What are bike retailers missing from their women’s sections?

Woman & Bike Frames

It’s not controversial to say that the bicycle industry has been historically male oriented, sometimes intimidating and alienating towards women. And yet more and more females around the world are riding bikes, of all categories and price points.

From the outmoded practice of using podium girls at bike races; to unimaginative female-targeted advertising featuring clichéd images of butterflies and flowers (or worse, where women’s bodies continue to be an object to titillate); tokenistic ‘pink’ women’s sections and the latent (and often overt) sexism all too often on display from bike shop staff; we haven’t put our best foot forward in terms of attracting the women’s cycling dollar.

That aside, the bike industry has at least woken up to the fact that growing the spend from women, beyond the traditional kids bikes, baskets and spongy saddles, is not just important; it’s critical.

The most recent Australian Bike Industry report[1] highlights that not only do females make up 53% of our population, but crucially, they control 80% of all Australian household budgets and up to 95% of lower economic household budgets.  In effect, they are the gatekeepers of spending decisions and this is no less the case in bike stores. But it’s a mistake to see women as mere influencers on purchasing decisions of their partners and children; women are of course active, serious and valuable cycling consumers in their own right.

In response, 58% of Australian bike shops now have female specific displays in their stores and 17% have run female specific promotions in the previous 12 months1. Market leading bike companies like Specialized, Trek and Giant, have to their great credit, also meaningfully invested in their women’s ranges, marketing and customer activations for many years now.

Putting that aside though, the majority of women’s sections in a bike shop typically lack one crucial thing;

Women.

I don’t mean women customers. I mean female staff.

If you seriously want to connect, communicate, understand and sell to women; employ women on your sales floor and in your workshops. Just 15% of staff in the bicycle retail industry are female, and the majority of those are employed in administrative roles[2]. The same goes for distributors. Whilst we are seeing a few more female brand managers and sales reps, these roles are still disproportionately male dominated. And we can and should extend that to senior management.

I know for a fact there are exceptions amongst the more progressive retailers, distributors and brands in the bicycle industry; but they are still seriously in the minority.

You already stock and range more women’s relevant cycling products than you probably realise; they’re called pumps, locks, lights, tyres, tubes, tools etc. They don’t need to be pink, made for smaller hands or for wider sit bones, to be cycling products that women use. So, in effect, you already have a significant and compelling women’s range in your store.

But the biggest and best investment you can make to seriously attract women’s spend in your cycling business (retail or wholesale), is women themselves.

Jonathon Nunan

jonathon@betterbikebusiness.com

[1] Bicycle Industry Australia Survey Report – Wholesale (2013/14)

[2] Bicycle Industry Australia Survey Report – Retail (2013/14)

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Jonathon,
    Great work, and we are doing our part at Club Ride to help. First we are hiring women to work for our company in key positions, design, product development, sales, marketing. Then we listen to them. Then we make products that make women feel beautiful rather than try to look like objects of podium girls and that perform. Now we encourage more stores to: 1) employee women 2) have dedicated products 3) have nice clean change rooms with mirrors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Superb stuff Scott. All power to you. Hopefully others see what you do and take heed. Nice kit by the way. I reckon you’d do OK with that in Australia. Cheers. Jonathon

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m always banging on about this, more women cycling means the kids are more likely to cycle and then hubby comes too instead of going off on his own or with his mates. More women encourages others and should lead to less road rage and tolerance out there. This might sound a bit sexist but it’s not intended, more women involved means less emphasis on the technical aspects which can be intimidating to newbies of both sexes. Many people feel the same as when they go into a car garage (myself included here) when they don’t have a clue and can feel fobbed off sometimes. I certainly get get too technical for people if I’m not carefull.

