Caleb has long expressed interest in doing some kind of entrepreneurial activity. I think it started when we took our first father and son trip to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder conference. I had just finished reading Warren Buffett’s biography and we were talking on the plane about how he used to buy packs of gum and sell it to his friends one stick at a time.
Inspired by Warren’s childhood gum business, we had tossed around all kinds of ideas including selling ice cream at the Redondo pier to delivering donuts to companies on Monday mornings. A few months ago, he decided to finally take the plunge. When we bought a bike last year from a guy on Craigslist, he mentioned that he got bikes from police auctions, then fixed them up. We could do this! We found where the police department auctions off bikes and after a lot of discussion about what might be involved in selling these bikes, he started obsessively watching the auctions. Then, one fateful day, he took $90 of his hard earned money bought a bulk lot of bikes. We ended up getting 7. Tenille took out the seats in her van to transform it into cargo mode, and we all drove together as a family to the auction warehouse to pick up the bikes.
The bikes were all duct-taped in plastic sitting atop a wooden pallet. It was like they were all crushed together in a massive bike compacter, then wrapped in a body bag. We removed the plastic and packed them into the van one by one… As I was loading up one dilapidated bike after another, I was wondering if we’re going to be able to break even on this venture. Once we got home, we assessed our assets. None of the bikes were in sellable condition. 3 of them might be ride-able after some work. 2 of them would require a considerable number of parts to make it function, and 2 were pretty much just frames. At the end of the day, we might be able to sell 3. If we were lucky, we could franken-bike another one and sell a 4th… but I didn’t think we’d get too much for it.
I spent the next few weekends teaching Caleb how to repair the bikes. I helped him by loosening some bolts, then he could usually take the wheel off and replace the tube. I showed him how to completely disassemble the handlebar and fork assembly. I also showed him how to take the rear wheel off. Although Caleb was motivated by the prospect of making money, I could see that being a bike mechanic was not his calling in life.
This was a little strange to me… As a kid, I loved working on my bike. I would take it apart and re-assemble it even when there was nothing wrong with it… Naturally, I thought Caleb might have the same affinity toward mechanical work, but it seemed like his path likely lied elsewhere.
After a few weekends of messing around with the bikes, we finally got 2 of them to a sell-able state. It was time to post on Craigslist. I thought this would be a good exercise in supply/demand as well as negotiating. Caleb, realizing that he didn’t have as many bikes to sell, was mostly concerned about making his money back. He priced them a bit high, but he figured he could always lower the price later. He did end up getting a few inquiries, but we didn’t answer them in time and lost the customers. He hasn’t posted in about a week, but the short story is that we still have seven bikes sitting next to our garage… Although, we had some good bonding time and Caleb learned a lot about bikes and profit margins, I wouldn’t call the venture itself a resounding success. I guess it’s always good to get a couple failed business ventures out of the way early… but, game’s not over yet… (Not until mom tells us to go throw away the bikes… )
There’s a part of me that says that we have until spring time until people start earnestly looking for bikes again… So, we’ll slowly work on brake cables on the other bikes until April…