May 22, 2011
What You Missed Yesterday
When I got to Aerostich, about 11AM, there were a pack of motorcycles and motorcyclists hoovering over tables of cool but weird stuff in boxes, on the ground, and hanging from racks in the hallways. I had a couple of dream products in mind and hunted those down first, snagged a basket, dropped my gear and my first finds in the basket, and went looking for Andy.
I found him about half-way down the hall to the RiderWearHouse store and he led me to the breakroom and pointed me at the coffee and donuts and cookies. Apparently, my hand was cold enough to make him uncomfortable. Four cups of coffee and a plate of donut holes later and I made it back to the garage sale tables. Since I was riding my "big bike" I had snapped on the side cases before I left and it began to look like I might need to take advantage of Aerostich's free shipping. In the end, I filled one case and wore the bulk of my purchases.
My big score of the day was a prototype Darien HiVz AD1 jacket made from lighter-than-my-old-Darien's 600 denier material and with waterproof zippers everywhere and more pockets, zippers, sealed flaps, and accessory and pad attachment loop pads than I have ideas for things to attach. Since I've long battled with the neck closure on my old Darien (that design has been dramatically improved since 2005), I opted to move my armor to the new jacket and ride the rain back home even more hermetically sealed. I didn't feel a drop of the drizzle I rode through for almost 70 miles before I hit clear skies just north of the Cities.
I suspect I'm not telling stories out of school, but the reason a company like Aerostich has a "first ever" garage sale is no different than the motivation for all of the garage sales in my neighborhood this weekend; the economy sucks and they need revenue. A lot of great businesses are stressed to the breaking point by the wind change of the downsizing of the United States and an innovative, product-driven company like 'stich is exactly the kind of business that will come out of this in better shape, if there is an "other side" (both the economy and the business) to come out of.
I went through this with QSC Audio Products during the seemingly-endless recession of the 1980's and we had the advantage of Pat Quilter's wealthy family to fall back on; and we fell back on them often. As Pat so honestly said in a recent L.A. Times interview, "It got to where my mom would grab her wallet when she saw me coming." Aerostich and many other great US small businesses do not have a mom's wallet to dip into.
If you know me at all, you know I am an incredible cheapskate. So it is saying something when I told Andy that I felt a bit guilty for the bag of goodies I left Duluth with. In his typically generous manner, he asked "why?" and thanked me for coming and spending my pinched pennies, but any observer would know the answer. Of course, part of my sympathy for Aerostich comes from knowing that I left that still-wintery place to return "south" to the Cities and 20F warmer weather. The other part came from buying a lot of stuff at 50-90% off of list price when it was obvious that many of those products were a labor of love that had gone unnoticed by the buying public.
Now, the US motorcycle market is changing (read "aging and growing poorer") and the world market simply knocks off Aerostich products the cheapest way possible. Today, it's almost impossible to remember when you couldn't find textile, durable, waterproof, purpose-designed motorcycling apparel, but 30 years ago when I went looking for an all-season suit in southern California the only game in the world was Aerostich. For the next decade, BMW Motorsport Collection, Honda Gear, and the dozens of high and low-end motorcycle gear manufacturers sprung up from the market that Andy Goldfine and his Duluth conspirators created. Sure, there were a few Old World alternatives like Belstaff that made raingear that made waxed cotton gear which had the abrasion resistance of a decent pair of jeans and required as much maintenance as a pair of old fashioned cross country skis. Good looking gear, for sure, but no competition for leathers when it came to protection and even Belstaff made a urethane-coated nylon "rain suit" intended to be worn over their "waterproof" cotton gear if the wearer really wanted to stay dry. I know, I still have one (Want to buy it?). That first Goretex lined, cotton padding "armored" Aerostich Roadcrafter was a breakthrough in commuter riding gear (I know, I have one of those, too. Want to buy it?).
In the political area, everyone keeps babbling about how small businesses are what create middle class jobs, innovation, and stabilizes the economy. While all that is true, the Powers That Be spend all of our tax money on too-big-to-fail and too-dumb-to-survive "financial services" speculators and tax breaks for giant corporations that hoard our cash in off shore banks and move jobs to whatever country is the most desperate and least ethical. Letting every Misfortune 500 CEO starve (or knocking them off more directly) is the first step to fixing our economy. Anyone who has worked for one of those cultural disasters knows competence is purged from those mental deadzones as fast as it can be identified. Not long ago someone said the real purpose of the Misfortune 500 was to drive competent employees into starting their own businesses.
Even knowing the importance of small business, that valuable segment of the economy has no one to speak for it in Washington, so it's up to us. Aerostich and the rest of the great companies who service specialty motorcycle requirements count on us to pay back the some of the loyalty they give to us. If you like 'em, at least tell them so if you can't afford to buy their products.