustrating quickly.

Content is king. Great content will be digested and shared many times. Bad content will be passed over like a used shoe on the street. It is really impossible for me (or anyone) to develop a content strategy for you for a variety of reasons, so here's the action plan I'd put together... Identify someone who has the time, enthusiasm, and ability to drive social campaigns. Put together a small team of 2-3 people who can drive content and nurture new buyers/members/patrons. You don't have to re-invent the wheel here. Go out and search what other co-ops and similar ventures are doing. Look into creating things like educational videos and content that doesn't directly promote your shop. Create your own hashtag and re-use content generated from your community. Promote other local events/businesses throughout your channels and have them cross promote your events. Sponsor community events with demonstrations or a bike show or anything creative. Where I live, different arts districts have art walks or community events like "first fridays." Find these in your area and offer things like "mobile bike repair" at the event. Then the event promoter could promote the fact that you're going to be there doing simple repairs or whatnot. Use it as an opportunity to promote the co-op by having people work on bikes AND people available to shoot the **** with people who come by.

In short, I'd say the way I'd promote a co-op is by stressing the community aspect and creating great social content. It's much easier said than done, but that's certainly the way to do it in 2017.
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Old 11-01-17, 09:51 AM
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I would think tapping into the Portland market by listing on it's CL, maybe even taking some of your better offerings up to events in Portland if you haven't already, would improve exposure and sales.

Disclaimer, I have neither been a co-oper or a PNWester but am giving serious thought to the latter.
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Old 11-01-17, 10:42 AM
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One note, different co-ops have different flavors.

The Eugene co-op only takes donations on used stuff.
The Portland co-op will actually buy some used stuff, I think.

The result is that the prices in Portland are often 2x to 3x higher than Eugene, but the quality is also much nicer, and one can often find a few quality Campagnolo parts in the display cases, as well as quite a few quality wheelsets.
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Old 11-01-17, 11:13 AM
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I notice several of the co-ops around me in the SF Bay Area focus on memberships for folks who want access to tools and the shop, and it may be a good draw for folks who enjoy tinkering during the winter. There is some mix of the following at each:

            Look at the websites for SF Bike Kitchen, Biketopia and Waterside Workshops in Berkeley for some ideas. I'm often at Changing Gears in Alameda as well.

            There is also Box Dog Bikes in SF, which operates a co-op shop, but also distinguishes itself by producing its own randonneur frames and carrying high-end components. It's a specific direction, but you get the idea -- differentiation and the good ol' unique value proposition.

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            Old 11-01-17, 11:29 PM
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            Hi folks,

            Thanks for the quick and helpful responses. Looks like we have a plan in the works.

            Best regards,

            Van
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            Old 11-02-17, 01:28 PM
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            this is a good thread. any other ideas for a non-profit that could use more of an operating budget? winters in Boston stop most cyclists, so any other ideas firmly rooted in reality would be appreciated.

            our adult and young people earn a bike programs work fairly well by requiring people to come once a week over a number of weeks to earn their bicycle, and they have sign up ahead of time. this prevents a rush of people just there for the free stuff.

            we also use a hour-credit system for our weekly volunteer nights to keep people coming back; these units can be used in tandem with dollars at the retail shop for the nicer used items.
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            Old 11-02-17, 02:39 PM
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            Originally Posted by smoothness
            this is a good thread. any other ideas for a non-profit that could use more of an operating budget?
            ...the things that always brought in the most in donations (mostly of stuff, which was then resold for money)inevitably turned out to be events that get you out in the public eye.

            So local TV spots, (even on "Good Day" type programs that air at less than peak viewer hours,) running one of the aid and repair stops for any of the various charity rides, or even just some outreach clinics at bike events. Sometimes you can get someone interested from your local free newspaper.

            It's surprising how many decent bikes are out there, gathering dust. Many if not most people wold rather not deal with the complexities of selling them on Craigslist. I can't tell you how many times I heard people tell me they were happy we were around, because the bike was old, but it needed a new appreciative owner. We were always trying to get a grant writer on the volunteer staff, but never succeeded. In the state capitol I guess they were all busy writing other grant proposals.
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            Old 11-02-17, 05:24 PM
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            Originally Posted by 3alarmer
            The dysfunction out in Davis...
            Eyyy, I was in Davis briefly and used the co-op there more than a few times! In case you're wondering what I thought of it, I didn't notice the dysfunction at all and found it met my needs pretty well, especially for $5/hour for tools & guidance.

