'I wanted to work with bikes and fool around, so I had this idea, signed the lease on this place, and launched in June of 2014.' This is Devin Paisley summarising, at speed, the inception of his business, The Woodstock Moto Co (WMC). With his zealous idea, he set out to offer the Cape Town motorcycling community a venue in which like-minded bike lovers can share their common passion for the two-wheeled machine.
The WMC calls the eclectic neighbourhood of Woodstock home. Situated in a little alley, behind custom-built gates, the space was born from an idea to create a sanctuary of sorts. 'The initial idea was a man cave - friends, storage, band practice, brew your beer, a space away from the ladies, whatever - work on your stuff, keep your stuff here if you don't have a garage in the city, use this space,' Devin recalls.
Describing what kick-started his love of bikes, Devin says; 'My dad's always been interested in cars, he always had motorbikes, and I had always wanted one but couldn't get one, the usual story, my parents said no, that I had to wait until I was old enough and could buy my own one.' His gap year after school meant he had a chance to save, and on his return to Cape Town he was able to buy his first bike. 'It was a crappy Chinese 125, this thing fell apart, which was kind of good because then every time something would fall off you'd think, "How do I fix this?", and so you start to learn,' Devin says.
Devin describes how this purchase, and its rusty, rickety condition, led him to get in contact with an old school friend, who he knew was a motorbiker and mechanic. 'So I said to this friend, Ian, "Dude, I've got this bike, I need to fix it, can I come over?", and so he began teaching me, because if I wanted to ride it I had to learn how to fix it, plus there was always other stuff in his garage that was falling apart, there was always stuff to do.'
'Sadly, Ian's father passed away. He'd grown up always in the garage, tinkering with things, so after he passed, kind of as a tribute to his father, we did a weekly workshop night every Thursday, where all the friends went around to Ian's house and we all just worked on our own stuff, which again was a lot of learning,' explains Devin. After a few years of travelling, and photographing custom bikes he'd seen along the way, Devin returned home with an idea; 'I became so aware of the global phenomenon that was custom bikes, Ian had too on his travels, so we thought, well why don't we start our own custom bike business?' Devin then clarifies; 'I use the word business very loosely there, probably more of a project rather.'
Thinking they'd found a gap in the market, they decided to put their skills out there and start building bikes. 'It didn't turn out to be so easy,' Devin says, 'a lot of similar businesses started to pop up, that's when I realised building bikes isn't my forte, my forte is my passion for bikes and my passion for people, the riding, I love getting excited and helping other people get excited too.'
Deciding to focus rather on the riding, and the people who ride, was the turning point that lead Devin to where he is now. The collaboration and camaraderie that comes with the communal garage concept is what sets WMC apart. There are plenty of guys out there who will build you a custom bike, but a space where you can bring your own bike, do it yourself, tinker, chat, chill, learn, and eventually contribute, is not something you find in every neck of the woods.
One component at a time, the business is being customised as those involved with it contribute to the ever-evolving model. 'The teaching element came in, we realised there was potential for teaching guys how to do this, because I had been through the processes of it, so, more than storage and a place to hang out and drink coffee, it's become a place for learning and teaching.' Devin acknowledges that biking communities can be rather intimidating to those on the outside, so the WMC works to actively counter this with its inclusive approach – 'it really doesn't matter what size or type of motorcycle you ride, how much you know or don't, as long as you have a smile on your face, just come here with a good attitude, we're all here for fun because at the end of the day it's all about riding, and I think a lot of bikers have forgotten that it's all about riding.'
'We then incorporated retail into the business, so the guys needed stuff in the work bay, they'd need an indicator or a break light, and I realised I could start stocking parts, bits to put on your custom bike, which then also started attracting other people to come here and check out the location,' says Devin. 'That then takes us to our first Garage Built Show, which we have annually, where we display Cape Town's best custom-built bikes, everyone with a custom bike brings it here, we close off the street, there's live music, food, beer, exhibitions, it's gotten pretty big.'
On how the business has developed since its inception over two years ago, Devin says, 'It's gone from a passion project to something I'm trying to turn it into a self-sustaining business, which is fun and tricky and frustrating.' Since its opening, the warehouse-style venue has taken on a life of its own; it's a living, breathing concept that grows and develops according to the needs of the cave-dwellers. This growth and maturation means that Devin now has a different way of describing who they are and what they're all about; 'So the point we're at now, we are a motorcycle storage and DIY workshop, parts and retail, clothing, community-based "I love motorcycles", come and hang out and do cool stuff, and just learn along the way.'
The community-based nature of the business is central to its success, as well as being what WMC members love most about the space. 'So let's say we've trained up that guy, then a new guy comes in and that guy who's learnt his skills can say, "Oh, I did that, you've got to do this, try that," which then takes some of the weight off us and frees us up to helps others, it just works," Devin explains. 'When a guy comes in here with something that looks like a write-off, and you do this, do that, change this, and then it starts! Maybe only on the fourth or fifth kick, but with that sound of it starting, guys just shout and scream from wherever they are around this place, they get so excited! That's what it's all about, that's the whole point of what we do, there's a lot of frustration, but then there's that moment of "Yeah!"'
Devin draws comparisons between bike building and business, highlighting the up-and-down nature of both. 'You'll have a lot of frustration, and then you'll have a victory point, and then more frustration. That's where our saying, wrench ride repeat, comes in - there's always something to do, fix, make better,' he says. 'With a lot of tweaking, and then some eureka moments, the business has at least got to the point where it's supporting itself, and we feel like we are contributing to the Capetonian bike society.'
On what brought the WMC to humble Till , Devin says it was his new found curiosity about all things business that meant he was on the lookout – how were other small businesses doing things? 'I was in a store nearby and was interested to see what POS they were using, it was the humble Till. I liked the clean fresh look of it, so I Googled it, saw how affordable it was and that we would be supporting someone local,' he says. 'We started the trial, and had great support from the team during that time, so it was pretty easy to get going,' Devin explains.
'What also makes the admin side of all this easier is the fact that Sage One and humble talk to each other, which is great,' Devin says. 'It's getting to the point where I'm spending a lot of time in the office, and by playing around on the Till I'm starting to see just how much it can do,' he says. 'This business is interesting and quite complex, because we have services, times, products, people who rent, memberships, people running tabs, all these different aspects. I've created a monster that I'm now trying to reign into a business,' he smiles, 'so humble really helps in terms of giving me more control.'
Devin's idea could have fizzled out at the "passion project" stage, but it was his ability to see opportunity - realising he could monetize various elements of the man cave - that gave the business the boost it needed. From there, it was being able to tinker and tweak the concept, and then focus on what works and advance accordingly, that has brought The Woodstock Moto Coto where it is now. Perhaps the temperament of a bike builder is perfectly suited to business. Wrench ride repeat.
The Woodstock Moto Co uses humble Till as a tool to help run and grow their business. If you have a small business, visit www.humbletill.com to find out how we make running and managing your store simpler and easier than ever before.
Updated: June 26, 2017