Women in the Bike Industry, Who is to Blame?
There is a hot debate going on at Bike Hugger. Two articles are to be mentioned : The first is “Women as Outcast’s in Cycling Industry.” The author goes on to tell about how it was very difficult for his wife to find a bike that truly fit her, even after trying several different types of bikes and bike shops. He ends his story with a suggestion that every shop have a key individual for fitting problems. The follow up to the above article is “It’s Women’s Fault.” After a tweet, that mentioned that women are walking into the bike shop without knowledge. Changing blame from the bike industry, to the shoppers themselves.
My original thought to this was, how ironic that both of these articles are wrote by a gentleman. A well rounded, educated, cycling, gentleman – but a guy. My brain then went in full tilt as these are things I deal with daily running a bike shop, and monthly in the cycling culture surrounding the internet. Cycling is a double edge sword when it comes to education, training, customer service and what I will call “the boys club.” Many people walk into a bike shop every day, not knowing what they want or why they want it. Apparently, all customers can be broken down into 2 of 4 personality types. All the sales training classes, education and personal experience I have had.. its true! Here’s the catch, it doesn’t matter if they are male or female!! Why do companies such as the Ikea or Apple excel in a hard economy? They know how to educate their staff, keep a store and help their customers. Sure, it sounds great and easy but it isn’t. The bike industry is a hard one to walk into, most employees are paid less than a comparable job in a different industry, the learning curve is steep, products change daily and that damn internet is telling customers all our secrets. (Half joking on that last one.)
Why do women notice?
Women notice how a store is kept, customer service, knowledge and experience because they tend to be shoppers. They are sensitized to all of the above thanks to shopping with companies that have their act together. Walk into your local Gap or Brookstone, follow by walking into three of your local bike shops and then tell me your feelings as you left each one.
Women Spend Money
Make two different fitting bikes, create a line of women’s clothing and now multiple it by 2 because you need choices for a woman to pick between. Create a buzz, a community, a clean store with knowledgable, well kept employees and you’ll see the bikes and clothing. Why? Because women want to buy those things, they want to be better cyclist, outfit their bike and body and feel GOOD about it. Make them feel good, give them a reason for purchasing and they will buy it.
The Boys Club
I’ve worked in the industry for a long time and have a pretty thick skin. Still there are things that once in a blue moon will kick me off my rocker. If you want to become your local area’s “women’s shop” I would recommend to hire 2 women that know something or another about bikes, and can learn. Pay them $2 more per hour than their male counterpart, believe me they will earn it and will deal with more crap than $2 per hour can make up for. If you happen to be a bike shop owner or manager, don’t let the boys club get out of hand. A joke here or there is good thing, but comments about female customers, employees or female products should be stopped quickly.
There is No Easy Answer
Changes need to happen from both ends. Bike manufactures need to stop painting bikes pink for floor models, and need to give more choices to women. They also need to encourage training, merchandising and demo’s. Bike shop managers and owners need to take large jumps forward from human resources to store design. Create a shop you would be proud to show to your mother for a week at a time, not just for a drive by visit.