Sometimes “Group Think” Isn’t a Bad Thing

Chris Meeker felt only the slightest hesitation, and only for a moment or two. He was about to tell his coworkers that he and his wife and business partner, Erika Leaf, had decided to close their graphics, printing and photography companies on February 28.

Around the same time, January 16, Shane MacRhodes came out of the Albertsons store on 18th Avenue and felt a similar lump in his throat. His cargo bicycle had been stolen.

Both men decided to “go public” during a time of personal vulnerability. The results were amazing.

Shane immediately posted a photo of the empty bike rack on Instagram. He then called his wife to say he’d be home with groceries a little later than planned. On his way home, he called the police. That evening, he posted photos of the bike that had been taken, asking everyone to keep an eye out for his bike.

After that company meeting, Chris and Erika began informing their clients of their decision. The story led The Register-Guard’s business section later that week. They chose not to sell the business or their client list, although they had offers.

“We wanted to treat everyone with the respect they had treated us with,” Chris said. Selling the business carried too many risks, in his estimation. “All I’ve seen are the train wrecks,” when new owners take over and make changes.

Shane likewise knew the risks. Even for a quick grocery run, he always locks his bike. He became distracted that afternoon when a friend and bicycle courier happened by. As Eugene 4J School District’s Safe Routes to School program manager, he has had many opportunities to network with other bicycle advocates here in Eugene and across the West Coast. Their conversation took his attention away from his locking routine.

Within days or hours, everyone knew about the losses that Chris and Shane were confronting. Imagine Group’s newsletter announcement drew over 100 responses. Shane’s Facebook post quickly prompted 132 comments. “Overwhelming” was the word Chris used.

“Community has always been important to me,” Shane told me. “So it was just my natural response to reach out.” The response from friends, as well as friends-of-friends was not only heartwarming. It was also heartening. “I just thought maybe somebody might see the bike around town.”

“What can you accomplish with a group?” Chris wondered aloud. “That’s always been part of what drives our business. We wanted to close it the same way we opened it and how we ran it.” So they decided to be completely open and honest with everyone who asked.

Without rumors or secrecy, Imagine’s management was able to devote their energies to making smooth transitions — finding new jobs for their employees and matching their clients’ needs with other vendors. Every one of their coworkers found new jobs that will further their careers. That was the biggest fear Chris had felt. That was the lump in the throat. “I knew once we told everyone our plan, there was no backing out.”

A few days after Shane posted his loss on social media, he got an email from a colleague in Humboldt County. His bicycle had just appeared on Craig’s List in northern California. After again asking for wisdom from his community, one designee from California contacted the seller, who apologized that he couldn’t show him the bike because he was “stuck in Eugene.”

Another contact was made. The seller gave his real name. Local police got involved. Friends did some on-line sleuthing and they found a likely address. Shane’s bike was on the porch, minus its front wheel. It was returned to Shane late that Friday night.

Chris and Erika will be spending the next month or two tying up loose ends, preparing their building on Garfield to be leased, and then beginning a tour of national parks with their 13-year-old son. They’ve intentionally made no plans beyond that.

What can you accomplish with a group? Plenty.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. The full story of Shane MacRhodes’ stolen bicycle is at http://www.webikeeugene.org/2014/01/27/velo-posse-recovers-stolen-bike-thieves-beware/