Community motorcycle garage owner invests in mobile shop for middle and high schoolers

Brian Schaffran of Skidmark Garage

(Q&A with Brian Schaffran, owner, Skidmark Garage, a community motorcycle garage)

When and why did you move back to Cleveland and buy your first motorcycle?

I moved back to Cleveland from Los Angeles in 2000 after going through a divorce and not being able to rent an apartment due to my abysmal credit. I was essentially homeless and moved from friend’s place to friend’s place for several months before biting the bullet and coming back home to live in my childhood bedroom and finish my teaching degree at CSU. On my way to school one morning in 2001, I spotted an old motorcycle for sale in some guy’s front yard. Like deep shag carpeting, it was 70’s ugly, but it beckoned. I had never owned a motorcycle up to that point, but for some reason I was drawn in immediately. I bought it, and because I knew nothing about it, I soon took it to the nearest Honda motorcycle dealer hoping to get it tuned up. Well, most dealerships won’t work on old bikes – and with good reason. When you fix something on an old bike, something else breaks soon afterward – something unrelated – and the timing of the next broken item points to the last person to work on it. So, a service department at a dealership begins losing its ass on having to fix and fix and fix because it all appears to be the dealership’s fault that things keep breaking.

What motorcycles do you now own?

Since buying that CB750, I have since acquired several more old Hondas – a CB350, a CX500, a Goldwing, a 1965 Dream, and a CB500. But who has time to work on a bike when trying to keep a business alive? Not only do I not work on other people’s motorcycles, but I don’t even work on my own. For starters, I am not allowed to work on anyone else’s motorcycle. Otherwise, Skidmark Garage can be reclassified as a traditional mechanic’s garage and subject to all kinds of city, county, and state regulations. Also, since I spend every waking moment trying to get the word out about this place, I not only have no time to fix my motorcycles, but I also have no time to ride. For the most part, I haven’t ridden in a good two or three years. I used to ride every day, rain or shine, from March until December. Back then, I needed it to remind me to enjoy life while working for The Man. Now, I’m The Man, and I don’t have that overwhelming urge to ride like I used to. I’m just as happy to see the members of Skidmark Garage ride out on something they built or fixed themselves.

What’s it been like to be a business owner?

Being a business owner means fighting to keep my dream a reality every single day. My girlfriend, Molly Vaughan, works very hard to keep me grounded and does her best to remind me that balance in one’s life is important. Skidmark’s published hours, as expansive as they may appear, are actually non-stop. It is a rare occasion these days to find nobody working on a motorcycle at any given hour of the day or night. This place is almost never empty of souls. I’ve poured my entire being into this business – a business that is so foreign to most that advertising is typically not possible. Owning this business has meant educating people about a business concept that simply does not exist in most Americans’ brains. Now that the concept is starting to catch on, traditional marketing might be able to actually do some good. I am here a LOT.

Why did you locate where you are now?

It’s important for Skidmark Garage to be located in the same building as other creatives and makers. Soulcraft Woodshop has virtually the same business model as Skidmark Garage (member-based and DIY), and we were in the same building previous to the current location. A few years ago, when Soulcraft spoke of putting together a collaborative that included Ingenuity Cleveland and ReBuilders Xchange, I insisted Skidmark be a part of it. This new location afforded Skidmark three times the square footage at a lower monthly rent than the previous location. The current owners of this building were sympathetic to all of our start-up statuses and seemed to buy into our effort for collaboration. Being in this building with so many creative people is important for those creative types. They feed off each other and help each other constantly. We’ve got quite the collection of oddballs in this building. I’m proud to be included, although I do not consider myself creative…at all.

Any plans for expansion?

Skidmark now has 10 fully stocked bays, but it will be 12 bays in another month or so. The membership plateaued at about 20 members for a year or two, and then doubled in the last few months since the motorcycle show at the IX Center in January. Climbing to 40 members has been eye opening with regard to space usage. There’s rarely more than 8 people working on their motorcycles at once, but if the trend continues, I may need to up the amount of bays to 14.

Where do you get items for your garage?

Key to the success of this place is access to used machinery, carts and shelving from HGR Industrial Surplus. When I opened Skidmark, I’d never heard of HGR. The guys from Soulcraft made me aware of it, and my outlook immediately changed. The tough thing about HGR is the tendency for me to drift toward hoarding. I want every machine in that place. I can convince myself that the members of Skidmark will benefit from an envelope-stuffing machine if you give me enough time. But with space being the premium here, shelving and carts are way more valuable than I would have ever guessed. I’m hoping to score a Bridgeport and a lathe sooner than later.

