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Thread: Argonaut Cycles

  1. #1
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    Default Argonaut Cycles

    This is my second try at writing this. The first draft was four pages long and included an extensive cycling, educational, and employment history. I was bored writing it, so thereís no question you guys would get really bored reading it. So, here are high pointsÖ.

    My passion and love for beautiful bicycles stems from when I built up an Ibis Mojo while working at Iowa Bike and Fitness in Pella, Iowa, twelve years ago. I still have and love that bike. I havenít built myself a mountain bike out of some weird feeling I would be cheating on my poor Ibis with V-brakes and 3cm of fork travel.

    I am a product of the Portland framebuilder boom. I was fresh out of college, saw what guys like Sacha White, Pereira, Ahearne, and Ira Ryan were doing and was inspired. I thought to myself, ďthese guys have one, two, and FOUR year waiting lists. There must be a ton of demand out there, and building a bicycle canít be that hard, right?Ē I took a metalworking class at PNCA and signed myself up for the first framebuilding class I could find, which was with Steve Garn at BREW Bicycles in West Jefferson, North Carolina. Steve and his wife were amazing, and I left with a (not so beautiful) TIGíd cross frame. I came home, bought the bare essentials, registered the Argonaut trademark, and went to work. I spent a little less time blowing holes in tubes and the rear wheel actually fit in the dropouts on my second frame, so I threw some pictures up on a homemade blog and waited for the phone to ring.

    I was pretty proud of myself until I went to the ĎO8 NAHBS in Portland, where it didnít take long to figure out that I was one - really naÔve, two - really inexperienced, and three - had a lot of work to do before I could call myself anything but a hack.

    Between then and now Iíve made about 50 frames (ahemÖ..Mr. Slapshot?), work in a fully and very nicely tooled shop thanks to Mr. Newlands of the very famous Strawberry Bicycles, and have learned a few things along the way:

    - Making a steel bicycle frame is actually pretty easy, but building a business around it is pretty damn hard. It isnít any different from any other entrepreneurial venture in that it takes a ton of work, is really expensive, and most likely will fail.

    - Bikes donít sell themselves, much to my dismay, no matter how many polished stainless doodads they have, or how cool the dropouts are. Sure, it helps and people give you high fives at bike shows, but ultimately you sell bikes through reputation and good old-fashioned salesmanship.

    - You canít buy experience. Anvil jigs and mitering fixtures (hats off to Don Ferris) will only get you so far. Building a quality frame in a reasonable amount of time has just as much to do with things like heat control and brazing sequence, which just take time and experience to get good at.

    I love making bicycles. Itís so much fun to select tubes, work with customers in figuring out their perfect ride, fabricate frames, and deliver a product that Iím proud of and makes people happy. Seeing a customerís excitement upon first seeing their new bike is one of the most gratifying experiences Iíve ever had.

    Having been building bicycles for about three years Iíve learned a lot and have a lot to learn. Moving forward I hope to do more contributing than gleaning from this very cool niche industry I have the fortune of participating in.

    Thanks to Richard and Josh for this opportunity to sound off. This forum has been a great resource for me as a framebuilder. Some of my first customers came from here, and it is so much fun to see members post pictures of their new bikes. Feel free to ask me anything. Iíve got lots of opinions on everything from the pros and cons of stainless frames to how to properly cook a steak.
     

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Argonaut Cycles

    Great to have you aboard! Maybe you could go in and add a link to your site and stuff so we could get more info on you sooner. And I'm sorry, I don't know your name.

    From what I've seen, Andy's shop is very mechanized. How mechanized is your build process? Did you bring in your own little world and work in the corner, or are you using everything available?
    Craig
     

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    Default Re: Argonaut Cycles

    Hey, I've seen some cool pics of your stuff. Welcome to Vsalon and please post in FNL often.
    What did you go to college for, and do you pay the bills with it or framebuilding?
    Eric Doswell, aka Edoz
    Summoner of Crickets
    http://edozbicycles.wordpress.com/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/edozbicycles/
    In Before the Lock

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    Default Re: Argonaut Cycles

    Ben,

    What are the major non-bike influences on your work?