            I also knew nothing about bikes at the time, but it certainly put me on the path to learning more.
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            Old 11-02-17, 06:40 PM
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            Get a volunteer to handle the ebay side of things. I believe for charities, ebay waves their fees, I could be wrong. Get a couple of volunteers to manage it. We have a volunteer at our co-op that does ebay. We are small enough that its really not a big deal, but a handful of items can bring in some decent money. The volunteer doesn't have a consistent block of time to work a weekly shift. So instead, he is putting in about the same amount of time, an hour here, an hour there.

            In our case we occasionally get small stuff with high value. We can sell locally and eventually a picker will buy it for $5. Or we can put it on eBay for $100. I am not talking everything. But a Campy bit, or BMX item might bring next to nothing here but $$$ on eBay. It may only be five items a week, some weeks nothing. But $400 to $500 makes a big difference to us.

            One co-op I visited in my travels that is quite small does a great job with social media. They hold events, classes, rides, whatever.

            If you travel, stop by co-ops outside your area, see what is working for them (and what is not working). Adopt best practices as you find them. More than likely, someone already has solutions out there that would really help.

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            Old 11-03-17, 10:11 PM
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            More thanks! Using all this info, we are in the process of putting plans together in order to make the most of the winter and launch us into next year.

            Cheers,

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            Old 11-04-17, 11:13 AM
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            Maybe Co-Ops are already doing this but it seems like they should assign one tech savvy volunteer to selling choice items on Ebay as a way to maximize the resources of the co-op, some bikes are worth more being parted out vs sold whole. Just a thought.
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            Old 11-04-17, 12:09 PM
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            Originally Posted by ryansu
            Maybe Co-Ops are already doing this but it seems like they should assign one tech savvy volunteer to selling choice items on Ebay as a way to maximize the resources of the co-op, some bikes are worth more being parted out vs sold whole. Just a thought.
            ...we had this discussion at mine. Part of our mission was to support the local biking community, and recycling nicer stuff into the community via Craigslist ads at less than E-bay prices is one way to do this. If all you have for sale in the shop is low end stuff, you loose a lot of your customer base when the word gets around.

            Think of it like a department store loss leader. As a non-profit, you're supposed to funnel all your profits back into the operation or the community anyway.
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            Old 11-07-17, 11:38 PM
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            Originally Posted by Senior Ryder 00
            More thanks! Using all this info, we are in the process of putting plans together in order to make the most of the winter and launch us into next year.

            Cheers,

            Van

            Cool! Something else to consider if you are ever looking for new ideas is speaking directly to the frontline folks at other co-ops/non-profits. I don't know the PDX or Eugene organizations, but both BikeWorks and The Bikery in Seattle cooperate with each other and I am sure would be willing to offer advice on what works for them and what doesn't. It is a larger market so there may be some differences. Let me know if you would like to talk with someone at Bikeworks and I can get you in contact with some folks.
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            Old 11-09-17, 08:56 AM
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            Originally Posted by 3alarmer
            ...we had this discussion at mine. Part of our mission was to support the local biking community, and recycling nicer stuff into the community via Craigslist ads at less than E-bay prices is one way to do this. If all you have for sale in the shop is low end stuff, you loose a lot of your customer base when the word gets around.

            Think of it like a department store loss leader. As a non-profit, you're supposed to funnel all your profits back into the operation or the community anyway.
            The challenge is some items that might be very valuable on eBay have little to no value locally. Hopefully your market is better!

            At our co op an item might linger forever at $10 while the same item might sell easily on eBay for $100 or more. So we either wait until a knowledgeable picker grabs it and flips it for a quick buck or we sell on eBay.

            Our mission is different. We are a Trips for Kids Store. Our main purpose is to raise money to get underprivileged kids out on bike trips. So the more we raise the more kids we help. We charge reasonable to low prices for stuff. But the occasional high dollar item goes to eBay.

            Technically we are a bicycle thrift store rather than a co op.

            Last edited by wrk101; 11-09-17 at 09:59 AM.
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            Old 11-09-17, 10:10 AM
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            Originally Posted by wrk101
            The challenge is some items that might be very valuable on eBay have little to no value locally. Hopefully your market is better!

            At our co op an item might linger forever at $10 while the same item might sell easily on eBay for $100 or more. So we either wait until a knowledgeable picker grabs it and flips it for a quick buck or we sell on eBay.

            Our mission is different. We are a Trips for Kids Store. Our main purpose is to raise money to get underprivileged kids out on bike trips. So the more we raise the more kids we help. We charge reasonable to low prices for stuff. But the occasional high dollar item goes to eBay.

            Technically we are a bicycle thrift store rather than a co op.
            ...there is a Trips for Kids place down in San Rafael. They get a lot of very nice things donated there, many of which I cannot buy. They are located in the best place I can think of to get very nice bikes and parts coming in as donations, Marin County, California. As you say, their mission is a different one.
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