Sunday, November 27, 2016

Small is the new Big

Them:  "You should franchise Oyster or try and build your brand large enough to sell it."

Me:  "No."

20 years ago, we decided that making bamboo fly rods for a living was a good idea.  Why?  Why would we ever dream that our passage into adulthood commerce should be anything less or more than a simple choice regarding the direction of our lives?  Everyone else was doing it...not building bamboo fly rods necessarily but our "contemporaries per say" were getting out of school and jockeying for position obtaining jobs that seemed to make a serious impact on the remainder of their lives as least it felt that way in your 20s. 

So, let's be brutally honest HERE.  Bill and I grew up in the 80s.  The honeymoon for "big, fast and cheap" was simply incubating with ambitions well beyond our imaginations.  By the time we finished college, disposable products that made an impression no matter how temporary dug in and enveloped our culture.

Bigger. Faster. Cheaper.

In some ways, the same mantra applied when most of us chose our careers.  It only made sense.   Following your dreams and ultimately doing what you love was just a bunch of bullshit told to you by well-intended strangers seemingly reserved for the three people we watched succeed at some obscure art in a documentary once and people with too much time on their hands the independently wealthy.  So, really...we were actually being guided all along not to explore our dreams but instead to ask ourselves..."What do we do to make as much money as possible as easily as possible so we can ideally pursue our true interests on weekends, paid vacations and just before we die if we are lucky enough to live that long?"
No memo here...

Except...we did not get that memo. And, honestly, we still do not know why we chose the smallest most ill-conceived hand crafted limited obsolete profession possibly on earth. And then MOVED to the smallest most ill-conceived ridiculous most obsolete little town on earth.

Bamboo fly rod making chose us. 

Blue Ridge, Georgia chose us.

Or should I say the overwhelming desire to pursue our lifestyle chose us. 

Small. Slow. Real.

We can all agree that times have changed over the past two decades.  Small businesses command more respect as does the craftsman and the virtuousness of the handmade item...not to mention bamboo fly rods in the fly fishing industry. 

In the beginning, fly fishing trade shows were the most effective way to reach potential clients.  The internet was still in its infancy and fly fishing was basking in "A River Runs Through It" Renaissance.  However, bamboo fly rods were not having any sort of "rebirth"...yet.   (see faster and cheaper fishing was not immune either).

The "GO BIG" misconception mentality about our business was prevalent from day one.  We would sit at these trade shows in the 90s, 2000s and beyond and get giggled at receive (again) fatherly advice from the sympathetic (after they stopped giggling at our ambitions):

OLD school trade show photo!

Them:  " can only make money at this if you have the blanks made in China and use your name."
Me: "No."

Them:  "You should work for Orvis, Sage, Winston..."
Me: "No."

Them:  "You should move to Colorado."
Me: "That would be nice"

Them: "You cannot possibly do this on your own.  You should get a professional sporting or collectables representative."
Me: "No."

Them: " is how you sell custom bamboo fly rods...make people wait...a really long time, limit their customization options because customers will kill you on those details.  You tell them what they want."
*editor's note* This sentiment was told to us repeatedly...really.
Me: "No."

Them: "Aren't you afraid if you share your knowledge of the craft with will essentially be teaching your competition."
Us: "No."

And while this sounds like we say no a lot...we truly DO listen to our clients and have become a successful small business because we listen. 

You:  "Bamboo fly rod making...that looks cool.  Will you teach me how to make one?"
Us: "Yes"

You:  "Will you build a rod and tailor the taper specifically to the type of fishing I prefer?
Us: "Yes."

You:  "I need a very special rod built for a very special retirement/birthday/anniversary/holiday...but we need it soon.  Will you please try and squeeze us into your schedule?"
Us:  "Yes."

You:  "Is it possible to tell a story on my favorite bamboo fly rod?  Will you learn to hand engrave to forever preserve the legacy of such a heirloom."
Us: "Yes."

