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How to start a Bike Co-Op?

Old 05-11-22, 11:40 AM
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How to start a Bike Co-Op?

How does something like this get started? I'd love to be part of one in my area, but there's hardly even a bike store (Giant dealership).
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Old 05-11-22, 12:57 PM
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Probably not very easy. I was there when a couple of avid cyclists started the Yellow Jersey Bike Co-op in Madison, WI in the 1970s. They were tired of not being able to get quality parts locally and at a reasonable price. They joined together and found enough students who were willing to kick in money to join the co-op and fund the start. Even once they got established the local banks were unwilling to lend them money for stock. It did become very successful after a time. Today it is no longer is located in Madison and is no longer a cooperative. These days you have so many online sources it probably would not make sense to those who started the business.

if you simply Google on "Starting a Cooperative" you will get lots of answers
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Old 05-11-22, 12:58 PM
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Originally Posted by smd4 View Post
How does something like this get started? I'd love to be part of one in my area, but there's hardly even a bike store (Giant dealership).

Maybe contact a few existing bike coops and ask them how they got started?

Here's one down the road a piece:

https://www.durhambikecoop.org/
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Old 05-11-22, 12:59 PM
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Thanks VT. Sort of what I thought.
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Old 05-11-22, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
Maybe contact a few existing bike coops and ask them how they got started?

Here's one down the road a piece:

https://www.durhambikecoop.org/
I did see the one in Durham.

After reading around the BF a bit, it just seems like everyone posting has some nearby co-op. I'd never really heard of them until I started reading about them here. Seems like a neat idea if I could find others similarly like-minded. Sounds like it would take capital outlay though. And I wonder how much push-back you'd get from the local shops?
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Old 05-11-22, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by smd4 View Post
I did see the one in Durham.

After reading around the BF a bit, it just seems like everyone posting has some nearby co-op. I'd never really heard of them until I started reading about them here. Seems like a neat idea if I could find others similarly like-minded. Sounds like it would take capital outlay though. And I wonder how much push-back you'd get from the local shops?

Contact this one--the Queen City Bike Coop in Manchester, NH. https://qcbike.org/
I can tell you from personal experience that it's run by some nice people who will likely want to give you advice.


They actually get support from at least one of the local bike shops. And the coops can give you ideas on how they raised funding.
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Old 05-11-22, 01:32 PM
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IDK if my idea of a bike co-op and yours is different, particularly in the discussion above about "quality parts".

The most successful and longest lasting co-op I am aware of here near Atlanta has tables and tables of what most enthusiasts would consider junk or BSO. Very occasionally you can locate a nice older machine and in particular is a good place to find bikes/parts for something you may wish to commute on and not worry so much about theft.
Given their stock I would figure that a good start would be a municipal police impound. Find a couple of people willing to sit there and hopefully with some basic level of maint. and assy. ability. Beyond that, some money to keep the rent paid and lights on, according to your access to a "free" place to be (don't forget zoning if such should apply).

The co-op here used to be pretty much free but did ask for donations. I think they swapped over to a payment system some years back in an effort to keep money coming in and stay open. At one point they were also willing to allow barter and in particular trade for labor.
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Old 05-11-22, 02:09 PM
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I don't know. I used to work as a bike mechanic back in the day, and thought it might be fun to have a place to help other folks and kids work on their bikes and learn something. I know hardly anyone in the area who are really big into biking. I really enjoy the mechanical aspects, so I don't really ride with a group or anything. Sounds like I would probably be biting off more than I can chew.
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Old 05-11-22, 03:34 PM
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Smdf4, good that you realize this now. Running a successful co-op is no different than running a successful business.
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Old 05-12-22, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by smd4 View Post
I don't know. I used to work as a bike mechanic back in the day, and thought it might be fun to have a place to help other folks and kids work on their bikes and learn something. I know hardly anyone in the area who are really big into biking. I really enjoy the mechanical aspects, so I don't really ride with a group or anything. Sounds like I would probably be biting off more than I can chew.

Seriously, contact the Queen City Bike Coop I linked to above. You just described what they do to a tee.
The people who started it have done a wonderful job, and managed to keep it going even after the long enforced COVID shutdown.
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Old 05-12-22, 11:02 AM
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Originally Posted by TiHabanero View Post
Smdf4, good that you realize this now. Running a successful co-op is no different than running a successful business.
Yes and no. It probably needs to be set up as a non-profit so it can accept contributions.
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Old 05-12-22, 01:37 PM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
Contact this one--the Queen City Bike Coop in Manchester, NH. https://qcbike.org/
I can tell you from personal experience that it's run by some nice people who will likely want to give you advice.

