The Frame Building Biz #3 (specialization)

30 04 2010

Customers was specialists not generalists.    This business is a little like college.  Your 18-19 and you are supposed to determine what it is that you are going to do the rest of your life and pick a major (I never could, guess some things never change).

I have always prided myself on the breadth of products that I can offer.   I like building all sorts of bicycles and it adds to the fun of it all to be challenged with a new and difficult commission.   Problem is this is bad for business.   You have to figure out what you are, who you are and what you are going to offer the public and then build that brand/niche.

I just saw a short commentary on CBS Sunday morning about humans and choice.   Scientists have been studying how we make decisions.  Sometimes it is logical but mostly our brains are incapable of processing too much information at once and we rely on our emotions to guide us through the process.   One experiment showed two tables with various Jelly’s.   One table had 24 choices.  One had six.   Although people flocked to the table with 24 choices the table with only six garnered many more sales as people were just so overwhelmed with the 24 choices that it was easier to make no buying decision at all.

This is the same with bicycles.   Ever wonder why it seems that the frame builders that borderline on semi-production or build a very specific type of bicycle and do not deviate from that very much also seem to be the most successful?  Or companies that do one thing, lets say Titanium road bikes are seemingly popular but Ti companies that make road, mountain, tandem etc are not?

It’s not really about the builder, most of them could build something outside their scope and do it well. No, it’s the customer.  The customer wants specialization and they want the choice to be made for them.   The choice really was picking the framebuilder  in the first place.   The myriad of choices of what the frame will be usually stresses out the customer more than anything.   That is typically why they want to pick a bike just like one they see on a website or a model, even though the builder only builds 30 a year and having a model seems kind of redundant but it’s not there for you, the builder-its there for the customer.

I realize I do not fit this mold at all.   I am one of maybe 6-12 builders that I personally give the distinction of full custom builders.   That is anything is possible.   I have no models, no set style but this is my downfall as a business.   Like the Jelly experiment people flock to my website, at shows I almost always have a crowd around my booth.  People take pictures, they emulate my style or touches and I get lots of great comments but the reality is that I don’t sell anything like what some other builders do.    Too many choices and too much variation cause an overload in the consumer.

So my advice?  Keep it simple, keep it targeted produce bikes that are essentially finished and leave but only a few overall details up to the customer (paint colors, Shimano vs. Campy etc.)   This will ease the decision on the part of the consumer and in the end garner you more business and make your life easier and more efficient by not having to work on custom product.

Then again, if you are in it for the “art” of this whole thing you can ignore everything said up until now but I warned you….




4 responses

21 07 2010
Lovely Bicycle!

I am friendly with several framebuilders now who have discussed the same issue.

My take on this from a potential customer’s point of view (who also happens to be a designer and psychologist), is that it’s not so much about being overwhelmed by choice (although this also plays a role) as about the allure of a framebuilder who has a specific look or philosophy that his/her bikes are known for. The question is, “What will make my bike a Bohemian, aside from the fact that you made it?” I think that it is possible to offer choice, as long as coherent “personality” is maintained. Rivendell and ANT do this well, and possibly Vanilla and Peter Mooney. It’s an interesting aspect of the business I have noticed.

21 07 2010
Lovely Bicycle!

PS: I did not mean to make it sound that my comment is critical of Bohemian; when saying “you” and using your bike’s name I was just speaking generally!

28 07 2010

Yes, I am one of the guilty who use up bandwidth and look at all the great stuff on your web site and don’t commission any work. I am sorry for this, I have been doing it a long, long time (at least a decade..I really wanted that stainless bike with the long, fancy lugs).

The reality is that some of us ride 30 year old bicycles that we bought used because the only thing in the bike shop that we can afford is an ugly aluminium bike-shaped object made in Taiwan with welds that look like used chewing gum and a big plastic pie dish to keep the chain in place.

Please don’t be upset with us, we’d still like to look. Just because I can’t afford to pay a craftsman doesn’t mean I think his labor is overpriced.