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    1. Thanks for the input David. It’s not often in today’s day and age where the the right thing to prosecute from a socio-cultural standpoint, is also accepted as the smart thing to do commercially. Just like more women on the front benches of our parliaments and more women in the boardrooms of our major companies, more women working in our bike stores and distributors, is both the right move and the smart move.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kurt Rihs says:

    In the e-bike sub-segment of the bike market in Europe, “female frame” bikes are dominating and they not only used by women. Their ease of use with any kind of attire make them attractive for males, particularly older males as well. Hence we are starting our e-bike business with folding and female frames, expecting to sell to many female users from the beginning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kurt. We are just starting to see the start of real interest in e-bikes here in Australia. There have been some pioneering retailers in this segment around for a few years now; but now we are starting to see mainstream IBDs starting to look at ranging e-bikes.

      I wish you all the best for your e-bike business. Are you employing women in your store? Cheers. Jonathon

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sarah says:

    But sadly all the replies are from men! I’m a mechanic (mid life job change, really did not enjoy being a secretary) and my boss is female. It is a constant source of amusement to see people reevaluate their preconceptions when I tell them I’m the mechanic. And yes, women have a lot of buying power/choice but when it comes to bikes we find Mr will spend say £500-800 on his steed, but she’s lucky not to get the cheapest s/he can find. We are trying to educate our customers that equality stands even in the bike trade!!

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    1. Hi Sarah. Great to have your contribution and even better to see yet another woman on the tools in the hardest working, most important part of any successful bike shop. You are helping to water down that ‘source of amusement’ every day you stand in the workshop, by helping to ‘normalise’ your role as being performed by a woman. It seems crazy even having to write those words in this day and age; especially in a progressive and modern country like the UK. Its no different here in Australia to be honest; although things have improved significantly on this front in recent years.

      It is true to say that the default position of most sales people in bike shops around the world, is to see a woman customer and automatically take her to the cheap end of the bike rack; typically to the step through bike with the basket and kickstand; or to the bottom of the P&A display, where the $20 plastic pumps and velcro seatbags sit. There is a significant amount of deprogramming that needs to take place with bike shop sales staff in terms of their different responses or preconceptions to gender. They need to learn to see each customer as a cyclist first; as a commuter, a ‘roadie’, a single tracker, audaxer, urbanite fixie rider…whatever. Approach women customers the same way they do men and heaven forbids, they might rightly expect similar return per sale on those customers (suitable bike/accessory/clothing availability and ranging depending of course).

      Women also need to push back when faced with this assumptive, presumptuous sales service. Ask the bike shop employee why they were automatically taken to the $300 hybrids, when they might have been open to consider the $3K carbon flat bar instead? Why were they handed the $40 pair of 6 panel shorts to try, when they were looking to spend $250+ on a pair of lightweight, seamless, compression race bibs? Bike shop staff and bike shops need to be challenged more. They need to realise that the reason they are not attracting the spend from women, is because they are making assumptions about their needs and wants and not taking them or treating them seriously. They need to feel embarrassed about this.

      They also need more women like yourself chipping away at these limiting preconceptions from the inside. Every day you do your job, you’re helping to change things. Every person that works with you; every customer who hands you their bike; and every rep that sees you at the workbench, will have their preconceptions and assumptions openly challenged (or perhaps reaffirmed). Whichever, they will be forced to see you role and their own just that little bit differently. And hopefully that will help to see more women taken seriously as customers as well.

      All power to you.

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  5. cyclewirks says:

    I never assume I know what a new customer wants, I have people (male and female) at both ends of the scale. Until you get to know them you just have to ask and then steer them in the right direction.
    Incidentally I have worked with two female mechanics and it probably drove me more nuts than them when they would be asked to talk to the mechanic or ,even worse, talked over their heads!

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  6. It’s a fine line of course. Not assuming what customer’s want or what they will be happy to spend. But also being confident and knowledgeable enough to lead and guide on the sale. Which to a great extent is the kind of service most customers look for in any specialist retailer. Consumers are happy to be led; just not instructed or predetermined. Sticking to the theme of this conversation; I wonder if this requires an emotional intelligence more prevalent in women than men?

    Liked by 1 person

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