If you live in South Dallas, you've probably heard of movements like Bike-friendly Oak Cliff. This unique Common Desk member is transforming Oak Cliff bicycles into vessels of cargo transportation.
Jonathan Braddick, co-owner of Oak Cliff Cargo Bicycles, tells us about bakfiets and starting a small business in Oak Cliff.
Who are you and what are you up to?
I’m the owner of Oak Cliff Cargo Bicycles, a small custom builder of traditional Dutch-inspired bakfiets for personal and business use. I’m also the director of the Texas Bicycle and Beer Expo, a two day long event on October 31st - November 1st where bicycle industry leaders come together to show off their latest builds, projects and wears. My 40-hr a week job is as the IT Specialist for the Texas Association for Homecare and Hospice. I’m also a board member for the Davis Garden TIF and Bike Friendly Oak Cliff.
What’s your story?
In regards to Oak Cliff Cargo Bicycles, here is our story:
My personal desire to own a custom built Dutch bakfiet is the reason I’m now a co-owner of a small but growing cargo bicycle manufacturer in, of all places, Dallas, TX - specifically the neighborhood of Oak Cliff.
I had the idea to bring a local Portland guy by the name of Tom LaBonty down to conduct a two-day cargo bicycle building workshop here in Dallas. (Tom is now a local cargo bicycle making legend in the city that owns the right to call itself the center of what’s happening in cargo bicycles in America.) Tom had been featured in a small documentary that I had seen when I first learned about these amazing bicycles. He has a DIY approach to things, and that spoke volumes to us. Brennen [co-founder and bike-builder Brennen Bechtol ] attended both days of the workshop, and by the end of the week he had already built his own bakfiet from an old wheel barrel and spare bicycles parts. Two weeks later, he’d built his second.
I noticed Brennan around this time out at a local community event trying to sell the second bakfiet with a little itty bitty sign that no one could see. I thought, “This guy is talented, but maybe I can help him sell these things!” We proceeded to work on a business plan for building them right here in our DIY, bootstrap community of Oak Cliff. It wasn’t long until we got a couple of locals to buy into the concept, and they placed our first orders. Ever since those early days in late 2012, we’ve been putting everything back into our business to watch it steadily grow. We have further to go, but we stand by our product, by the benefits of cargo bicycles, and by how much impact they can have on transportation and lifestyle issues.
What sets you apart from others in your industry?
That we exist at all is a start. We’re one of only a handful of Dutch bakfietsen builders in the country. Our Yvonne, Bonnie Wagon, and Clyde models are all unique and set themselves apart from competitors’ models. They’re also our best sellers.
How is it going?
Earlier this year, we restructured and made some management changes. We now use a subcontractor to scratch-build frames and have improved every component and material we use. This means our margins can be better met and our bicycles are built quicker. Also, Brennen decided he wanted to leave, so I’m running the business entirely from my Oak Cliff office. It’s been a big change but as helped the business refocus and better compete with other manufacturers, of which there are very few.
What are your biggest challenges?
Like most small businesses, it’s cash flow. However, I’m not as concerned now as when we had our own shop, equipment, materials, labor, etc. Restructuring removed many of the fixed and variable costs we had that made it difficult when orders weren’t coming in as fast. Now, the Expo is providing additional cash flow and promotional opportunities that help offset the slow times.
What are the two most valuable things you have learned since starting your business?
You’re going to make mistakes, just try not to make the big ones.
Take a risk and spend money on thoughtfully researched strategies. Don’t throw it at your problems. They’re not going to go away that way.
What’s your favorite part of your work?
Talking with customers and telling them about my products is my favorite part. I believe in these bicycles and the virtues of cycling so it makes it pretty easy and exciting every time I’m on the phone with a prospective customer.
What is the most time-consuming part of your work?
Now that we use subcontractors, it’s the back and forth of getting parts and supplies and discussing the details that’s the most time consuming.
Do you get much free time? How do you spend it?
My free time is working on my small businesses. It’s exciting to see what might happen. I do ride less now but if I get some time, I like to garden, attend a public meeting, you know things that aren’t stressful ;o
Where are you going from here? Are you thinking about expanding your team?
I’m not planning to scale. Custom bicycles are the best quality you can buy and I’m not interested in pouring money into selling mass produced bicycles. There are plenty of crappy manufacturers already doing that. I’ll continue to build on demand for a small client base.
What is the impact of your business/ industry on your local community? On society?
Locally, we’ve got a ways to go, but in my small Oak Cliff bubble, I’ve got a lot of support. Actually, I’m better known outside of Texas than I am in my own city. That’s ok, I still love where I’m at.
Why did you decide to office at Common Desk?
After 8 years at a home office, it was time to change my scene. I’m a people person and need to have that contact to help motivate me.
Are you working on a Mac or a PC?
What are two mobile apps that you couldn’t work without?
“Yvonne” Photographs by Lindsey Miller Photo, another Common Desk member