They actually get support from at least one of the local bike shops. And the coops can give you ideas on how they raised funding.
Thanks. They have a very nice website. I will try and contact them.
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Old 05-12-22, 01:48 PM
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Originally Posted by smd4 View Post
Thanks. They have a very nice website. I will try and contact them.

I bought a nice bike from them, it's a terrific operation. They work with a lot of kids and help them build their own bikes.
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Old 05-12-22, 10:28 PM
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Originally Posted by VegasTriker View Post
Probably not very easy. I was there when a couple of avid cyclists started the Yellow Jersey Bike Co-op in Madison, WI in the 1970s. They were tired of not being able to get quality parts locally and at a reasonable price. They joined together and found enough students who were willing to kick in money to join the co-op and fund the start. Even once they got established the local banks were unwilling to lend them money for stock. It did become very successful after a time. Today it is no longer is located in Madison and is no longer a cooperative. These days you have so many online sources it probably would not make sense to those who started the business.

if you simply Google on "Starting a Cooperative" you will get lots of answers
Cool story, happy ending, Yellow Jersey is an awesome bike shop, in a way better location.
Tim
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Old 05-12-22, 11:27 PM
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A good place to start is a primordial soup of bike parts & a few dedicated volunteers with a lot of good intentions.

Discipline, dedication, skill, training, strong active management, organization. It's not easy.

Study 5s's. That is: Sort, Simplify, Standardize, Shine, Sustain. Implement it. When the shop works, people work.

Define the shops' mission.

Have 3 competent employees of overlapping responsibilities: Manage Shop, Manage bikes/repairs, Manage Relations. Create a board of Directors & have them actively seek grant money & engage local city/county politics, infrastructure, transportation interests.

I am at: ABOUT>BOARD & STAFF though the Bio is a bit outdated...I am there 6 days/week & the 7th at a local for-profit.

If you have any questions, feel free to PM.

Good luck.
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Old 05-12-22, 11:43 PM
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Originally Posted by base2 View Post
Study 5s's. That is: Sort, Simplify, Standardize, Shine, Sustain. Implement it. When the shop works, people work.
our guys called this Sticker, sweep, spray paint, stash, ****can. I can see how it would work for co op inventory.
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Old 05-13-22, 12:24 AM
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I would start by having a few Bicycle Clinics to kind of feel out what interest there is out there. During the clinics you can find and test individuals that you are going to bring in. Many will do the talk but not the walk. Money spent on this research will be a deduction on your first years expenses plus give you credibility when applying for a business loan.

I would suggest an LLC or an S-Corp and stay "For Profit" even if you don't make one. Its the best way to stay in CONTROL. If you want you can still run the LLC or S-Corp just like a Co-Op then reorganize and change over. Some people get the misconception that Co-Ops pay less taxes. Well don't worry about paying taxes. Regardless of what type of business you have if you make money you will pay taxes. Its just the way it is.

Latter if you convert into a Co-Op you will have a proven member base. Then you will have to decide if you are going to be a Consumer Co-Op or a Business Co-Op.

Notice I have completely avoided the term, Non-Profit. But that is another possibility.

Either way if you are going to start a Co-Op, LLC, or S-Corp, you are going to start a business, and it will require your full attention to succeed or fail...
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Old 05-13-22, 12:37 AM
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Originally Posted by smd4 View Post
And I wonder how much push-back you'd get from the local shops?
...we never got any pushback from the local bike shops here. We made a particular effort to inform them that we were not doing repairs for money, or selling new stuff.

All our repair efforts were targeted at helping teach people to do their own repairs, and none of the local shops sell used bikes any more, and haven't for a long time. So we were not competing with them in any area where they made money. In fact several of the local shops used to save takeoff stuff like tyres and pedals that people wanted upgraded on their new purchases, to donate to us.

