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The History of Block Bikes (Part 3)

The where did you go era…
Have you ever wanted something so bad you are willing to put everything on the line for it. In poker it is called – All IN!
In real life it is called STUPIDITY! My blessing and savior through my adult life has been April.April

She is the voice of reason verses my live on the edge strategy. In 1995 Block Alternatives was running full blast. A real life sweatshop with 25 people working wide open manufacturing clothing, hockey and BMX accessories. SewingAreaBy 1998 things had slowed down and we entered a year of what I call damage control. I remember sitting at my desk with every bill spread out in front of me. The total due to suppliers, general bills, and taxes was a little over $120,000. How did we get here I was thinking to myself? This was 100% my doing, I had done this with my decisions. Simple math; payroll was 10K a month overhead was another 10K that alone is $20,000. Have a few slow months of industry changes, slow sales and complacency and you dig into a hole really fast. I got on the phone with everyone that we owed money to. Anyone else at that moment (with any sense) would have called it quits – bankrupt. Not me I have been unable to surrender my whole life. Probably not the best trait in this scenario but never the less I was going down with the ship!
PrintingAreaMy dad had always told me take care of local first no matter what. So that is what I did. All of our supplies cooperated and allowed us to make payments without cutting us off. We leaned out staff and actually moved a year later to a smaller more affordable unit. We took on outside contract work to pay bills and in reality that was the end of the Block Alternatives brand as we knew it. From that point on we focused on outside accounts and did our line as the secondary. It was unfortunate but necessary. You have to make decisions based on economics not passion when you get in that situation. We paid off every single account 100% in the next couple of years and redeemed ourselves in the industry. April went after outside accounts and we became busier by  the day. But that was only a fraction of the problems that had to be overcome.

I have always put 100% into whatever I am involved in. Some people exaggerate and say 110% but that is impossible. 100% is absolutely everything, that is my investment. There was a distinct day of change. I had been playing a lot of hockey and not riding bikes much. Wayne Croasdale built a mountain bike for me and brought it to the shop. I hadn’t really ridden bikes in the past two years but was pretty fit from hockey which crosses over pretty well. He told me to meet him at his house the next day, which was Saturday for a ride.Wayne1This date is pretty unforgettable as it was April’s birthday. I got my bad habits from Wayne. Two things happen on every ride. They are LONGER and they are HARDER then promised – ALWAYS! I left early, told April I’d be home in a few hours and met Wayne at his house. We drove to Valyermo and got on our bikes headed up the mountain to Wrightwood. I knew it was going to be a big ride, but I had no idea how big. The most impressive thing in the world at the time for me was a TV show called Eco Challenge. It was a documentary of an Expedition Race that would last 7-10 days with no assistance and a number of outdoor disciplines (hiking, biking, paddling,swimming, mountaineering, horseback, rope climbing. etc). It was everything that i ever wanted to do but it didn’t seem in any way humanly possible. As we rode all I talked about to Wayne was Eco. How whatever we were doing was just a fraction of what they do. We were out for a few hour ride. They went 10 days straight. This probably annoyed Wayne as the day progressed and he probably went into I’ll show you mode… This might have been the point where the ride quadrupled in length. He was thinking – I’ll show you Eco Challenge…
So we climbed the mountain past Jackson Lake, past the ski lifts to the very topWayne2

and then descended Acorn into Wrightwood and had lunch. I was prepared for a 2 hour MTB ride and we were already 4 hours in. Just like Everest, when you reach the summit you are exactly half way done. After lunch we climbed out on Highway 2 to the lifts, up Blue Ridge, and descended back down to Jackson Lake. Then we did the gnarliest descent above Manzanita with an absolutely insane skree slide that dumped us back into Valyermo. Now remember this is the hard tail era, high seat posts and 80mm forks. Total ride time – just under 8 hours, just over 65 miles. Welcome back to cycling! One other take for granted element of today – no cell phones. I would not be talking to April for another half hour or so until we got back to Wayne’s. That is to say if she was ever going to talk to me again… This story is 100% relevant to what was about to happen next. I was in for big changes. Block Bikes was in for some big changes. And April? She was about to become the most patient woman on the planet… Till next time!…


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The History of Block Bikes (Part 2)

Last week I talked about the creation of the Bike Shop. This time we’ll talk about the making of the brand. Racing BMX is a great experience but financially I wouldn’t recommend this as a career path to anyone. The value was in the travels, the people, and the culture outside of my own zip code. I traveled the world! I was a competitive pro, a main maker, but not a champion. I had some amazing results but I was not a title contender. I like to think more like a peoples champion. My biggest accomplishments on paper was ABA National #8 in 1985 and 8th at the World Championships in France in 1990.

