Framebuilder Survey Analysis: Part-Time Builder & Business Demographics

A Quick Word on the Logic of Providing Analyses for All/Full-Time/Part-Time Builders:

Throughout out the project, one reaction I’ve routinely heard regarding who I should speak with–or who I should invite to complete the survey–is that only “full-time” or “professional” builders should be included.

There are a couple basic problems with this.

For one, as we have now seen empirically with the “full-time” builder analyses, what actually constitutes a “full-time” builder is not so clear!

Many folks building bikes “full-time” are:

  • engaged in some other work for pay
  • not making sufficient money to support themselves from framebuilding alone
  • reliant (by choice…or not) on other household income from a spouse/partner

Or some combination of all of these!

Simply put, on the ground–in actual life–being a full-time framebuilder does not “fit” with the standard occupational model many might try to impose on the field!

For this reason, I began these survey-data analyses looking at all builders, regardless of their work status (full-time vs. part-time). The logic behind talking about all builders who responded to the survey is that this gives us a snapshot of how handbuilt bikes are being produced in the United States–at least, that is, by smaller-scale shops.

If we want to know “how are handbuilt bikes made in the U.S.?”, looking at everyone doing this work on a commercial basis seems like the best bet! That was never intended to say they are all doing the same thing and, of course, you wouldn’t always analyze all producers lumped together. But, only looking at “full-time” or “professional” producers would not answer the question, “how are bicycles being made in the U.S.?”

So after looking at all of the builders together, I then zoomed in on the full-time builders alone. There too, I did not impose my own definition of what constitutes being “full” or “part” time. I relied instead on builders’ own self-identification of how they spend their time. In a few cases I had to adjust this a bit. Someone doing nothing but build bikes, but not spending what they would deem a “full” work week on this work, would still be classified as a full-time builder for my purposes. But, for the most part, I took full/part-time status as defined by the builders themselves.

Now for the Part-Time Builders….

With that little refresher out of the way, let’s take the third analysis step – delving into the part-timers!

There were 46 builders who reported working “part time” on framebuilding, though not all 46 answered all questions below.

Regarding the personal and household demographics of the part-time (PT) builders in my sample:

Age Range: 28-73

  • Mean: 47
  • Median: 46

Gender: 96% self-identified “male”

Racial Identity (a self-reported, open-ended question):

  • White: 88%
  • The remaining 12% were spread across multiple categories, but won’t be specified here to keep respondents anonymous

Education (highest level attained):

  • Doctoral degree: 2%
  • Masters degree: 16%
  • Bachelors degree: 61%
  • Some college: 5%
  • Community college: 9%
  • Trade School: 2%
  • High school: 5%

Do you have children of any age?: 34% of all PT builders

Are there children currently in your household or your financial responsibility?: 18% of all PT builders

What is your marital/partnership status?:

  • Married/formally partnered: 68%
  • Divorced, separated, widowed: 21%
  • Single, never married: 11%

Let’s also run through the business demographics for the PT crew:

How long have you been building bikes overall?

  • Mean: 12.7 years
  • Median: 8 years

What is the age of your current business?

  • Mean: 12.3 years
  • Median: 7 years

[Update] The age of current business gives some interesting insight into what I think is going on with PT builders: there are distinctive clusters of builders within this large category. You can really see this in the business age variable, where the primary cluster is in the lower years (indeed, 3 PT builders had businesses that weren’t even a year old at the time):

Do you currently carry liability insurance? 74% answered “Yes”

Does your business have other owners (in addition to the respondent)? 91% are sole owners

Do you have any employees (apart from owners)?: 2% answered “Yes” (which amounts to 1 builder)

Where are your customers located?:

To what extent do you rely on the following sales channels?:

Some thoughts on comparing PT with FT builders….

  • Not surprisingly, PT builders are doing even more “direct to consumer sales” than the FT builders, reflecting their lower reliance on sales through dealers.
  • Also not surprisingly, the PT builders have much smaller national and global sales, relying more on local/regional customers.
  • It’s interesting to note that the PT builders have a lower marriage rate and fewer kids at home, as well as higher educational attainment (compared with FT builders). This could fit with the general sense that many PT builders (as will come out in later analyses about ambitions and motivations) are doing framebuilding as a side gig, or were captured at the time of the survey in the “in between” phase where they had insufficient orders to go full-time but were intending to get there. That said, I think what is also going on here is that the PT builders are an even more heterogeneous group, with some at the start of their intended careers and others having scaled back.

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