First: I'm not good at math. I've heard that your neural pathways for math are developed by about age 7, sort of defining your capacity to comprehend math at higher levels. Not to say you stop learning -- I mean, how many 7-year-olds are doing advanced calculus? -- but just that the framework is there, and there's only going to be so much you absorb as you learn the mechanics of it. (Of course, by age 12, some of us should be expected to be disproving Einstein ...)
For me, that absorption stopped for good when I was 15. I had barely made it through algebra in 8th and 9th grades, and by the time we got to proofs in 10th-grade geometry, I was done. Mrs. Tiemeyer (spelling? not sure of her name now) was our teacher, and I remember her one shock of white hair and sitting in the back of the class, chair propped against the back wall, making race-car noises under my breath. But I don't remember how to do a proof to save my life. (And, in fact, I almost flunked out of college because of logical proofs, which follow the same pattern. I still say it was an attempt to control my thinking.)
I scraped through, probably because my parents required me to sit at the kitchen table and do homework every night -- 1 hour for every C, 2 for every D, and a whopping 4 for every F on mid-term or quarter notices -- and somehow made it into 11th-grade calculus. I lasted about four weeks, but it was clear by mid-semester that I was on my way out -- class was right after lunch, and though the teacher put me front and center in the room, I would pass out cold, folded over head-first onto my desk, fast asleep with drool running down my cheek, nearly every day. By Christmas, I was forced out, placed instead into "Business Math" -- the only math class where you could use a calculator, aimed as it was at remedial students. We had a great teacher, had fun with it, I met my graduation requirement -- and never took another math class again.
(Funny how the brain works -- all this was going on while I was in AP classes, taking two language courses, blowing out the bell curve on the state-mandated reading comprehension tests, and acing the English portion of the ACT. But don't ever ask me to do long division!)
Second: There is actually business in the bike business. Or rather, there needs to be if you want to be successful. The best bike shops and suppliers figure this out -- look at what Chris Kegel is doing up at Wheel & Sprocket, or Stan Day at SRAM, or the Burke family at Trek (Go Marquette!). Sure, it's a fun industry to work in -- bikes are awesome, and it's what attracts so many of us. But unless you make the transition from bike-cool to bike-business, you are not going to survive. Want to make a million dollars in the bike industry? Start with two million. The number of unique retailers in this country has shrunk by as much as 35% in the past three years alone, while some suppliers and retailers have been going gangbusters: it's not enough to be selling bikes, you gotta' be selling.
And along with selling comes number crunching, which brings me to today. We're about to close out the third quarter of the year, and begin budgeting and forecasting for 2012. When you're a communications guy, you don't need to do much beyond guessing what your pet projects and travel costs will be for next year. But when you're in sales, it gets a bit more complicated -- you're also expected to forecast what you think your customers will buy. And that requires some number crunching. It's great that Excel will do your calculations for you, but when you don't always understand what those calculations entail, it gets to be a bit of a bugger!
And so here I sit, massive spreadsheet open across two computer screens, analyzing and trying to forecast what my part of the domestic bicycle parts market looks like in 2012. It's a bit daunting, and is a far cry from the handshake-and-a-dinner that face-time sales entails. But what's awesome, what I've come to discover over the past nearly two years that I've been in this role, is that I enjoy it. I may not be good at math, but there's something exciting in the give-and-take that reveals a somewhat accurate prediction. And though sometimes it's the bike stuff that keeps me engaged, it's the business side of it that's turned out to be really, really fun. Because ultimately that's what's going to keep us in business; that's what's going to make us successful.
I just need to make sure to triple-check every Excel file before I let anyone else see it.