NEST HQ was created with the intention of being a platform aimed at promoting and encouraging the growth of artists of all genres and mediums. While we’ve worked mostly within music up to this point, we are expanding on a new content series that will showcase multimedia artists of various backgrounds including painters, graphic designers, architects, and others of the sort; this is installation. Every two weeks, we’ll post hand-selected pieces from our featured artists via our Instagram @nesthq, along with excerpts from the full interviews.
This week on installation, we have Nick Drombosky of Banker Supply. Since installation’s inception, I’ve been looking for the right opportunity to showcase business owners, but the most painstaking part of that endeavor has been finding someone who embodies the installation qualities of originality, genuineness, and purity of heart. From the second I stepped into Nick’s shop, I knew he was the guy.
How does your story begin in small business? Where was your first venture in the small business and how did you end up here?
I mean, I guess it depends on what you consider start. I think you find a lot of entrepreneurs, like me, started off hustling as kids. At one point I got in trouble for acquiring lemonade stands when I was like, I don’t know, seven years old? Kids in the neighborhood had lemonade stands and I was like “I’ll give you $5 and I can have your lemonade stand. I’ll give you five dollars now and you get 10 cents of every dollar that you make”.
Oh my god hahahaha
And kids take that! Cause they are like “five bucks? Oh yeah! I’ll take five bucks give me five bucks now”. From then on I was always hustling something. I got in trouble in fifth grade for selling $2 bills. You know what a $2 bill is right?
Yeah of course. I have one in my wallet right now.
So a lot of people don’t know that you can just go to the bank and ask for $2 bills. So in fifth and sixth grade – I went to a catholic school then I went to public school – I found kids in public school that weren’t that bright, and I was selling them $2 bills for $5.
Then I was in a punk band when I was in high school, junior high school. We started this little studio and were renting studio time for $5 or $10 an hour. So, it was always something. I dropped out of college because I was working at a store that did car care and they asked me to come on as a partner. I came on as a partner and helped grow that business. I ended up leaving that company with a little bit of money and I started a company called Fiks: Reflective that does reflective apparel and bike accessories. We developed this technology that could print reflective materials that were really durable. I’m sure if you’ve ever seen like Nike or Under Armour, all that stuff, when you wash and it gets cracked and dried. We worked with a company in Korea and developed and processed these materials. I still have that company.
It was kind of a Kickstarter during the first or second year of Kickstarter, so only like 50% of the projects were actually making it. It was a huge deal at the time. And I did another kickstarter project, and at the time I was the only person who had two successful Kickstarter projects that had raised the amount of money and had actually gotten the project out. And that’s how early of a kickstarter this was.
That’s incredible. And after these smaller apparel companies came Banker Supply?
We were selling a lot. We would sell like hundreds of thousands of units, but for some reason we couldn’t sell any inside the U.S. When I started Banker three years ago, 55 different products launched at 300 different stores around the world – but only 30 in the U.S. I have like 30 stores in Santiago, Chile that carried my products, 42 stores in Tokyo that carry my products and in all of the fucking United States I had 30. I started visiting bike shops all over the country and what I saw was that bike shops are the same shop again and again. They sell the same product from the same machineries, made the same way.
Culturally, it has created this thing where it doesn’t matter where you go, it’s the same shit. I thinks it’s really counterproductive not only for the business, but for getting more people into bikes. I work in multiple parts of the bike industry and I go into bike shops and people just talk to you like you’re a fucking idiot. You could know everything and they are like, “Oh, that’s what you ride?” “Oh you’re only looking to spend $400?” I think that’s totally the wrong way to go about it because for me, everything gets better the more people ride bikes. Everything.
I agree, and I think we spoke about this when I went into your store. There are several stores that I am aware of in the area because I’ve been needing a bike for a long time. I’ve been wary of going to the stores in the first place. There’s a completely ominous atmosphere around the locals who run the shop and the people who populate it. I think that was the first store I’ve ever just seen and been like I am going to walk in here and just check it out. It looks inviting, the woman who helped me out was great. What was her name?
Uh, probably Joana.
Yeah. She was fantastic.
That’s another thing. Our staff is 50% women. Our sales are 50% women. Our traffic is 50% women. Which, to me, is a really important goal because it’s 2017 and the bike industry doesn’t see it that way. The bike industry is like “yeah we do 17% or 18% of our sales to women and that’s just how it is. Women aren’t interested in bikes.” And that’s insane, like really there are very few things that are going to be heavily organically biased as far as gender goes. You could say “okay, yeah more guys ride bikes” or “yeah more guys are into cars”, and that’s not necessarily because women don’t want to be, it’s because the environment is uninviting.
Given your opinion on the industry and everything, what lead you to want to build business in the biking industry?
I didn’t know how to ride a bike as a kid. I just never learned how to ride a bike and my first day of college, I went to Penn, and I was living off campus and it was my first time living in the city. I took a bus to campus, it was like a mile out. It took 17 minutes and I was like this makes no sense. I could walk a mile in 17 minutes. I grew up in the suburbs and the reality of transportation was cars. That’s it. And I grew up in car culture. I’ve had tons of cars, I used to build cars. The most obnoxious, loud, low, stupid cars. I still love cars but, I was like this makes no sense. That weekend after the first week of classes, I went to Target and I bought the cheapest bike. It was like $39 or something. I asked like a kid for my parents to teach me how to ride a bike.
I fell in love with it because of the freedom. To me, one of the assets of highest value to humans is freedom. Whether that is financial freedom, like making enough money to do whatever you want. Whether that is actual literal freedom, like not being incarcerated. Bikes give you freedom in the sense that you are not really relying on anymore. You’re not buying gas, they are easy to fix. No paying for parking. You can just go wherever you want and nobody really bothers you, it’s not regulated. It is, to me, besides walking, the most free way to get around. It’s fast and it’s efficient.
Tell me about what the goals are for the bike shop, and then for you, as a business owner. I know you were talking with Jonah a little bit about the new start-up incubator that you were cultivating. What are some goals for the rest of the year? Talk a little bit about the projects you are working on.
We’re releasing a lot of basics, locks, lights, and stuff like that under our own name. It’s also kind of good timing because the bike industry is moving so poorly as a whole. But, outside of the bike stuff, our goal is this restaurant incubator, which I am really excited about. What we want to do is build this place to be accessible. So, say you make cupcakes, right? You make them in your kitchen, you sell them to your friends. Maybe your friend gets married and you make a bunch for them. Then, their friend gets married and you can make another bunch. This is illegal and in most cases health departments aren’t coming down on you but there are totally cases all across the country where this has become a thing. Specially when people attempt to sell their products without having proper licenses. If you have nothing but just skills and love and passion, that might not get you far enough because kitchens are expensive, restaurants are expensive. We’re designing this place where you pay for $20 an hour and you can come in, have a full licensed, fully equipped kitchen, access to commercial packaging equipment, etc. So you come in with ideas, some skills, some love, and then leave with a finished product that you can go sell to a store and it’s totally legal. That gives you the ability to actually ramp up and grow and make more money, then reinvest that money.
I think that’s kind of my passion in life, to try to make, especially the things that I love, more accessible. I don’t kn0w if I told you this when I met you but I was adopted, so I didn’t really know, nobody really knows, but I didn’t have parents. I was in an orphanage in Korea, and I was adopted and I got to grow up in the United States – which is fucking amazing. A lot of Americans don’t recognize how amazing that is.