If there is a windfall that makes the impossible somehow possible, you’re my first call…and I know *exactly* what I’d like to have you build.

16 03 2014

there’s a good quote in the cryptonomicon, “How many slums will we bulldoze to build the Information Superhighway?” Kivistik said. This profundity was received with thoughtful nodding around the table.

Jon shifted in his chair as if Kivistik had just dropped an ice cube down his collar. “What does that mean?” he asked. Jon was smiling, trying not to be a conflict-oriented patriarchal hegemonist. Kivistik, in response, raised his eyebrows and looked around at everyone else, as if to say Who invited this poor lightweight? Jon tried to dig himself out from his tactical error, as Randy closed his eyes and tried not to wince visibly. Kivistik had spent more years sparring with really smart people over high table at Oxford than Jon had been alive. “You don’t have to bulldoze anything. There’s nothing to bulldoze,” Jon pleaded.

“Very well, let me put it this way,” Kivistik said magnanimously—he was not above dumbing down his material for the likes of Jon. “How many on-ramps will connet the world’s ghettos to the Information Superhighway?”

Oh, that’s much clearer, everyone seemed to think. Point well taken, Geb! No one looked at Jon, that argumentative pariah. Jon looked helplessly over at Randy, signaling for help.

Jon was a Hobbit who’d actually been out of the Shire recently, so he knew Randy was a dwarf. Now he was fucking up Randy’s life by calling upon Randy to jump up on the table, throw off his homespun cloak, and whip out his two-handed ax.

The words came out of Randy’s mouth before he had time to think better of it. “The Information Superhighway is just a fucking metaphor! Give me a break!” he said.

There was silence as everyone around the table winced in unison. Dinner had now, officially, crashed and burned. All they could do now was grab their ankles, put their heads between their knees, and wait for the wreckage to slide to a halt.

“That doesn’t tell me very much,” Kivistik said. “Everything is a metaphor. The word ‘fork’ is a metaphor for this object.” He held up a fork. “All discourse is built from metaphors.”

“That’s no excuse for bad metaphors,” Randy said.

“Bad? Bad? Who decides what is bad?” Kivistik said [. . .].

Randy could see where it was going. Kivistik had gone for the usual academicians’s ace in the hole: everything is relative, it’s all just differing perspectives. People had already begun to resume their little side conversations, thinking that the conflict was over, when Randy gave them all a start with: “Who decides what’s bad? I do.”

Even Dr. G. E. B. Kivistik was flustered. He wasn’t sure if Randy was joking. “Excuse me?”

Randy was in no great hurry to answer the question. He took the opportunity to sit back comfortably, stretch, and take a sip of his wine. He was feeling good. “It’s like this,” he said. “I’ve read your book. I’ve seen you on TV. I’ve heard you tonight. I personally typed up a list of your credentials when preparing press materials for this conference. So I know that you’re not qualified to have an opinion about technical issues.”

“Oh,” Kivistik said in mock confusion, “I didn’t realize one had to have qualifications.”

“I think it’s clear,” Randy said, “that if you are ignorant of a particular subject, that your opinion is completely worthless. If I’m sick, I don’t ask a plumber for advice. I go to a doctor. Likewise, if I have questions about the Internet, I will seek opinions from people who know about it.”

“funny how all of the technocrats seem to be in favor of the Internet,” Kivistik said cheerily, milking a few more laughs from the crowd.

“You have just made a statement that is demonstrably not true,” Randy said, pleasantly enough. “A number of Internet experts have written well-reasoned books that are sharply critical of it.”

Kivistik was finally getting pissed off. All the levity was gone.

“So,” Randy continued, “to get back to where we started, the Information Superhighway is a bad metaphor for the Internet, because I say it is. There might be a thousand people on the planet who are as conversant with the Internet as I am. I know most of these people. None of them takes that metaphor seriously. Q.E.D.”
so the problem for framebuilders is that the kivistik is paying you.
I had a customer try to barter chainstay length today, It’s bloody tiring to to educate clients.
nice work, btw

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