Adaptability

The New York Times is following the effects of our sagging economy on six small businesses in the region, one of which just happens to be Worksman Cycles.

Wayne Sosin is the president of Worksman Cycles in Ozone Park, Queens, a 110-year-old shop that produces heavy-duty bicycles and tricycles used in warehouses and factories. In October, a manager at the company was worried about rising costs, but confident that sales would remain strong. But orders from automakers and their suppliers have “basically dried up to nothing.”
“During the summer, our business was so busy that for a while we were actually unable to fill orders that people wanted to place with us. In September, I would have said, ‘Business is wonderful,’ because people really like what we were doing. Our products were a good alternative to gas-guzzling vehicles.

“Nobody is buying anything at this point because their factories are on austerity budgets, you know, a lot of plant close-downs and layoffs. You know, that’s definitely had a ripple effect and it’s definitely trickled down to us.

“We actually had to cut our factory hours fairly significantly. Now keep in mind that we were coming off a high level of employment, based on the level of demand we had had. So we had a larger staff than normal. But we’ve had two people retire. And we’ve had about four or five people that we’ve had to lay off. And we’ve cut hours for other people. So yeah, it’s had a pretty devastating effect on our workers and on our company.

“I’ve been here since 1979, so I know firsthand how to deal with some bad economic conditions that have a negative impact on the business. But this is one of the cases where small is beautiful. As a small business, you can react to the times, to make sure that you can get through rough times and you’re well positioned for the good times. That’s the strategy we’re going to take through this winter. You know, let’s get through this winter, do what we need to do to make sure we’re in a good position when the spring comes, and hopefully there will be improvement in the business climate.”

All things considered, it doesn’t sound as if Wayne and the folks at Worksman Cycles are doing too badly. Things could certainly be worse. But the reasons I chose to comment on this piece here are two-fold. First, I find it interesting that the Times selected a bicycle manufacturer (and especially one that targets and serves such a specific market). There is, I think, an irony in the fact that one of the other five business owners featured is a car salesman. The second reason is connected with the first. Wayne’s experience highlights the fickleness of our humanity and our society. “Going green” is all the rage when it saves me “green” to do so. But the lure of convenience (so perceived) is so incredibly strong when the sting eases even a little bit, and it pulls the rug out from under the best of our intentions.

I don’t want to be cynical. I am certain that there must be a pretty significant number of folks who began riding their bicycle because the cost of gas was taking its toll, and who have kept with it even as those prices have dropped, finding additional reasons to ride. If any such persons are reading this post, I would be really interested to know how that happened. What made the difference for you?

It seems to me that Wayne’s final remarks speak not only to the benefits of a small business, but also to some fundamental quality of his product, i.e., to an essential characteristic of the bicycle itself. The bicycle adapts, and it possesses, I believe, the power to activate the same potential within those who ride one.

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