    Go-to place in PDX for beer and BBQ?
    Steve Hampsten
    www.hampsten.blogspot.com
    "hey, we got grenades!"

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    Default Re: Argonaut Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by Craig Ryan View Post
    Great to have you aboard! Maybe you could go in and add a link to your site and stuff so we could get more info on you sooner. And I'm sorry, I don't know your name.

    From what I've seen, Andy's shop is very mechanized. How mechanized is your build process? Did you bring in your own little world and work in the corner, or are you using everything available?
    Craig
    Hi Craig,

    Thanks for starting things off. My name is Ben Farver and the address to my website is www.argonautcycles.com. I started out in my own shop in 2007, and by the time I made the move to Andy's the fall of 2009 I had a Bridgeport vertical mill, an Anvil Journeyman, and alignment table, and a handful of other fixtures and tools. I'm very spoiled at Andy's. He's amassed a pretty impressive collection of tools over the 35+ years he's been building and we share the space pretty evenly. I have my own workbench and vice, and we each have our own Bridgeports (his is a little nicer), but Andy is nice enough to let me use his lathe, blast cabinet, Marchetti alignment table, cold saws, and mini EMCO mill. Our shop is basically a fantasy land of tools.

    Andy spends most of his time making his LAN71 brand of tools and I'm mostly making frames, it ends up being a really good dynamic.

    As far as the mechanization of my build process, my goal is to slowly have a fixture or tool for every operation, and I'm getting there. I made a chain stay dimpling tool this week for cross frames, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of making little tools and fixtures . I'm kind of a perfectionist, and for me good machining operations really help in building a quality frame. It's pretty hard to get a perfect joint with good alignment without starting with a perfect miter.
     

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    Default Re: Argonaut Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by edoz View Post
    Hey, I've seen some cool pics of your stuff. Welcome to Vsalon and please post in FNL often.
    What did you go to college for, and do you pay the bills with it or framebuilding?
    Hi Eric,

    I graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in History with the intention of going on to get my doctorate and teaching. I love going to school and learning, but when I got out of college I really wanted to actually make something, and having grown up working in a bike shop I wanted to get back into the cycling industry. I build bikes full time, but I'd be lying if I said Argonaut is solely supporting my wife and I. I had the opportunity to work with my two older brothers and build a car wash/ retail center in Denver, CO, a few years ago, and that, along with some other investments, keeps the lights on.
     

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    Default Re: Argonaut Cycles

    Ben,

    I will have Lesley email you the reg. package, although I could have sworn she said she talked to you a month or two ago...??

    Thanks for the subtle reminder.

    Now a question... is there any style of frame you like making vs any others? Favorite tube to use?

    DW

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    Re: Argonaut Cycles
    Ben,

    What are the major non-bike influences on your work?

    Go-to place in PDX for beer and BBQ?


    Hi Steve,

    My biggest non-bicycle influence are probably architecture and furniture design. I'm a big fan modern and mid-century design, and some of my favorite designers are Philippe Starck, Eames, and more recently Michelle Kaufmann. Ralph Steadman is one of my favorite artists. I'm also kind of car and motorcycle geek. I owned an MV Agusta Brutale for a bit, and I pine for a Norton Commando.

    I had a customer who was really into Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass, and was the inspiration for this bike:




    Hands down the best BBQ place in PDX is Podnah's Pit and they usually have a pretty good selection of beers on tap. Clyde Common is probably my favorite bar because of their Scotch and bourbon selection.

    I'm a big fan of your bikes. The next time you're in town stop by the shop and Andy and I will take you out for a beer!
     

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    Default Re: Argonaut Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by Slapshot View Post
    Ben,

    I will have Lesley email you the reg. package, although I could have sworn she said she talked to you a month or two ago...??

    Thanks for the subtle reminder.

    Now a question... is there any style of frame you like making vs any others? Favorite tube to use?

    DW
    I'm planning on coming to Austin along with a few other members of the OBCA. I think Lesley is working out the details with Eric Estlund. I can't wait! I already have three different bikes in mind that I'd like to build for the show.

