Thursday, September 03, 2009

Late Summer

I love late summer days, especially sunrises. The light quality this time of year is begging for photographers to get up early and stay up until sundown. The reds of the sunsets are most memorable, but as you might recall from grade eight science class, Roy G. Biv. Red on one side of the spectrum, violet on the other. Sunrises are more violet, and honestly, I prefer it.

The nice thing about September in Wisconsin is that the sun doesn't rise so bloody early in the morning. This was taken at 6:15 AM. In June I would have been 5:15 AM. Sorry, there are
limits, and 6:00 is one of them.

As much as I love autumn, I'm also starting to mourn summer a little. Yep, I'm a rotten Buddhist when it comes to living in the moment this time of year. I try, really I do, but work is starting to ramp up and there's no way I can possibly get all this done. People think my busy season is the summer, and that's true for the more tactical elements of owning a specialty retailer. Strategically, we're 9 months out for a lot of things, and 3 years out for some of the major projects. Most folks don't realize that forecasting is a huge part of retail, especially when you deal with smaller vendors who are not equipped nor financed to do just-in-time delivery.

Then there's the bank. Small businesses have love-hate relationships with their banks. Ours is pretty much the best out there. Still, it's the very nature of banks to be willing to lend you money when you don't need it, and less likely when you do. This is especially true in the current business environment, when the business world is full of pie-crust promises ("easily made, easily broken" - Mary Poppins).

It sickens me to hear of businesses cheating vendors, customers, and their banks. One local business closed their doors, dropped the keys off with my banker and said, "It's yours." What is a bank supposed to do with a sub shop? After they sent a few thousand pounds of cold cuts to the food pantry, the liquidation began. Again, sick.

It's also gunwale-oiling season. It's warm enough for the oil to penetrate the wood, and with a little help from a second-hand hair dryer, it's perfect out. I have (let me count here...) eight canoes with wood gunwales, so it's a bit of a ritual. Got my own special gunwale mix I use to saturate the gunwales twice a year, once in June, and once in September before I put most of them to bed for the winter.

This year I have three more wood gunwaled boats to treat. I take it as part of my calling to keep older solo canoes from the golden era of solo boating (early 80s to mid 90s) like an archivist keeps Papal bulls in the Vatican library. Lotus, Sawyer, Curtis, Moore, Blackhawk...the list of canoe companies that are no longer around is a long one. They are gone because of aging or deceased owners, bad management, market forces, or a combination of all three.

When I say bad management, I need to clarify. It wasn't incompetence of the deceptive Kenny Lay variety; it was in many cases a lack of attention to costing because they were so focused on building really, really nice boats. Some of these guys wouldn't let a boat out of the shop until it was perfect. 99% wasn't good enough, and although most people wouldn't notice, they did.

Mike Galt is a great example. A rough character, brash and opinionated, he was nonetheness ahead of his time both in his designs and in his views of canoeing. He viewed canoes as small yachts, and they should be fit and finished with the care that goes into an 180' Palmer Johnson. He was right. Those who think a Coleman Ram-X as a canoe are not thinking clearly. Sure, they float, hold stuff, but they're awful to paddle. Galt made the Lexus, Coleman the Yugo. His canoes show remarkable attention to detail, down to tapered gunwales and hand-fitted seats. No short cuts, ever. I own two, a Dandy (the first and best design of the two Dandies) and a Caper, serial number 001. Pretty special.

Hey, it must be free-association morning. I started off writing about sunrises and ended up talking about canoes. Who woulda thunk.

Respectfully submitted,


1 comment:

Silbs said...

You, along with I don't know how many small business owners, are the back bone of this country. Thanks.