You:  "Will each and every one of your bamboo fly rods live up to your near "beyond reproach" standards aesthetically and performance related?"
Us:  "Yes."

You:  "Will you always push modern limits while preserving and respecting the tradition and heritage of the hand crafted bamboo fly rod?"
Us: "Yes."

You:  "Is it possible that you are exactly as you seem on your antiquated web site?  Are you indeed a small little shop on Main Street making awesome things while raising children underfoot in an absurd little mountain town in Georgia?"
Us: "Yes.  We are simply not savvy enough for smoke and mirrors."

Small. Slow. Real.

And while we do not aspire to have our logo cantilevered over any given highway peering out from any given strip mall...we do realize there is merit applied to starting a business alone for profit and growth.  We have just chosen lifestyle over a bottom line of any sort.  

Bamboo Fly Rods...

Unarguably the worst business idea ever.

However, the best lifestyle choice ever.

Small is the new Big.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Career Day and The Bamboo Fly Rod

Career Day at Blue Ridge Elementary

Bill:  What is your favorite thing to do in the whole world?

Barrage of answers from the kids:  "Drawing!" "Hunting!" "Basketball!" "Writing!" "Hunting!" "Video Games!" "Horseback riding!" "Hunting!"

Bill:  Now, imagine that you are able to do that "favorite thing"  your entire life and make a living.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Main Street, The Bamboo Fly Rod and Love

"Find what you love and let it kill you."

 - Bukowski

Quinn, me (hiding), Roni and Cutter
My girl Michelle and her baked goods...that just happened to look like a heart today...really.

Bill and I don't celebrate Valentine's Day.  We have never properly observed this particular holiday...well...we did once...23 years ago.  While our memories of this fateful day are completely different vary just a bit, apparently it involved some rant on my part (say it ain't so) about commercializing love, delusional expectations and exploiting a woman's insecurities. 

I know, I know...I groan as well looking back on my 22-year-old self for a variety of reasons (think of an even more absurd version of my current, think of an even more absurd quasi adult and my 22-year-old self starts to come into focus).  Give me a break please...I was in college.  I was in Athens, Georgia.  I was in the Journalism College.  I worked for the art Athens, Georgia while studying journalism...this response was completely clich├ęd and expected rational given those circumstances.

However, Bill refuses to let me forget how stupid I was we continue to ignore Valentine's Day year after year even if I want those new boots for a present have grown immensely.  In our defense, We honestly don't need any one day of the year to celebrate love. 

Wait for it...

Get ready to groan boorishly...

We celebrate our love every day.  We don't need a special day to single each other out.  We say it, show it and feel it every day. 


However, except for my family and like 2 other people...ever...and the random dog...I personally do not show love to anyone else.  I feel it but do not express it.  And I don't feel like that's a detriment...just a "quirk". Or so I've been told.

But this year is different! 

This year I am DRIPPING with LOVE. This year my self proclaimed Valentine is Blue Ridge, Georgia...more specifically Main Street.  Okay, a paved surface is a relatively inanimate object but it's a start.

The back of our building on Main...below is the view from my office.  See the bucket truck in the background? This random moment was captured when our sign was being installed...

Yes...there is a train in our back yard.
Like any love story, the affection I feel for beloved Main Street has grown over the years.  When we moved Oyster "on the Main", I found myself unexpectedly caught in a deluge of memories from my childhood.  Typically, I grew up visiting the North Georgia Mountains on vacation to escape the Atlanta suburb's  lunacy "hustle and bustle".  My childhood was scattered with countless weekends "looking at the leaves" in the back seat of our family station wagon listening to my father ramble on and on about wanting to be a forest ranger John Denver and Willie Nelson music all while my father made long term plans to "leave it all behind" and "live in the mountains one day". 

Fast forward's 2008 and I am pregnant with Veronica.  The recession is in FULL swing and Bill impulsively decided we meticulously thought out our next preposterous logical move to Main Street.  After almost 12 years as a home based business, we opened our bamboo fly rod making shop in a fishbowl proper retail setting. 

