Some of you may recognise my alter-ego Horace Fogsworth as having been a regular on the Soapbox until about a year ago, which was when I got busted at the day job. Plenty has been posted on the Soapbox about likely punishments for excessive internet use during working hours. Some people have had written warnings, some just a quiet talking to by their boss. When I was summoned to appear in front of “He Who Shall Be Obeyed” I had an inkling that I was probably in for a little more than that, so in the days between the initial summoning and my disciplinary I drafted my resignation and delivered it as a pre-emptive strike. However, the purpose of this piece is not to have a major whinge about my previous employer so I’ll just say that I had serious grievances with the company and made sure they were aware of them before I left.
So what next? I was a free man with a wife, two year old son, mortgage and two cats to support. So not free at all then! Some may all it coincidence, some may call it destiny but after a couple of days of “freedom” I spotted a small vacant shop unit in the unfashionable but cheap end of town. A quick chat to the landlord and it was mine and from then onwards it proved relatively simple to get myself far further into debt and set up as a local bike shop (LBS). That was perhaps a bit of an over simplification. Living in a heavily populated area of the south coast it wasn’t easy to find a source of bikes to sell. Most of the major brands I approached refused to sell to me as they already had dealers in the area but I eventually managed to secure accounts with Muddy Fox, Corratec (who produce very nice bikes but are far better known on the Continent) and a few others. Accessories and spares weren’t such a problem, although a couple of premium brands did adopt a rather elitist approach and one rep in particular seemed to take delight in looking down his nose at my initial efforts. The opportunity to purchase a comprehensive tool kit at trade price was very welcome and has proved a very good investment. Lots of (borrowed) money was spent on stock and shop fittings and on 31 March 2004 I was ready to open.
Ten months later here I am, sat in the shop on a wet and windy day in January, not expecting to see too many customers. I’ve fed the family, the mortgage, the cats and the bank manager off my own back for the best part of a very satisfying year. It’s not been hugely profitable or left me with much free time but it’s made me feel better about myself than any conventional job ever has. As I can’t yet justify employing anyone I have to close up if I want to go anywhere and that really does create genuine feelings of guilt, both that I’m letting customers down and that I’m jeopardising my own future. I did manage a couple of weekends off in 2004, one for a wedding that I wasn’t allowed to miss and the other for the Mountain Mayhem, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Apart from that it was nose to the grindstone throughout, or at least it was when folks brought me work to do.
The day to day life isn’t always too glamorous, with repairs to filthy, neglected, bottom end bikes wrecked by the local kids being far more common than builds of spangly pimp monsters but, whatever work comes in, I do know that I’m far more likely to get a “thank you” at the end of it than I ever was at the old job. When the weather’s as bad is it is at the time of writing I might not put a single penny through the till all day, but shutting up and going off home is not an option as you never know what might turn up and anyway it gives me a chance to sit down with a cup of coffee and bury my head in a bike magazine – all in the name of research of course. I’ve even had sunny days when it’s seemed like everyone’s got better things to do than come and see me although remembering how rare sunny days were last year, they probably had. Good days are a real buzz however and thankfully there have been just enough of them to keep the wolf from the door.
I’ve learnt some lessons the hard way but I’m confident of finishing my first year in business and am already looking forward to my second. It’s not going to leave me a lot of time to spend on BM as I only have one phone line at the shop and really don’t want to risk missing any calls (or pay for broadband), but I’ll finish by saying a big “Thank you!” to BM for its part in putting me in the position to realise a dream that just twelve months ago seemed a million miles away.