Hitting The Mark

Photo by Juan Rodriguez, AntiGravity Equipment

Photo by Juan Rodriguez, AntiGravity Equipment

Before my friend Yvonne left for the Midwest to further her education, she left me a curious little doll called a Daruma. Daruma dolls are regarded as a source of good luck by the Japanese. They are known to represent, among many other things, encouragement and perseverance in the fulfillment of goals. They come in different colors and sizes. They are hollow and weighted at the bottom so that if tipped over, the little doll will spring back to it's upright position symbolizing the ability to get back up when you get knocked down. My Daruma, like all others, came with blank eyes. My task was to come up with a goal, fill in one eye and work hard to complete my goal so I could fill in the other. In this way, every time the little doll caught my attention, I'd be reminded that I had something that I needed to be working towards. 

When I first set out to open AntiGravity Equipment I had half an idea of how the business plan should go, but I'll admit, it was largely based on luck. There were plenty of things I had no idea about, but being resourceful, I researched things I wasn't sure about and either learned how to do them myself or made connections with people that could help me get it done. I remember 3 years ago sitting in an office downtown at a place called SCORE, where volunteers offered small business advice for free. A gentleman sat across from me and a former business partner with a stack of helpful documents on how to get a business registered and made official in the state of Oregon. I remember clearly during our conversation, he asked me to think about what my end game looked like. What would it take for me to consider my climbing shop a place that offered a complete service to the greater Portland metro area, and in what time line did I expect to complete it? Then, I could work backwards from that and set milestones that I could work towards so I could hit the mark.

The shop had taken many twists and turns since it's inception in December of 2014. A year after it's opening, my business partner decided not to continue on the joint venture. More than a few times the shop came closer to closing it's doors than I care to remember. Incorrect decisions sometimes led to nauseating and sinking feelings reflected in a depleted bank account. Personal time became something of a luxury when a typical work week consisted of 6 days with hours often starting at 8 and ending at 10. Compared to the many other jobs that have to be done on a daily basis to keep a growing shop open, the customer service was a breeze and is what I most looked forward to but the work would not stop there. Every day there was something to be done. Accounting, social media, product ordering, product knowledge, order forecasts, staying on top of current events, safety standards, manufacturing practices, advertising, event planning, sales meetings, trade shows, web work, all had to be attended to, learned, or practiced on a daily basis to keep the shop relevant and growing; without these things in place, I would not be able to offer my best service to a customer base that I wanted to reach across the entire Portland metro area.

Photo by Juan Rodriguez, AntiGravity Equipment

Photo by Juan Rodriguez, AntiGravity Equipment

By the time my friend Yvonne had gifted me the Daruma doll in the summer of 2016, I was half way into my 3-year goal of having a complete shop, but I was very behind in the milestones I'd set up to hit that 3-year mark. I've always been a goal-oriented person and few things bother me more than unfinished business.

I remember feeling stressed while at the shop one day; a bad call on some inventory set my funds back farther than I'd anticipated. I took a chance on some new, expensive equipment and it wasn't moving; I couldn't really afford the hit. I was cursing myself for making a rash and impulsive decision. The little yellow egg-shaped Daruma doll was sitting on my desktop peeking out from under one of the computer monitors. I pressed my index finger into my thumb, held it close, and released the compression giving the little toy a flick. It went down, rolled around in circles a couple of times and weeble-wobbled it's way back to standing position literally giving me a blank stare. 7 times down, 8 times up. It's a popular Japanese phrase used often in correlation with Darumas.

I grabbed a fine-tipped, black sharpie marker from the drawer, picked up the doll, and I wrote "successful shop" on the back of it. I turned it's face up in my hand and filled in one tiny black dot for an eye and set it back down.

For the next year and half, the Daruma doll lived on that desktop. True to its meaning, every time I saw it I'd be reminded that I needed to take steps if I wanted to build the best climbing shop from Portland to Beaverton. A few times a week I'd come in and do some tasks after I flicked it to knock it over and watch it stand back up. One time, I flicked it and it landed on its face and it didn't stand back up and it actually kind of scared me. For a second I took it like a bad omen and since then I was careful to flick it onto it's back... just in case.

Next month will be 3 years since the climbing shop officially opened it's doors inside of Stoneworks. Due to our reviews and active social media posts, the shop's customer base has slowly been attracting athletes looking for climbing gear and expert advice in categories beyond technical rock. Currently there are just a few things left to do to finish the construction on the second half of the shop. There are small piles of gear in the closet that can't go up on the walls yet until the construction is done. Once that is completed we can start filling in with the stored equipment in the remaining categories of snow, ice, and mountaineering.

As I see wood frames go up, peg boards screwed to the wall, and boxes of gear arriving weekly, I'm reminded that things are quickly moving into place so I can reach my goal. All around, people are pulling together with me to help make it happen. Matt from Stoneworks is working on construction. Daniel from BigTime Marketing is helping me navigate my digital eco-system. Andy is working a few weekends a month to give me a little break and to help me get the online store ready for the new year. Every week we have more customers from farther across the greater Portland area coming in to purchase their climbing gear and staying for the atmosphere.

Photo by Juan Rodriguez, AntiGravity Equipment

Photo by Juan Rodriguez, AntiGravity Equipment

As I stand on the doorstep of a 3-year goal, I'm under no illusions of a finish line. This is merely one in many long term goals to come. The completion of a goal this size does, however, positively affect projections for future milestones. In this remaining year and a half that talisman has played a role in keeping me focused and reminded me to make careful, intelligent business decisions. It reminded me to continue seeking out resources and to pay attention to opportunities that could bring me closer to hitting the mark. There were still many stomach-sinking days in this year and a half (I'm sure there are more to come). There were still times when I made wrong decisions that would result in a set back. There were days where circumstances beyond my control would interfere with the progress. There were times were I was just plain having a bad run. Something that helped me a lot in those times to get over the rut, was knocking the Daruma over to watch it spring back up and I'd remember the iconic phrase "7 times down, 8 times up"; a reminder to get back up when you get knocked down; stay focused and persevere. This is merely one in many long term goals to come. For now, I've got a fine-tipped black sharpie ready to fill in that second little eye and mark the completion of a major milestone in my pursuit of building the best climbing shop that I can.

-Juan Rodriguez


Juan Rodriguez