How do you deal with the disappearance of tools?

Years ago, when discussing my dream of opening a community motorcycle garage, EVERYONE’S first response was a question about how am I going to guard against theft of tools? So, I made plans to prevent it, plans to monitor everything, plans to replace stolen items…but none of it ever came to be. Nobody has ever stolen so much as a screwdriver from Skidmark Garage. The members feel ownership of everything in here and have no interest in stealing what they already feel is their own.

Do people help each other out?

The beauty of Skidmark Garage is the willingness of everyone to help each other. All members are expected to help and can expect to receive help. Between the Wi-Fi, the library of manuals that Clymer/Haynes donated, and the knowledge of the people in the garage, just about any problem can be solved. We have a few members here who are extremely knowledgeable about certain aspects of motorcycles, and even though they very well could ask for compensation for their assistance, they never do. It is a community in the truest sense of the word.

Are members allowed to bring guests or helpers with them?

I encourage members to bring their friends to help. Wrenching on a bike with a friend or two is a great way to hang out and be productive. It’s a great way to learn and meet other people. Some members bring their kids, some bring their spouse, some bring parents. The more the merrier.

Is there an insurance liability concern?

The liability on such a business was a huge concern – not only for Skidmark Garage, but for the other 40 community motorcycle garages around the world. Obviously, Soulcraft Woodshop had the same issue — What insurance company will insure all the tools AND the regular Joe off the street using potentially dangerous tools? Thankfully, Soulcraft found the perfect insurance company for them, and they were able to insure Skidmark, as well.

Has someone ever dropped a bike, not paid and not come back?

Since opening Skidmark in spring 2015, there have been a few people who have effectively abandoned their motorcycles. They are not reachable in any fashion; therefore, the bikes take up precious room, and I have no recourse. Maybe I’ll hang them from the ceiling just to get them out of the way. At this point, I don’t even want money from them. I just want the bikes gone.

I see that you offer beginner welding classes. What do students do in the classes?

Every month, Skidmark and Soulcraft jointly host a MIG welding workshop. So far, since the workshop is for beginners, nothing but scrap metal gets welded. Nobody is building any structures of any kind in that workshop, they’re mostly learning how to lay down a few different kind of welds. Recently, we’ve added a TIG welding workshop, which sold out before it was even advertised. MOTUL Oil is coming into Skidmark to offer free oil changes to the members of Skidmark, and during Fuel Cleveland there will be a few demonstrations/workshops in which to take part. I would really like to have a women’s only night that encourages the ladies to fix their own motorcycles and shows them not only the basics, but some of the more advanced functions and how to fix them when those systems fail. Women have not been encouraged to learn how to wrench on machines. This needs to change — not just for the survival of the motorcycle industry, but for the survival of everything. It’s crazy to say, but women are possibly this country’s largest untapped resource.

Skidmark Garage welding class

What inspires you?

I’m continually inspired by the process of learning. That feeling is life-changing. I did everything I could to get my students to experience it when I was a teacher, and I get all excited when I see someone in Skidmark Garage learning. More learning happens in Skidmark Garage than in ANY high school. Real and legitimate learning happens when you “do.” Sitting in a classroom forces a teacher to try and recreate the “doing” in order to wake up that internal motivation to learn. There are few things more difficult than trying to get kids to learn through abstract exercises. There is nothing abstract inside these walls. The learning, the doing, the experiencing, the community — it’s all real; it all matters; and it all makes a difference.

Any words of advice to motorcyclists?

If I could bend the ear of every motorcyclist on the planet, I would explain to them the importance of knowing your machine. When your car breaks down, you’re stranded. When your motorcycle breaks down, you might end up dumping it, and you are exposed to the elements once you have to stop. There are so many other factors that make motorcycling far more risky (and therefore rewarding) than driving a car. A motorcyclist, especially one riding a vintage motorcycle, MUST know how to troubleshoot and at least patch most issues to get him/her to the next safe spot. Every motorcyclist should know where the nearest community motorcycle garage is located, because the owners of these garages and their members are there to help.

What’s next?

