By Brice Howard, Board President
After volunteering thousands of hours at Sharing Wheels for more than 10 years, Kristi Knodell has decided it’s time to pass the baton. Based in part on a review of other community bike shops, the Board of Directors is currently working on a plan to move from an all-volunteer shop management model to using paid staff.
Sharing Wheels elected a new Board of Directors during the summer of 2015. One of our primary goals at that time was to find a new space for the Sharing Wheels shop. We are hoping to find a larger space with greater visibility (and heat!). Although the current location is very affordable, anyone who has visited the shop knows it is a little crowded. And if you’ve ever spent time there in the winter, you also know there is no heat.
As part of this discussion, we looked at other community bike shops in the area. It turns out most of them rely on professional bike mechanics for a steady revenue stream that keeps the doors open and the lights on so they can run their other programs. The Board identified increasing revenue as a critical step in moving to a new location as we felt we needed to plan for higher rent in a new location. We also discussed expanding the number of shop hours on a weekly basis, the possibilities of retaining an all-volunteer shop model versus hiring employees, and looking for grant funding. However, finding grant funding for any nonprofit operations, such as paying the rent, is always difficult and not a longterm fix.
In late 2015 we drafted a grant application to the City of Everett Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) program, proposing to use grant funds to expand shop hours on a weekly basis. In May we were notified we have been awarded a grant of $9,000, which should allow us to open the shop up for an additional nine hours per week. We expect to start offering Saturday and some evening hours sometime in July or August, which we hope will greatly increase the number of families and individuals served through the bike shop.
Currently, we are in the process of hiring two independent bicycle mechanics (former volunteers!) to prepare bicycles for sale, and to perform maintenance and repair services. These mechanics are expected to increase our “ready for sale” bicycle inventory, which in turn will hopefully begin to raise revenues. A few years back Kristi made an extra effort to prepare bikes for sale, by putting in more than her usual number of volunteer hours, and revenues increased noticeably.
Within the next month or two we anticipate hiring an additional staff person, a part-time Shop Manager/Bicycle Mechanic/Customer Service Representative. This individual will staff our new weekend and evening hours. Because of grant requirements we will need to track several criteria during these hours, such as number of customers served, number of new customers, and grant specific criteria
We hope to fill this position by the end of July so that the new Shop Manager will be able to train with Kristi over the month of August. This job opportunity has a lot of potential for growth, and the newly hired employee will be expected to help raise revenue and/or funding to pay for their position over the long term.
Volunteers will continue to be an essential part of our shop operations – we just won’t rely on one person’s dedication.
Kristi is planning to step down as Shop Manager at the end of August. Thanks to her years of hard work and careful management of Sharing Wheels, we are poised to grow over the next few years.