An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tacoma Bike Swap

The Tacoma Bike Swap is quite possibly the largest bicycle and bicycle-related garage sale in the Pacific Northwest, and attracts people from all over the region in search of bargains from complete bikes to parts and accessories, and information on commuting and land access.

I had attended the event two years ago as a vendor with a smattering of parts from my bin, as well as some left-over parts and frames from the shop where I worked at the time. Entry is a low $20 per 10ft x 10ft space, and some shops take up several spaces with tables of wares at fair discounts.

So this year I decided to join in the fun as a public debut for Mjolnir Cycles, my bike frame building hobby-turned-business, and also an opportunity to turn over some of my parts bin into available cash. It would serve as a good dry-run for the Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival in October, where I also plan to exhibit (along with another builder friend -- the current plan is that we'll share a space there).

I'd spent a good part of the previous week constructing a backdrop, purchasing some vinyl signs, and planning out the space, selecting which bikes and frames I'd display, ferreting through all the various boxes and stashes of pieces old and older... I had everything together (at least in my mind) and checked off the list by Thursday, with only one headset to install and loading up the car as the remaining tasks.

The day dawned after a fitful night's sleep. Well, actually it dawned while I was spinning away on a stationary bike in the basement. Yeah, I slept that well. Anyway, I wiled away some time, then finally hit the road to the University of Puget Sound campus, where the event was being held.

I arrived with a customary amount of time to spare, got myself signed in, and did what I was told -- wait. Meanwhile several of the vendors pulled down the tape that was blocking half the parking lot, pulled their trucks in and started unloading.

An omen of the day.

The early going was like that "Unfortunately/Fortunately" children's book:
* Unfortunately the area "opened" early.
* Fortunately I was able to get my car into the area anyway.
* Unfortunately access to my space was mostly blocked by large trucks and trailers.
* Fortunately I was able to lug things only a short distance.
* Unfortunately the easy-up tent I'd brought started breaking bolts when I tried to set it up and wouldn't unfold properly.
* Fortunately it was a fairly clear day and rain wouldn't be an issue.
* Unfortunately it also meant I had no shade.
* Unfortunately it also meant I had no wall between me and the used-bike-salesman next to me.
* Fortunately it was a short day.

I got set up with plenty of time to spare, which was a blessing -- I had time to relax before the public was released upon us... In theory. I think I made the bulk of my sales before the 10:00am official start time. But by the time the 2:00 closing bell rang (no, there was no real bell, we just all starting to close up shop), I was ready to be done.

Most of the angst was in regards to the person to my left (as you looked at the booth from the aisle). He had many used bikes of varying quality for sale, and stacked right up to the edge of the space. Which meant that several people were looking at the bike I'd made for my wife and thinking it was part of his inventory (a few people asked him how much he wanted for it). Not having a hard barrier or wall also meant that people would traipse through where there wasn't an aisle, and often trip over my displays in doing so, many times holding one of the used bikes overhead. It got ridiculous.

I realized something later that day -- the mental state of most of the people there reminded me of a Walmart. Just let that sink in for a bit. Yeah, I don't really see a need to go back.

There were definitely some good points to the day, though. I made enough in sales to make up for the booth space fee several times over. That also eliminated some things that were taking up space at home. I generated some interest in the bike frames -- who knows if that turns into orders, but that wasn't really the point. I got a decent layout for the booth space which I think will work well for both of us in October.

And the audience will be of a completely different mindset.

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