But the starting of one is pretty labor intensive, as is the constant struggle to maintain a roster of knowledgeable volunteers to run the place. I don't mind saying I was burned out after about five years of it, and there are a million personality conflicts that arise in an all volunteer organization. I like to say now that the local bicycle co-op eats its young. Because that's what I saw happening a lot. So it was hard to maintain an organizational memory, to avoid repeating the same mistakes. There are probably better, less burned out people here, who can sufficiently encourage you.
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Old 05-13-22, 11:23 AM
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Originally Posted by 3alarmer View Post
...we never got any pushback from the local bike shops here. We made a particular effort to inform them that we were not doing repairs for money, or selling new stuff.

All our repair efforts were targeted at helping teach people to do their own repairs, and none of the local shops sell used bikes any more, and haven't for a long time. So we were not competing with them in any area where they made money. In fact several of the local shops used to save takeoff stuff like tyres and pedals that people wanted upgraded on their new purchases, to donate to us.
My sense from the Manchester bike coop, which gets a lot of LBS support of the type you're talking about, is that the LBS think if the COOP is taking any business away from anyone, it's Walmart, so they're all for it.
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Old 05-13-22, 12:41 PM
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Local shops will donate useful used parts and surplus inventory to you if you establish a good initial relationship. If you are serving a low-income/classic and vintage/cheap hobbyist demographic, then you will not pose a threat to commercial shops. In fact, they will refer business to you, which usually involves folks with overly complex bikes with intractable problems and no money. So old department-store full-sus bikes with auxiliary electric or gas drives bristling with ancient GPS systems, lights, computers and sound systems. Have to have a set of loud speakers on your bike strapped to 2 tiers of riser stems! Commercial shops send these folks immediately our way.


Starting a Co-op: you'll need open ground-level commercial space close to a bike path system. No stairs. You'll need insurance, and non-profit status. You'll need an account with one or more of the bike parts wholesalers.


You'll want to focus on used bikes sales (from donations) and DIY repairs and instruction. Most of your money will come from bike sales and grants/donations. DO NOT pay for ANY donated bikes or parts, or within hours you'll turn into a stolen bike fencing operation.


Volunteers: you'll need experienced bike mechanics and instructors, shop administrators and fundraisers/promoters. Whatever you do, do not allow WOKE social justice warrior volunteer types to highjack your shop mission. Not only do they not know much about bikes or business, they will not contribute to actually keeping the shop operating. Their underlying objective will be to consume all shop resources (shop profile, money and volunteers) to serve their personal crusades including anti-poverty, immigration, climate change, green energy, ban the car, deforestation, save the narwhale, etc. Plus tear the shop apart from the inside with divisive politics. My former favorite Co-op imploded this way.


Co-ops: well worthwhile and good luck!
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Old 05-13-22, 02:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Mayer View Post
Local shops will donate useful used parts and surplus inventory to you if you establish a good initial relationship. If you are serving a low-income/classic and vintage/cheap hobbyist demographic, then you will not pose a threat to commercial shops. In fact, they will refer business to you, which usually involves folks with overly complex bikes with intractable problems and no money. So old department-store full-sus bikes with auxiliary electric or gas drives bristling with ancient GPS systems, lights, computers and sound systems. Have to have a set of loud speakers on your bike strapped to 2 tiers of riser stems! Commercial shops send these folks immediately our way.


Starting a Co-op: you'll need open ground-level commercial space close to a bike path system. No stairs. You'll need insurance, and non-profit status. You'll need an account with one or more of the bike parts wholesalers.


You'll want to focus on used bikes sales (from donations) and DIY repairs and instruction. Most of your money will come from bike sales and grants/donations. DO NOT pay for ANY donated bikes or parts, or within hours you'll turn into a stolen bike fencing operation.


Volunteers: you'll need experienced bike mechanics and instructors, shop administrators and fundraisers/promoters. Whatever you do, do not allow WOKE social justice warrior volunteer types to highjack your shop mission. Not only do they not know much about bikes or business, they will not contribute to actually keeping the shop operating. Their underlying objective will be to consume all shop resources (shop profile, money and volunteers) to serve their personal crusades including anti-poverty, immigration, climate change, green energy, ban the car, deforestation, save the narwhale, etc. Plus tear the shop apart from the inside with divisive politics. My former favorite Co-op imploded this way.


Co-ops: well worthwhile and good luck!