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I traveled, hung out, and lived with legends. You become product of your environment and I surrounded myself with talent. I had sponsors that gave me clothing, parts, travel and occasionally a few dollars but in reality I had to work to make a living at this. This meant doing clinics – and a lot of them. I typically traveled with someone as most clinics were too much to attempt on your own. So that immediately cut my income in half. I did the scheduling, the logistics, the transportation, and absorbed the travel expenses (food, gas, lodging). So lets split the income in half again for that. Each kid paid $20 for an afternoon clinic and received a tee shirt and goodie bag. So simple math, a typical clinic was 20 kids @ 20 dollars – minus: shirt, food, gas, car payment, motel, and occasional medical expenses = <-$22 dollars>.

scan0083Somehow it worked itself out an I survived from 1983 – 1991 without becoming bankrupt. What I learned was economy and survival skills of how to live off minimal without taking advantage of others. In other words make something out of nothing. Of course there were people that were always there for me and took me in when the bottom fell out. I am still friends with each of these  people to this day. I will never be able to pay those individuals back personally so the pay it forward is in effect. That is really what made me into who I am today.

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The experiences that I was given access to are available to most everyone. You just need desire and drive, two traits that have become more rare each year. I give 100% to anyone who shows a glimmer of drive but am more often let down because they are looking for free stuff or recognition rather than the purity of sharing the experiences that come with paying your dues. We call it putting hay in the barn. The rewards have to be self satisfaction – first to be happy. Doing what you love because you love it! Cycling is one of the top sports for being underfunded. If you are doing it for the money, well, I’m sorry for you!

BlockFrameBut, I did end up with a career. It has been a long winding road and most of the time I feel like I am just getting going. I started Block in 1990 by having a BMX frame made by my sponsor Cycle Craft in Tennessee. We made about 100 Block frames and I had a difficult time with it as I was under capitalized and unable to satisfy demand. I only made a few dollars per frame and it went back into accessories. I couldn’t get enough bikes made to survive on the small margins I had to work with.

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I then ventured into the accessory market as the primary and made headbands, tee shirts, stickers, number plates and jerseys under the Block Racing and Block Alternatives name.

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I returned to the AV in the fall of 1991 after being on the road for 3 straight years. My cousin who is a Pasadena fireman funded the project and we went to work. We started in my 400 square foot garage and with our rapid growth found ourselves in 5000 square feet with 25 employees in 1995. What a blur…
I had met April when I first got back from tour. We hit it off right away, I knew she was the one. She was a paralegal with a big law firm in the valley and hated the commute. It wasn’t long before she quit her job and took over as sales and marketing for Block Alternatives. That is when things started heading in the right direction.

AprilandMeIt is not possible to run a small business solely. I worked 7 days a week at least 12 hours a day. I stopped racing, in fact I had stopped riding except for occasional clinics that I used to promote the brand. I couldn’t answer the phone, take orders, print shirts, deliver orders, collect payments and design stuff by myself. My cousin gave me every minute of his spare time and days off which was like 16 days a month but we were struggling. We landed a couple of huge orders. One to Pacific Sunwear and anther to Hot Topic. Thankfully that was the time that April came on board. I was not happy, I was at my limit, I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore. The local neighborhood (Trend) kids helped package, fold, stack and ship product. I hired a couple of friends as printers. I found a really good graffiti artist who took us to another level. We moved to a small warehouse and we were officially in business!!!

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The History of Block Bikes (Part 1)

My name is Rich Bartlett and I would like to give you some facts about Block Bikes in a multi part story. I started this company in 2003. I was racing and none of the local shops cared. For me every day seemed life and death and I couldn’t afford to miss one day of riding because of equipment. I signed up for a race and paid my entry on line. A week before the race I ruined my cranks. I went to the local shop and ordered the part. The mechanic said come back on Thursday and he’d install it. I showed up Thursday and found out it was the mechanics day off and the part had not been ordered. Needless to say I didn’t race and more importantly never returned to that shop. I felt let down.
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That same week the landlord of our screen printing shop offered me the next door unit as the current tenants were moving out within a month. We had a Block BMX team and I figured we could use it as a race headquarters and clubhouse as well as expanding our printing capabilities. Little did I know that the “clubhouse” would take off and grow into a BMX bike shop and continue to grow with mountain bikes, road bikes, and family bike & cruisers. That was never the intent it just matured.
We were honest, knew what the customer wanted from the other side of the counter, and we had a ton of experience.
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The shop grew and continued to grow for the next 13 years which brings us to today. We have been successful because we put 100% of the profits back into the business. I am fortunate to be able to do this because I have a wife who supports our household. The ability to grow and expand to our current level has been to support you, our customer. It is difficult, no, it is impossible to stock everything. Especially in a small cycling community like we have. We work so hard to be original and offer rides and events. We try to include every style and ability. We also have grown the most successful athletes in the area from our race program. The results speak for themselves. It is difficult to cater to everyone’s needs but I feel that we do a great job attempting to.  It is also expensive. Our industry sets a margin of price that barely allows us to cover our overhead. Then you add the internet and discounting and we have a whole new set of issues. To have a large shop is a burden, it was a lot more fun when we were in a warehouse. But I feel we have a responsibility to you the customer to be better every day. In most cases that means bigger as well. We do our best to cater to you. I would like to think that we have never, ever, had a rider miss a race or event because we didn’t order the part or even show up. We improvise, we use our resources and do what we need to keep you rolling!
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If we don’t or haven’t I personally would like to know about it. The doors are always open or you can contact me via my email or phone anytime. Until next issue…CortneyShopPic