My next move is to get a mobile shop class going. Through my non-profit, Skidmark CLE, I will be taking a large trailer to three high schools (or middle schools) per day, getting a dozen kids out to the trailer, and teaching them how to break down an entire motorcycle, take the engine apart, and then reassemble the whole thing. It will culminate in starting the motorcycle at the end of the semester. Shop class does not exist in most high schools, thanks to state-mandated testing. Too many kids are graduating from high school without being even close to well-rounded. The shop class is not intended to push the students toward a life of mechanics, rather it is to give them a real sense of learning — nothing abstract will happen in that trailer. They’ll learn how to use basic tools, how to use the metric system, how an internal combustion engine works, how to read an instruction manual, and how to work together as a team. I don’t think I can provide anything more important to these kids than giving them the confidence to manipulate a machine and to fix something that is broken. Once they experience real learning inside the Skidmark CLE mobile shop class, they’ll be eager to learn in other areas of their lives. I hope to have this program rolling by spring semester 2019. With this mobile shop class, the school does not need to invest in the tools, the classroom, or the teacher. I have a handful of schools willing to sign up; I just need more funders to make it possible. This program will have profound and long-lasting effects on Cleveland. Using the hands and the brains at the same time to accomplish real goals will positively change the life of every student that takes the class.

Skidmark Garage with bikes in the shop and customer working

 

Photos provided courtesy of Mark Adams Pictures

Three furniture designers to do live build at Ingenuity; HGR to auction pieces for hurricane relief

Ingenuity Fest 2017

From Sept. 22-24, some folks from HGR Industrial Surplus and Jason Radcliffe of 44 Steel, Aaron Cunningham of Three Barn Doors and Larry Fielder of Rust, Dust and Other 4-Letter Words will be onsite on the second floor of Ingenuity Fest, Cleveland, finishing the live build of three pieces of contemporary, industrial-designed furniture that were started after the F*SHO, a contemporary furniture show, which was held on Sept. 15 in HGR’s 500,000-square-feet showroom.

The designers selected industrial-surplus equipment from HGR’s showroom to use in the build of the furniture. We’ll all be there Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon. Then, the finished furniture will be displayed the week of Sept. 25 in HGR’s lobby. We will host an auction, and the highest bidders will be proud new owners of one-of-a-kind pieces. All proceeds will be donated to hurricane relief in the Houston area.

Stop by our area on the second floor at Ingenuity to learn more about HGR, if you’ve never strolled through our showroom of anything and everything that you could imagine, and watch Jason, Aaron and Larry in action. They’ll be happy to share tips and tricks with aspiring makers and designers.

We can’t wait to see the finished products!! Make sure to check HGR’s Facebook, Twitter or website, or grab a card at Ingenuity to learn how you can bid on these one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture.

HGR Industrial Surplus is hosting F*SHO on Friday, Sept. 15

This is a reminder to stop by on Friday, Sept. 15 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the back entrance of HGR’s building to check out 30 contemporary furniture designers’ work, have a beer and eat some grub provided by Noble Beast Brewing Company and SoHo Chicken + Whiskey restaurant. Everything but the furniture is free! The ninth-annual show is presented by Jason and Amanda Radcliffe of 44 Steel.

But, this year, there’s a twist: Jason Radcliffe of 44 Steel, Aaron Cunningham of 3 Barn Doors and, possibly, one other surprise designer will be picking out industrial items from HGR’s showroom the night of the show to work all week after and all weekend (Sept. 22-24) at Cleveland’s Ingenuity Festival to build their pieces of furniture. They will be delivered the week of Sept. 25 to HGR’s lobby for display. Then, that same week, we will post them on our eBay auction site that you can get to via a link on our home page at hgrinc.com. The donated furniture will be auctioned to the highest bidder, and proceeds will be donated to an arts organization in Houston to help with Hurricane Harvey relief.

The F*SHO is a win for everyone and a mighty good time! We hope to see you there. F*SHO ad

F*SHO comes to HGR Industrial Surplus; win a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture by a famous designer

F*SHO ad

In two weeks, the F*SHO, a contemporary furniture show and brain child of Jason Radcliffe of 44 Steel, will be coming to HGR Industrial Surplus. Join us Sept. 15 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 20001 Euclid Avenue, Euclid, Ohio. Entry is through the back of HGR’s building.

There will be approximately 30 furniture designers showcasing their work while a DJ spins tunes, and food, courtesy of SoHo Chicken + Whiskey, and beer flow freely. Everything’s free, except the furniture!

In 2015, Jason competed in FRAMEWORK, a furniture and design reality-TV show, hosted by hip-hop superstar Common on SPIKE TV. The winner of that show, Jory Brigham, who also teaches furniture building, will be coming from California to premier a new piece at the F*SHO, and Jason will be heading to California to teach a class at Jory’s studio.