What a great post! The Manchester bike coop does work with low-income people to get them on bikes that they fix up themselves. I think that's hard to be against from a political point of view and focused enough to be a good mission for a bike coop. They also employ a couple of mechanics. I think actually paying a couple guys to build up the used bikes for sale and teach the people coming in seems to pay for itself. They charge like $5 an hour for shop time during which they'll give you advice and hand you the right tools.
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Old 05-13-22, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
What a great post! The Manchester bike coop does work with low-income people to get them on bikes that they fix up themselves. I think that's hard to be against from a political point of view and focused enough to be a good mission for a bike coop. They also employ a couple of mechanics. I think actually paying a couple guys to build up the used bikes for sale and teach the people coming in seems to pay for itself. They charge like $5 an hour for shop time during which they'll give you advice and hand you the right tools.

Thanks. You would think that helping low-income folks fix bikes themselves would be more than enough of a mission for a Co-op. However, when the social justice activists take power within the organization, then helping folks fix bikes is disparaged as a trivial and tedious goal. Particularly if the shop clients are seen as coming from a 'privileged' group. Don't ask.


So further advice, don't let social activists take hold of positions of power within the organization, or you'll spend all of your time debating vegan diets for volunteers, anti-logging protests and blocking roadways to stop a housing development. Make sure that everyone on the board or exec of the Co-op maintains a mandatory on-the-floor presence; so spending a significant amount of time in the shop working with clients and sweeping floors. Again, the last thing you want is absent ivory-tower activists who have no interest in helping clients, bikes in general or the tedious dirty work of running a shop.


Paying for mechanics... Paradoxically, the folks who are the best at fixing bikes and educating are the ones who are the least in it for the money. So old retirees with nothing better to do. The worst mechanics are the ones who might actually need the money, particularly our local Craigslist bike flippers who assemble dangerous contraptions out of random parts and (attempt to) sell them for absurd profits.
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Old 05-13-22, 04:57 PM
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Go to bikecollectives.org for a wealth of information.

I was at the infancy of the Bicycle Action Project in Indianapolis, which started, died, and was reborn as Indy Cog. BAP literally started when a guy told a buddy about his idea, the buddy put the story in the local paper, and next thing you know there was a pile of donated bikes and stuff. A space was acquired, volunteers found, and off it went. There was no plan.

Some years later I started volunteering at the Columbus Bike Co-op (Columbus, IN) when it was literally a few friends doing a thing out of a donated garage with nothing but their spare time and bike know-how. No real plan, just the idea they got by hearing about a co-op in Bloomington, IN. That was probably 20 years ago, and the Columbus Bike Co-op is still going strong. https://www.bikeco-op.org/. They had no plan. I was there through the 501c3 process, and all the necessary business arrangements. Passion turned into action which did good stuff which attracted people, corporate backing, and it just snowballed.

I started the San Angelo Bike kitchen when I moved there. I talked to enough people that eventually a local church donated their unused bus barn, local shops dumped unwanted inventory and tools on me, and a church lady gave me a monthly stipend to "do good stuff". When I moved away, everything got donated to the local Maker Space, and as far as I know it still exists there.

I've traveled a fair amount, and when I go to a new city I find the local co-op if there is one. You can actually tell a lot about the city about visiting such a place. There is no one path to success, no one successful mission. Some are youth focused, some are low-income focused, some are about re-use, some are up-cycling, some actually do compete with local shops on service. You'll find earn-a-bike programs at some, while others are more about DIY with volunteer help. Some have paid staff, others are 100% volunteers.

My advise is, figure out what your passion is, and jump in. If you want guaranteed success, this isn't for you.

Good luck, and I'd love to visit if you get it off the ground.
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Old 05-13-22, 05:56 PM
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Do you org guys think it would be a good idea for BF to have a co-ops and non-profits forum? I don't know if there's already some kind of networking thing like that.
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Old 05-13-22, 08:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Mayer View Post


Volunteers: you'll need experienced bike mechanics and instructors, shop administrators and fundraisers/promoters. Whatever you do, do not allow WOKE social justice warrior volunteer types to highjack your shop mission. Not only do they not know much about bikes or business, they will not contribute to actually keeping the shop operating. Their underlying objective will be to consume all shop resources (shop profile, money and volunteers) to serve their personal crusades including anti-poverty, immigration, climate change, green energy, ban the car, deforestation, save the narwhale, etc. Plus tear the shop apart from the inside with divisive politics. My former favorite Co-op imploded this way.
...this triggered my PTSD. It's like you were there.
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