‘Brew to Bikes’ Business Book Review

book review

Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy

I’m suggesting that you read (parts of) this business book, but that it isn’t worth buying?  Yes.  It’s good advice if you’re counting both your minutes and your pennies.  Read on while I explain how to get the best of Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy.

Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy has a little bit of something for everyone.  But that’s not the way entrepreneurs and innovators can get the most out of this book.  Charles Heyings’ academic background and credentials show through this stories-and-sweeping-observations book.  However, by reading selectively we can pick the best cherries now, leaving the best-for-pie cherries of social commentary and macroeconomic musings for later.

The book’s introduction tells you what the authors think you want to read:

My colleagues and I begin ‘Brew to Bikes’ by exploring the scholarly literature that contributes to our understanding of the artisan economy.  More than a review, we integrate the diverse strains scholarly thinking about the economic transformations that are changing how we work and live.  We examine the contemporary scholarship on the arts and cultural industries as economic engines and how tourism and arts amenities intersect with the growth of a creative workforce.  We consider grassroots movements that emphasize local self-reliance, sustainable living, and the integrity of craft work.  We argue that these diverse literatures, taken together, logically lead to conceptually rich artisan economy synthesis.

Ignore that.  Rather, let’s focus on two topics.  First, we’ll read a succession of business book vignettes where we can glean nuggets of against-the-grain business advice.  These convincingly demonstrate just how many different ways it’s possible to start, market, and grow a small business successfully.  Second, we’ll read about scaling up as the biggest challenge to artisanal businesses.

A Guided Tour Through the Best of ‘Brew to Bikes’ as a Business Book

Chapter 3 Brew

Portland is home to a vibrant and eclectic brewing community.  To get the focused best from this chapter, start at the section “Craft Brewing in Portland” and then read the section “Is Consolidation a Four Letter Word?”.

Chapter 5 Fashion

Portland as a fashion hub?  Well, yes.  Start reading this chapter from the section “Out of Nowhere”.  Now skip the statistical “Doing the Numbers” and pick up at the section “High DIY to High Fashion” to let the designers tell their stories.  Finish off with “Scaling Up?” to discuss, head-on, the challenge of growth for a fashion business.

Chapter 6 Bikes

Most people don’t know that cycling was the most popular sport in America… in the 1890’s.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

In a bicycle market dominated by a few big brands, there’s still economic room for specialist bicycle and components makers.  Start this chapter with the introduction, then skip to the section titled “The Frame Builders” and then skip to the section “Challenges of Running a Business and Scaling Up”.  Move on to “Accessories and Components” to get a more complete picture of cycling specialty suppliers.

Chapter 14 Leather

How about a clothing business that doesn’t advertise, doesn’t want to outsource, and makes “customer happiness” their top priority?  Oh… and they’ve been around since 1947.

That’s Langlitz Leathers who make jackets and pants for motorcyclists.

Chapter 18 Artisan Sampler

How many different types of artisanal businesses can you think of?  Here’s the book’s lead-in:

This chapter is our admission that the artisan economy is broader than we ever imagined.  So here we celebrate a few of the artisan endeavors that we were unable to cover in more depth.

They include:

  • Chocolate Confections
  • Bullseye Glass
  • Yolo Colorhouse (house paints)
  • Ann Sacks Tile and Stone
  • Leatherman Knives
  • Pinkham Millinery (hats)
  • Amy Sacks Eyeware

The chapter finishes with reference endnotes for each of the sampled businesses, so that you can find out more for yourself.

Social Commentary and Macroeconomics

If you have the time and want to expand your thinking, it’s neatly encapsulated in Chapter 22, “Artisan Production and Economic Development”.  This chapter is a soothing chicken soup for entrepreneurs, and a sharp poke in the eye to just about everyone else.  Here are the headline recommendations:

  • The artisan economy is just beginning; imagine other applications.
  • Don’t let economists design your economic development strategy.
  • The next big thing may be small.
  • Don’t try to be cool if you’re not. (advice to politicians)
  • Transformative ideas are devalued if they’re oversold. (more advice to politicians)
  • Integrating the head, hands and heart is the best long-term strategy for supporting the transition to an artisan economy.
  • Don’t fix it – you will only make it worse. (advice to urban planners)
  • Don’t import bad ideas when we can grow our own. (advice to aspiring junketers)
  • Do more, do less, do nothing, do something different. (advice for everyone)

Summing Up…

For focused entrepreneurs and innovators, Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy isn’t worth buying… but parts of it are so useful and memorable that I recommend you download and read them via a subscription service like Oysterbooks.  That’s what I did, treating this as a business book rather than a socioeconomic commentary.  I highlighted useful items and then cut and pasted them into Evernote.

… And…

If you have a favorite Portland business, we’d like to hear about it.  Better yet, if it’s a GoodBusiness you’d recommend to a friend, we’d like to talk to the owner and find out how they became a customer favorite.  We’d love to hear from you!




  1. Syed Muhammad Abdur Rehmsilentkilleran says:

    Hahaha. It was fun reading your post. You arrested me into the flow of your words and i just could not stop. Anyway it is good than if I don’t spend my money to buy this book and it would be much better if I downloaded it right?

    • Chris Chadbourne says:

      ‘Brew to Bikes’ is growing on me, Syed, for a different reason. I’ve become very interested in the challenge of scaling up an artisan business; ‘Brew to Bikes’ is one of the few books that addresses the issue head on. But yes, I still recommend getting access to the book cheaply, and saving your hard-earned money for more valuable reads.

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