    I probably like making fillet brazed frames over lugged because in most cases I find them more challenging. That and I like the freedom to mix and match tube shapes and diameters. But, my favorite bike to build is probably be a lugged cross. The classic lines of the lugs and utility of 32c knobby tires make such a cool looking bike.

    I love the externally butted True Temper OX Platinum seat tube for fillet brazing. I use mostly Columbus Life main tubes and have been using the Life S-bend chain stays a lot lately. I really like the Life 35mm downtube. I also love the S3 down tube. It's kind of a pain to miter, but such a killer piece of steel.
     

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Argonaut Cycles

    Hey Ben,

    It's great to see you here in the SO section.

    So many questions, so little time.

    Once you realized that the "if you build it, they will come" philosophy wasn't going to work what specifically did you do to make people aware that you existed? Did you actually develop a marketing plan with a budget and target audience or was it a "little of this" and a "little of that?" How did you evaluate your various efforts, or did you?

    Given that you've now amassed a collection of over 50 frame builds can you break down how those came about? By this I mean did you build a lot of team bikes for CX (or other sport) at minimal cost to develop a base or what? Generally speaking I see it as quite a meteoric rise and is an accomplishment to be admired.

    Conor

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    Quote Originally Posted by conorb View Post
    Hey Ben,

    It's great to see you here in the SO section.

    So many questions, so little time.

    Once you realized that the "if you build it, they will come" philosophy wasn't going to work what specifically did you do to make people aware that you existed? Did you actually develop a marketing plan with a budget and target audience or was it a "little of this" and a "little of that?" How did you evaluate your various efforts, or did you?

    Given that you've now amassed a collection of over 50 frame builds can you break down how those came about? By this I mean did you build a lot of team bikes for CX (or other sport) at minimal cost to develop a base or what? Generally speaking I see it as quite a meteoric rise and is an accomplishment to be admired.

    Conor
    Hi Conor,

    I appreciate that, but I wouldn't quite call making 50 frames meteoric or something to be admired. A lot of the other builders on this forum make more frames in a year than I've made in my whole career. The first bunch I made were TIG welded as that's what I learned to do first with Steve Garn. After a a while I figured out that I just wasn't very good at TIG, and might never be. I decided to try my hand at brazing and almost immediately came to prefer that style of joining tubes. I loved working with a flame and came prefer that style of frame as well. I started out giving frames away, then selling frames for the cost of tubes and paint to friends and family, and eventually adding some labor cost. Some never made it to paint and many never even donned the Argonaut logo.

    As far as getting the word out, that's still a work in progress. My original marketing plan was to go to every trade show I could and just rely on word of mouth. The trouble with trade shows is that in most cases it's difficult to associate any direct sales to a particular show, and they're really expensive. That, and SELLING my product is not something that comes naturally to me. When someone comes up to me at a show and asks "why should I buy one of your bikes?", I sort of give them the dear in the headlights look and then point at the shiny bits.

    This last spring I decided to take a slightly different approach and take the money I would have spent going to San Diego, Richmond, or the Sea Otter Classic and put that towards print advertising, R&D, and new dropouts. I'm currently running an ad in Mountain Flyer magazine, a really cool niche quarterly, and the new dropouts turned out really well. But, I definitely felt a softening of interest during the spring, and I attribute that to not going to any shows. I'm still glad I put my money where I did this year, but it turns out shows are important too. I just need to work harder on expressing to people why I'm excited about my bikes.

    Like everything else with this business, getting the word out is a challenge and there isn't a single solution. Print advertising is important, as is a presence on a forum like this one, and constantly updating a blog or flickr page, and going to shows. To be successful you have to do everything and do it in a way that presents your brand in a specific way.

    Cultivating a brand is the hardest part for sure, and you guys have done a great job with that with Vendetta. When I think of Vendetta I think of a particular style of bike, which is a really cool and hard to get people to do.
     

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    Being based in Portland with such a vast number of builders whats the vibe like between you all, is there a lot of helping out ?

    Daniel
     

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    Ben,

    How did the relationship with Strawberry start for you? My first 20 frames were built at Hot Tubes using his jig and tools after a couple year internship donating free labor. I have my own shop now with 99% all my own tools, so I can see/relate to both sides of the fence.