Think Mayberry with churches and beer.

These few downtown blocks that encompass Main Street are genuinely and organically old school in terms of community.    We have found ourselves joyfully content within a square mile.  Seriously...within walking distance we have everything. 


We walk the kids to school. 


Bill started Blue Ridge's first chess club


The Chess Club grew so much...that we had to recruit Riley to teach...of course!


We eat our meals, pick up our prescriptions and dry cleaning, visit our doctors and dentist, go to Crossfit,  play on the playground and buy just about anything you can imagine that a tourist town has to offer within this city block.   And, while the shops and restaurants are obviously our main attraction, the people are undoubtedly the covert vibe that you feel...

We Crossfit...and make our coach and dear friend Robbie run with Roni!


Every holiday is honored.

Parades for....well...everything on Main!

So Merry

Main Street and our infamous Halloween


Our fishbowl

Tiny dancer...and bubbles

Visiting dogs...this one is named Oyster!  :)


Of course...bamboo fly rods


Another unexpected improvement in our lives upon moving here is the small talk...or lack there of...

Let me explain.  EVERYWHERE we go outside of this bubble, we get blank stares, awkward head tilts and even chuckles when people inevitably ask us "what we do" and "where we live".

It's different for shop owners and their trusted employees... we don't have to spend our first dozen conversations (if it ever gets to that) explaining the intricacies of entrepreneurship, impossibly long hours and living in a bubble.

Once our "career path choice" or lack there of is ingested by the morbidly curious, there is usually a barrage of innocent enough comments and questions:

1.  Wow!  That is really cool.  I really want to start my own business too.  How long did it take you to save enough cash to fall back on if it does not work out?
Ummm...I'll let you know when that happens. (see necessity is the mother of invention proverb)

2.  Your hours must be so flexible.
If by flexible, you mean having the ability to work all of your waking hours...then yes...super flexible

3.  Did you study this in school?  Do you have investors? Is your Dad rich?

4.  If Bill can not engrave because he is hurt, traveling, sick...etc...who do you get to engrave your rods?
The engraving fairy!  Just kidding.  If Bill can not engrave...our wait list gets even longer...

5.  You can't ever get fired!
True...except that time I fired myself by text (long story).  I went in for rehire a day later.

6.  Who is your IT department?

7.  Who does the finances?

8.  Who does the marketing?

9.  Who is your ... ?
One of the three of us...Period.

10.  It's just business, right.
No.  It's all personal. If it was "just business", our end game would be money over lifestyle.   We love it that's why we do it.

We do not own these questions.  Each shop has their own adaptation.  It is comforting to have people right outside your door that share your same unique perspective on our life's ludicrous events.  It's lovely to have the luxury of eliminating the niceties and sincerely connect when we get a spare moment (not many of those...see #2).  It's understood. It's our own mysterious hamlet.

Have chess...will follow.  Chesters.  :)


Father and Danny...Masseria...more church

Baby sitting services at the Blue Ridge Brewery

My Main Street.  My Valentine. 

My original intension was to single out those who have become like famiy and write some version of "roses are red" to each and every one but I am afraid that that's nearly impossible.  I honestly have such strong feelings for these people that words are inadequate. 

You all know who you are...

I must make the disclosure that our town's undertow is strong...nothing is perfect.  However...and maybe I am just in a good mood or delusional...I believe conflict is necessary to stay a veritable entity.  We are all bound daily by joy, tenacity and random bouts of grief.

Upon further refection oh shit...look out, it makes perfect sense that Main Street has become one of the greatest loves of my life.  If love is at the center of it all for us (which clearly it's certainly not money, fame or power) then loving where we live is the perfect compliment to the love we feel for our family, friends and profession.


Moving Oyster's bamboo fly rod making shop to Main Street was strictly a business decision. 


Staying on Main Street is entirely personal.


These are my people.

I look so tired because this one (Quinn) wears me out.  Thank you.