I was asked off-list for advice in getting a bike collective started
and keeping it going, and after sending I thought it might be helpful
to post it to the list.
Getting one started can be tough. Our shop had some problems getting
going, and a similar shop opened this year in another part of town
and we've been helping them keep their spirits up while they struggle.
The big challenges are:
- finding an affordable space (you'll need lots of room for all the
bikes and parts)
- ability to pay rent while getting things ramped up and income
- getting insurance
For our shop, we started out in donated spaces, but those got taken
away as the landlords found paying tenants. After losing our second
such space we realized we needed to pay rent and stay in the same
location, otherwise it's hard to attract volunteers and customers
when they can't trust that you'll stay open.
But then the money thing comes in. And landlords don't always like
to rent to one person for some vague bicycle collective. We lucked
out by approaching a public interest research group (PIRG) on one of
the campuses here and became one of their working groups. So they
signed the lease for us, and after much wrangling let us have our own
bank account. Affiliating with them turned us into a legal entity,
so we could get both that bank account as well as insurance.
But we still needed some funding to tide us over. We filed a grant
application with a local funding org. and were able to get a two-year
operating grant, with the provision that we be self-sustaining at the
end of the two years. Once again being part of the PIRG made this
happen, as there was no way the funder would just give our little
collective money without someone taking legal responsibility. So the
PIRG got the money and disbursed it to us at regular intervals.
In the end it worked out great for us. The PIRG more or less left us
alone, especially once they saw how hard we worked, and that we had
achieved the self-sustainability within the first year (that made the
2nd year's grant money just extra cash in the band for us).
We're still affiliated with them, and have not had to ask anyone for
money since that first grant (grant applications, and then the follow-
up reports, are a big pain in the butt). We've built up (and
maintain) a year's operating expense in the bank in case anything
goes wrong, and in terms of our various numbers we've grown each year.
One thing we had to do with the grant was track some numbers, since
they'd want to see some "results". So we kept track of the number of
bikes sold and recycled (scrapped), number of people served,
volunteer hours, that sort of thing. And we kept that up after the
grant was done, and this has been very useful in helping us identify
how the shop gets used. Each year a report is produced and we see
how the numbers may have changed, specially if we'd implemented a
policy or changed an old one.
For instance in 2004 we had approx. 630 people use our shop, and we
processed about 150 bikes. In 2005 we moved to a larger room in the
same building and those numbers jumped to 1000 and 200 respectively,
and by 2007 it was 1500 and 400! If nothing else it showed us that
we were on the right track with our operations.
About our shop:
- We have only one paid person (me) and at that I only get a monthly
honourarium (and I worked as Director for four years on a volunteer
basis before requesting it).
- We sell two different levels of bikes. Fully overhauled, from
around $100 to $200, and As Is, meaning safety checked and all
systems working but not rebuilt, for $40 and up. Bare frames for
projects go from free on up.
- Most parts aside from wheels are $1 to $10, but of course the
really nice goodies (and we don't get a lot of those) are kept in a
locked display case and priced accordingly.
My personal opinion is that you should somehow find some funding to
get you started, but avoid it after that if at all possible. This
way you don't have to answer to anyone beyond your landlord. If you
wish to run programs that cannot be self-sustaining just keep in mind
that time and energy will have to be spent finding the ongoing
funding and maintaining it, and you'll be at the whims of the funding
orgs. If you start making a profit (your income exceeds your
expenses) then perhaps that would be a good time to look into such