    What are your favorite things about working in the shop of, and using the tools of, an expereinced builder?
    What are the things you dislike about your arrangement?
    Do you aspire to have your own space once the business grows?

    Tony
    Anthony Maietta
    Web Site | Blog | Flickr
    "The person who says it can not be done, should not interrupt the person doing it."

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by savine View Post
    Being based in Portland with such a vast number of builders whats the vibe like between you all, is there a lot of helping out ?

    Daniel
    It's crazy! Whenever I see a Vanilla or Ira Ryan on the street I'll key that sucker 'cause I know they'd do the same to one of mine. Someone broke into my shop the other day and put sugar in my flux. I'm almost sure it was Sean Chaney of Vertigo. Builder cliques are getting into street fights all the time, just like West Side Story.

    HA! Just kidding. That would be pretty cool, though. Everyone is really nice and happy to help each other out. It's much more like a trade guild or group of artists as apposed to competitors in the same industry. We all face the same challenges, so everyone is really happy to share experience or expertise when they can. We'll also go in on a big tubing or supply order together every once in a while as well, which can be a big money saver.

    I think the cycling community in Portland is also really proud having so many builders in town.
     

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    ben -

    i am reading your post above (wrt marketing strategy and similar) and have a few opinions.
    what - you are surprised!?
    i'd love a chance to beat this to death with you atmo.
    what is your annual production?

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    Quote Originally Posted by anthonymaietta View Post
    Ben,

    How did the relationship with Strawberry start for you? My first 20 frames were built at Hot Tubes using his jig and tools after a couple year internship donating free labor. I have my own shop now with 99% all my own tools, so I can see/relate to both sides of the fence.

    What are your favorite things about working in the shop of, and using the tools of, an expereinced builder?
    What are the things you dislike about your arrangement?
    Do you aspire to have your own space once the business grows?

    Tony
    Andy is a really great guy to work around. He's super mellow and has so much experience. I'm a little high strung and tend to get stressed about something like getting a bike out on time, and Andy really helps me put things in perspective. He reminds me that I'm making bicycles, not performing brain surgery. That, and his lathe are probably my favorite things about working in the Strawberry shop.

    Working alone in my own shop got a little lonely. There would be times when my wife, Meaghan, was out of town and I wouldn't speak a word until going to the store or gym in the evening. It's really nice to have someone to chat or go out to lunch with.

    I honestly don't have any complaints about my current situation. Some day it would be great to have a piece of property with a shop on it. But, at the same time I like leaving the house to go to work during the day. I hear complaints from guys who work from home that it's hard not to get torn away from whatever they're doing to and take care of something in the house. I like being able to leave work at work and vice versa.
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by e-RICHIE View Post
    ben -

    i am reading your post above (wrt marketing strategy and similar) and have a few opinions.
    what - you are surprised!?
    i'd love a chance to beat this to death with you atmo.
    what is your annual production?
    My annual production is about 15-18 frames a year with about 60% of those being complete builds.

    I'd love to get your take on this, as well as other builders.

    There are so many different ways to market yourself now than 10 or even 5 years ago. I look at is sort of like a web where the bigger your web is, the better chance you have of snagging a customer. Print, website, and blog are the basics of this, but you can't rely on these alone. People have to find a way to your website and more often than not that comes from something you didn't even know was out there. I was featured in a Road Bike Action article a few months ago that I didn't even know about until it was in print. The referral path to my website often stems from someone else's blog or Flikr page who snagged a picture of one of my bikes. A magazine review or feature on custom bikes will come out and I'll automatically think, "Why aren't I in there?" And, more often than not the person writing the article found a list of builders from some two year old list on some blog somewhere, or the list of builders from the '09 NAHBS show.

    I try to spend a little time on marketing every week, but it should probably be more like a couple hours a day minimum. For me the challenge is finding the balance. If I had my druthers I'd just work in the shop and let someone else worry about the rest, but the reality is you have to do a little bit of everything. There aren't enough hours in the day, really.
     

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by bfarver View Post
    My annual production is about 15-18 frames a year with about 60% of those being complete builds.

