You Can't Win 'em All

It is with much disappointment and sadness that we announce the closure of JonMol Cycles in Gaborone.  JonMol, operated by Bones, was our first Sister Shop, opened in 2008.  JonMol has struggled since its inception, plagued by high rent and a lack of dependable resupply (an issue we feel we’ve now solved with our relationship with Bicycle Recycle).  In addition to these challenges, the required financial reporting on the business was rarely submitted to us, and the information we did get was not completely honest, so it was difficult to help Bones navigate through tough times.  While he was occasionally able to get some resupply from ProBike in S. Africa, he was rarely in a financial position to do so.  Over the last couple years, not wanting to see our first Sister Shop fail, we sent him two more containers with the agreement that he would repay us the freight after selling some of the stock.  Rob Carle entered the picture and also began to give Bones assistance on the ground – both financially and with advice.  Unfortunately, the situation did not improve.  When we arrived in Gaborone a couple days ago, we started to learn how bad the situation really was.  JonMol had very little stock, no cash to buy more, incomplete or nonexistent financial records, and increasing debt.  We decided that we had thrown enough good money after bad, and made the difficult decision to close the shop.  We knew there were serious risks going into this and I think the overall success speaks for itself.  Even in this situation, when the shop has failed, we, and you, still put almost 2000 bikes into the hands of the local community, which is a success by any measure.  

But we’re not the type of guys to resign ourselves to failure.  We sat down with Jerry Kokwane, one of Bones’ employees and discussed how we could set him up in a less risky, more manageable situation.  So out of the ashes of JonMol, Jerry’s Bikes rises!  As Rob moves his distribution warehouse to a larger location to serve the four Sister Shops, Jerry will set up shop in Rob’s existing space.  With Guta, JonMol’s top mechanic, at Jerry’s side, they have already started putting the pieces together to form this new business.  There are three key differences in how Jerry’s Bikes will be run, which we believe give it the best chance for success.  The first is low overhead.  The rent on Jerry’s space will be shared by Jerry’s Bikes and Bicycle Recycle, so a slow period of sales won’t have as drastic of an effect as before.  The second is that Jerry’s Bikes will start out using our new distribution model, so resupply is much more manageable, predictable and affordable.  And the third is the proximity to Bicycle Recycle.  We can only provide so much training and advice from 12,000 miles away.  With Jerry’s Bikes and Bicycle Recycle so close to each other, small issues can be sorted out before they become large issues, and communication back to us in California will be much improved.

Jerry Kokwane

Jerry Kokwane

While we are saddened by the closure of JonMol, the experience has taught us valuable lessons about doing this work in Africa, and how to prevent a situation like this from developing again.  At the end of the day, these Sister Shop micro-businesses are businesses like any other – and sometimes, businesses fail.  It’s very important, especially in the context of philanthropy work, to be able to publicly acknowledge the failure of a project, and pull the plug.  The JonMol project was a success, but failed in its quest to achieve the holy grail of self-sustainability.  We feel that the new setup with Jerry’s Bikes provides a much better chance of reaching that goal, and we couldn’t be more excited about Jerry’s opportunity.  No matter what happens, we remain committed to the cause of creating a sustainable supply of bikes to these communities, and this turn of events only strengthens our resolve and improves our chances for success.