In addition, you will have a chance to win a piece of furniture designed by either Jason Radcliffe, 44 Steel, who works with steel, or Aaron Cunningham, 3 Barn Doors, who works with wood. They will select items from HGR’s showroom to use in the furniture design then will be building the two pieces live at Ingenuity Festival on Sept. 22-24. Contest details to be announced shortly. Stay tuned!

Q & A with furniture designer and F*SHO Founder Jason Radcliffe

Cradle cradenza by Jason Radcliffe of 44 Steel

What was the first piece of furniture that you created in 2005?

I built quite a few pieces for friends — things like tables and what not, but the awning I built for a friend’s house in Tremont really stands out the most. It was the first time I realized that I could create and make things useful and functional.

What got you interested in furniture?

Functionally, I needed a desk. I like functional art and things that have a use. Also, I visited my the furniture store where my friend worked, and a customer wanted stainless table with a glass top for a party but if they ordered one for her, it wouldn’t have arrived in time. My friend said, “Here’s my friend who makes furniture. He can make it for you in less than six weeks.” Four days later, she had a stainless-steel frame with a glass top which was the start of my business. My friend asked for two pieces in three sizes, and it just took off.

What did you do as a career prior to your business at 44 Steel?

Welding and fabrication, which I still do, and the furniture business is similar in that I change industrial items into shapes that work.

How and why did the F*SHO come into existence in 2009?

In 2008, I had shown my first pieces of furniture in a solo gallery exhibit then I planned to go to New York for Design Week because I wanted to see what people thought of my work but it cost $5,000 for a booth. I decided that wasn’t affordable. In January 2009, the coordinator from ICFF, part of Design Week, emailed me offering 4’ x 10’ booth for $1600, and I took it. I took the Mousedesk that’s on my website there and kept hearing, “You’re from Cleveland? There’s nothing going on in Cleveland.” When I got back form New York, I had a conversation with five of my furniture friends about what New York was saying about Cleveland. We all decided to give New York a big middle finger and put our own show together and so it came to be. I got five friends together, and we did the show at 78th Street Studios. We had 350 people show up. The next year we needed a bigger space. F*SHO is a contemporary furniture show featuring work by local designers, furniture makers and students from the Cleveland Institute of Art.

How many exhibitors and attendees do you usually have?

In 2016, we had 30 exhibitors and 3,000 attendees. Most of the visitors are from Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.

How are the locations for the moving show selected?

I drive around or someone offers. We are going to continue moving it to different locations until 2019, then we’re handing it off to someone else to pick up the torch.

How do you market the show?

We’ve had articles in Fresh Water Cleveland and The Cleveland Plain Dealer, an interview on Kickin’ It with Kenny and NPR’s Around Noon, word of mouth and social media. People like its style, the romantic feel of only one night and if you’re not there you missed it for the year. It’s a five-hour guerilla show that’s always on a Friday night in September from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. SoHo does the food. We have beer and a coffee bar. Everything is free to the public though we do suggest donations/tips to offset the costs of the food and beer. There’s only a $50 exhibitor fee because we believe in getting us all together, and some new designers don’t have the money.

How and when did you hear about HGR?

I work for my father’s business, Berrington Pumps & Systems, and they are a customer. Then, I made a chair for Ingenuity Festival and a competition called “Chair and Tell.” My dad helped to film the entire process, from walking through HGR buying materials to the fabrication and finishing.

What kinds of things have you bought at HGR?

Mostly stuff for Berrington, not 44 Steel and the furniture business — pumps, parts, filters, storage bins. Then I get to take home scrap and salvage from the business.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working or making furniture?

My wife and I enjoy riding bikes, travel (most recently to Peru), our dog, being outdoors, boating on the lake, and skiing and snowboarding in Colorado.

Which artists inspire you?

Jean Prouvé (French), Pierre Koenig (American) and Viktor Schreckengost (American). Their bodies of work are astounding and groundbreaking, especially Schreckengost!

What was a unique opportunity that you’ve had?

In 2014, two months after Amanda and I were married, I left the business in her hands to go to California to film FRAMEWORK, a furniture-maker reality TV show and competition, on SPIKE that was hosted by Hip Hop Artist Common. It aired in 2015. It’s been an exciting journey.

How did you learn to be a furniture designer and maker?

I’m self taught! I found styles and materials that suited what I liked and then started putting it all together. I was always thinking about how I would want to use a desk or a cabinet or a credenza, and that is where my personal fingerprint comes from. If you look at the furniture designers here in Cleveland, we all use similar materials, but we all have our own look and idea of how those materials fit together.

 

Jason Radcliffe of 44 Steel in his welding gear