    I'd love to get your take on this, as well as other builders.

    There are so many different ways to market yourself now than 10 or even 5 years ago. I look at is sort of like a web where the bigger your web is, the better chance you have of snagging a customer. Print, website, and blog are the basics of this, but you can't rely on these alone. People have to find a way to your website and more often than not that comes from something you didn't even know was out there. I was featured in a Road Bike Action article a few months ago that I didn't even know about until it was in print. The referral path to my website often stems from someone else's blog or Flikr page who snagged a picture of one of my bikes. A magazine review or feature on custom bikes will come out and I'll automatically think, "Why aren't I in there?" And, more often than not the person writing the article found a list of builders from some two year old list on some blog somewhere, or the list of builders from the '09 NAHBS show.

    I try to spend a little time on marketing every week, but it should probably be more like a couple hours a day minimum. For me the challenge is finding the balance. If I had my druthers I'd just work in the shop and let someone else worry about the rest, but the reality is you have to do a little bit of everything. There aren't enough hours in the day, really.
    in a nutshell atmo -
    you don't make enough frames/generate enough revenue to need to market (in the literal sense).
    whatever you ship is your brand and leaving the workbench to tell people about it keeps you from
    making that 16th-19th frame. the money from the extra one (or from the ones you don't make when
    at a show) is better in your pocket rather than someone else's atmo. if i were you (and i am not...)
    i would spend zero on advertising, and even less than that on print advertising. what is all this gonna
    get you if you only make a dozen plus units a year? mebbe a longer backlog? that is not profit, and
    the deposits - when they come - are not cash flow. if you feel compelled to let folks know what you
    are doing, the online stuff is free and it lets us know who you are. heck - you can even create yourself
    on the web if that's your bag. but the focus is what is done at the bench. build the frames, not the
    brand. in 10 or 20 years, when you have a body of work, you can cite that separately and trade on
    it. focus on assembling and delivering frames rather than be concerned with the aura that surrounds
    the niche and its nicheistas atmo.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by e-RICHIE View Post
    in a nutshell atmo -
    you don't make enough frames/generate enough revenue to need to market (in the literal sense).
    whatever you ship is your brand and leaving the workbench to tell people about it keeps you from
    making that 16th-19th frame. the money from the extra one (or from the ones you don't make when
    at a show) is better in your pocket rather than someone else's atmo. if i were you (and i am not...)
    i would spend zero on advertising, and even less than that on print advertising. what is all this gonna
    get you if you only make a dozen plus units a year? mebbe a longer backlog? that is not profit, and
    the deposits - when they come - are not cash flow. if you feel compelled to let folks know what you
    are doing, the online stuff is free and it lets us know who you are. heck - you can even create yourself
    on the web if that's your bag. but the focus is what is done at the bench. build the frames, not the
    brand. in 10 or 20 years, when you have a body of work, you can cite that separately and trade on
    it. focus on assembling and delivering frames rather than be concerned with the aura that surrounds
    the niche and its nicheistas atmo.
    Richard,

    I read Ben's comments thinking that he wasn't capacity limited at 15-18 bikes a year and he wanted to grow his business to support his excess capacity. If he grows to ~40 bikes a year and can keep his current backlog (short) then that would be advantageous.

    I'm sure Ben will help clarify.

    Conor

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    Quote Originally Posted by conorb View Post
    Richard,

    I read Ben's comments thinking that he wasn't capacity limited at 15-18 bikes a year and he wanted to grow his business to support his excess capacity. If he grows to ~40 bikes a year and can keep his current backlog (short) then that would be advantageous.

    I'm sure Ben will help clarify.

    Conor
    I think Richard has a good point that I should think long and hard about the money I spend on advertising and the dollar return it's likely to give. That being said, I would like to expand my business and do have the capacity to make more frames. My wait list has always been between 4-6 months, which I'm comfortable with. Looking down the road, I think it's worth spending money building the brand as that has the potential to open up other opportunities in the industry outside of just making frames. Whether or not, or even how I take advantage of them remains to be seen, but I'd like those opportunities to be there either way.
     

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