As of January 12, 2015, Bike Recycle Vermont "owns" Old Spokes Home.
You might be asking yourself: How does a tiny, volunteer-driven, non-profit bike shop located in a basement with a single full-time staff member and a shoe-string budget buy a formidable institution like Old Spokes Home?
Let us explain.
For 10 years, Dan Hock was been is a proverbial ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth across North Winooski between these two bike shops. He started volunteering at Bike Recycle Vermont in 2005 while studying at Saint Michael's College. Dan eventually found his way across the street to Old Spokes Home, and Glenn gave him a job as a mechanic. Dan worked at Old Spokes Home on and off for five years, and Glenn and Dan have became close friends. Glenn was pretty crushed when Dan left his job at Old Spokes Home in 2013 to become manager of Bike Recycle Vermont, but he was happy to have him right across the street at Bike Recycle Vermont, and the two of them created a great relationship between the two shops.
Dan started to notice the similarities between Bike Recycle Vermont and Old Spokes Home: both shops cater to commuters, enthusiasts, and people who rely on their bikes for transportation. Both shops sell used bikes, parts, and accessories. Both shops strive to be open, approachable, and accessible for people of all comfort and skill levels. Both shops go the extra mile to listen to customers and get them set up on bikes that really work for them and their lifestyle, knowing that bikes have the ability to change peoples' lives and expand their opportunities. The shops are just 160 paces away from one another in the Old North End, Vermont's most racially and socially diverse community.
Meanwhile, both shops faced challenges that the other shop could help with: mechanics at Old Spokes Home need more hours in the winter; Bike Recycle Vermont needs class instructors and mechanics in the winter. Bike Recycle Vermont needs skilled mechanics; there's a shop full of them at Old Spokes Home. Bike Recycle Vermont needs an outlet for bikes that are donated to us and are too valuable to distribute through our programs; Old Spokes Home has a showroom for high quality and vintage used bikes. Bike Recycle Vermont needs funding; Old Spoke Home's profits could provide a sustainable and predictable source of revnue for Bike Recycle Vermont's programs.
Dan started to wonder why these two bikes shops -- with all of the potential synergy, and located across the street from one another -- weren't working together to get more people on bikes.
For two years, Dan and Christine (Bike Recycle Vermont's assistant manager) had been dreaming of expanding Bike Recycle Vermont's offerings. The shop had been successfully recycling donated bikes back into the community and getting them to low-income Vermonters for 10 years, but the work happening in the margins was starting to grow in size and impact; neighborhood youth were finding support and empowerment from volunteers teaching them how to fix and maintain their own bikes; recently incarcerated non-violent offenders were volunteering 10-30 hours each week to gain work experience and build their resumes, and they were undergoing major personal transformations due in part to the support systems and relationships they formed at Bike Recycle Vermont; schools, camps, and local organizations were asking the shop to run workshops, bike clubs, and Earn-A-Bike programs. There was so much magic happening, but Bike Recycle Vermont lacked the staffing and financial capacity to meet the demand for more and better services. Dan and Christine started looking at how other non-profit bike shops made it work.
From the Community Cycling Center in Portland, to West Town Bikes in Chicago, to Bikes Not Bombs in Boston, to Recycle-A-Bike in New York, non-profit bike organizations across the country were running retail bike shops to provide their social programs financial support. In addition to the steady revenue stram, the retail shops provided the non-profits an entry point into their organization. Customers came for bikes or repairs and learned about the social mission and programs while they waited for their bike to be ready. Customers often became supporters by donating a bike or funds, signing up to volunteer, or simply buying a bike and knowing that their purchase supported a social mission. The retail bike shops were the non-profits' best tool for building a movement and fostering support for their social missions.
Dan and Christine also learned about a growing trend of non-profits starting social enterprises. A social enterprise is a business that has the goal to generate revenue in order to fulfill a social mission. The benefits of social enterprises are many: "1.)[Social enterprises] build locally controlled wealth, which helps stabilize community economies, 2.) Social enterprises can provide valuable training opportunities and supportive jobs for those who have been excluded from the traditional labor market, 3.) The revenue organizations generate through such enterprises helps reduce their dependence on government and philanthropic funding, and thus, often encourages nonprofits to adopt more innovative, community-driven approaches, and 4.) Through the development of such businesses, nonprofit organizations can strengthen their management and business capacities, which, in turn, can boost their overall program effectiveness."
So when Glenn Eames got serious about retiring and selling Old Spokes Home, Dan and Christine got serious, too. They made the pitch:
What if Old Spokes Home operated as a social enterprise and 100% of its profits were used to run and expand social programs at Bike Recycle Vermont? What if the two shops took advanatge of their many similaries and suported one another to grow? What if, down the road, we developed a job-training program between the two shops where underprivileged youth and adults could learn bike mechanics, job skills, and life skills at Bike Recycle Vermont, and be considered for seasonal employment at Old Spokes Home?
Glenn liked the idea, and put other potential offers for his business on the back burner.
To pull it off, Bike Recycle Vermont had to split from Local Motion, Burlington's bike and walk advocacy organization Bike Recycle Vermont's parent organization of seven years. Local Motion was excited by the idea of having Bike Recycle Vermont and Old Spokes Home join forces and is incredibly supportive of the new organization.
After splitting from Local Motion, Bike Recycle Vermont formed an independent non-profit and started raising money to buy Old Spokes Home. With no professional fundraising experience, Dan, Christine, and a group of volunteers set out to raise $525,000.
The team quickly raised $300,000 in donations. Most of the donations came from Bike Recycle Vermont volunteers. We were flabbergasted. Humbled. Tickled. And so, so excited.
We bought Old Spokes Home in January (holding $225,000 in bridge loans -- which also from our amazing volunteers).
We continue to fundraise in order to pay down our debt. Once we have, Old Spokes Home's revenues will go directly to supporting and expanding Bike Recycle Vermont's programs.
You won't see any drastic changes at either of the shops. Harris Bucklin has been at Old Spokes Home for nine years and he is now the general manager. Glenn is working closely with Harris and the new organization as a whole to make sure Old Spokes Home continues to provide the best bikes and services in town.
The change is big but subtle: now these who bike shops share a mission: to create access to bikes and the opportunities they provide to our whole community. Old Spokes Home and Bike Recycle Vermont share board of directors, staff, bicycles, and other resources... and now every customer at Old Spokes Home is supporting Bike Recycle Vermont.
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