Starting in 2007, I was part of a small team that built the MoBo Bicycle Cooperative in Cincinnati, OH. MoBo is a not-for-profit organization intent on making cycling accessible and practical to everyone in the greater Cincinnati area and builds community by providing a welcoming and communal workspace, knowledgeable volunteers, and the tools and parts for cyclists of all ages and skill levels to repair, maintain and acquire bicycles. Members learn from and teach one another by sharing knowledge and experience. MoBo facilitates healthy and sustainable transportation through bicycle programs, events, and advocacy in the immediate community and beyond.
Challenge / Problem
- Provide affordable transportation options to our community
- Teach people how to ride and maintain their bicycles
- Build community
- Almost zero budget and staff with almost no experience building businesses
- Working with a volunteer-run organization
- Developing roles, processes, and policies for an evolving organization
- Designing the customer experience in a way that considered the staff and the parent organization
- Designing a way to deal with the challenge of children in the shop
- Working with volunteers to manage communications
ACTIVITIES / ACTIONS
Design Methods Used
- Design Thinking
- Reason for use: The shop was starting to see an uptick in business and key staff weren’t aligned.
- Challenges: Had never used the process before. Everyone had a different view of what the organization was and did.
- Successes: A mission, vision, governance, and key roles were developed and put into place.
- Rapid Prototyping
- Reason for use: To test out new systems, staff positions, and income opportunities.
- Challenges: No common process for rapid prototyping in place.
- Successes: A tool library, mechanical instruction, bicycle sales, Head Mechanic Instructor and Greeter roles, children’s program, fundraisers, and classes. All this led to membership growth from 15 to 300.
- Community Asset Assessment
- Reason for use: To understand what resources MoBo had access to.
- Challenges: Really digging in and realizing what resources were around.
- Successes: Community partnerships, a larger brick and mortar space, and a 200% increase in cycling infrastructure within the direct neighborhood.
- Seeking Inspiration In New Places
- Reason for use: We needed to assess and regulate the flow of customers to keep the Head Mechanic / Instructor from being swamped while providing an excellent customer experience.
- Challenges: Integrating systems with some of the regular customers as well as the other shifts.
- Successes: A Greeter position borrowed from restaurant hosts that can also triage like in a hospital emergency room. We kept the customers flowing and helped appropriately.
New Things Tried and How They Worked Out
- A greeter position that triaged customers. This worked great on keeping a staff of 2 from being overwhelmed by up to 20 customers at once.
- Design Thinking. This really helped us sort out some fuzzy problems and develop a more strategic approach as a team to what we were doing.
- Designing Youth Programming. This gave neighborhood youth a specific time they could use the facilities and receive the attention they needed.
Overcoming Design Challenges
- Practiced considerate communication
- Quick and dirty iterative prototyping
- Just enough research to try something
Challenges Were the Process Had to be Modified Midstream
- Tool library after a break-in
- Open to the public with no staff structure
- Policies on children on the premises
Dealing with Political Challenges
- There were tensions between some members of the MoBo governance and the parent organization’s board.
- Inclusive language and safe space culture were intentionally developed.
How It Was Received by Users
- Membership grew by 2000%.
- Our youth program became a popular place for neighborhood children to gather on a Monday after school.
- With the implementation of the Greeter position, we found that our customers had a much higher rate of positive experiences and became a favorite place for new volunteers to get introduced to the organization.
- The hands-off instruction method frustrated some users who expected us to do the work for them, but many people reported that they appreciated it and felt more empowered to maintain their bicycles.
How It Was Received by Coworkers
- The Mechanic Instructors found having a triage person a relief to not be swamped by customers
- Creating governance and defined roles a little tricky at first but led to much more efficiency and productivity while creating less needless arguments.
- Having a defined evening solely for children made a lot of the team happy. We all felt like we were giving back to the community while supporting our staff who did not want to work with kids.
How It Was Received by Stakeholders
- The parent organization found that MoBo provided a much more reliable source of income than grants.
- The immediate neighborhood, Northside, showed its appreciation by providing a number of longstanding partnerships, donations, store discounts to staff.
- The city built more cycling infrastructure within Northside than any other and began to reach out to us to consult on Bicycle transportation planning.
- If I would walk through the neighborhood with a bicycle, it was pretty regular that someone would tell me that I should go visit MoBo, and tell me all about it.
Role Successes and Impacts
- Youth programming has given out over 500 bicycles and built partnerships with stakeholders from local STEM programs at the University of Cincinnati introducing science and engineering alongside cycling and repair.
- A system of customer service that 2 staff members could implement to serve up to 30 customers at once, although that was around the breaking point.
- Became a go-to place for local for-profit shop mechanics to get trained.
- MoBo has functioned in the black for over ten years and is still going strong.
- I was sent by MoBo to represent the organization at international conferences.
- We became sought after for bicycle parking integration by local businesses.
- Had to move from a 196 sq/ft to an approximately 1800 sq/ft facility within 3 years of initial launch.