When Jamie and I started this business I was quick to jump on the China train. www.alibaba.com was making big inroads in opening up the world to small businesses that wanted to buy in reasonable wholesale quantities without overwhelming minimum orders and take their chances reselling online. There was a world of shoe shine brushes and softwood pine and cedar boxes were available to us through this portal at some pretty attractive price points. All we had to do was make an order about as difficult as completing an ebay transaction and we’d have the widgets we’d need to sell online in a matter of days. The first days of searching for product were a flurry of activity checking out samples and fielding dozens of emails.
I’d had a background in retail before and remembered the glory days in vending before Jerry Garcia died. Summer tour with the Dead, Lollapalooza, HORDE and up here in Canada there was the ever popular Roadside Attraction with the Tragically Hip. Sitting in a field under a 10 x 10 KD canopy listening to Metallica, Cypress Hill, Hole and the Ramones and stuffing fistfuls of $20 bills into a fanny pack in exchange for some silver we’d picked up in Taxco Mexico or Bangkok. Back then you could buy a set of silver hoop earrings for about $.30 (by the gram) and sell them for $3 a pair.
We had stuff from all over the world. Indonesia and mostly Bali for coconut wood boxes we sold by the dozens. They would come by the container load, all wrapped in local newspapers and still soaking with humidity and in some cases salt stains. What we would buy for a dollar we could sell for five. It was easy. Batik dresses and sarongs. Yet twenty years down the road, I realized I don’t have any of that stuff. It all fell apart, chipped, frayed, faded or broke when it hit the ground. It didn’t last.
My kid’s bikes are the same deal. I love a good bargain. I bought the cheap stuff at Walmart and I’m paying the price for it. These aren’t bicycles. They’re BSO’s. Bicycle Shaped Objects. They look like bicycles and they occasionally ride like bicycles but over time it becomes dramatically apparent that they’re not in it for the long haul. The bottom brackets fall out and wobble and even the simplest turn of a bolt with a ratchet reveals they’re made from a buttery soft pot metal that just strips the threads away. This leads to a tired sweaty dad, swearing at various bits of useless components in his backyard.
This had me rethink our decision to source the cheap stuff. We’d seen the so called “cedar” shoe valets and read all the amazon.com buyer reviews on shoe shine kits and shine boxes. They broke. They cracked. They didn’t last. After an afternoon of cursing at a particularly mangled cheap caliper brake I decided we would make our own boxes and make them here. Make them out of real wood and make them to last. Vancouver Island has a wealth of gorgeous woods here and we hooked up with our boxmaker in Sooke to see the beautiful grains inherent in Douglas Fir and Yellow Cedar. We learned the difference between a cheap stain and an oiled waxed finish. I liked the new boxes. They were solid. They had heft. They would last.
We found this old Raleigh BMX out on the curb the other day. It was made in 1989, the year I started University. It was made in Canada. Back then the Internet barely existed except for Pine email and Telnet and the International Business Courses I was taking about China didn’t even really cover the concept of going offshore for cheap production in a massive labour market of people willing to work for so very little. Back then we still made things in our country.
We’re going to rebuild this thing. Strip it down and repaint it. It’s a great little frame. It’s solid. It’s built to last. It is worth saving.