Last spring at the Women’s History Ride in San Francisco I met young woman who had worked for one of the “Big Three” bike manufacturers on their successful women’s product line. On the long train ride down the Peninsula, we chatted about how, why and when women buy bicycles and gear, based on her experience and her company’s extensive research on how to reach this huge, largely untapped market.
Part of her job as a product marketing manager meant visiting retailers and training them on best practices for selling to women. As surprising as it may sound, some of her company’s dealers were able to do over half their business selling to women. Their key strategies included hiring women to work in their shops, offering repair classes for women, organizing women’s group rides, and hosting “ladies nights” at their shops.
She found it frustrating that many dealers weren’t receptive. Maybe they didn’t think there was much demand out there. Maybe it was too big a shift from the status quo. Maybe they didn’t know how to take that first step.
But some shops do get it right, like Passion Trail Bikes in Belmont. That’s remarkable since Passion Trail focuses on mountain biking, a market that in our area is even more overwhelmingly male than road cycling. Even more remarkable is that it focuses on high-end bikes that are more commonly purchased by men.
Passion Trail’s founders started off building community by setting aside a beer and root beer lounge area for customers and by hosting “Wednesday Wrides” with post-ride BBQs that regularly draw over 50 riders. Then they went one step further by reaching out specifically to women, starting with founder Patty teaching new mostly female riders in small groups as a part of the Wednesday Wrides, and expanding to host monthly “Female Fridays” where dozens of women gather to ride together and are given the royal treatment.
All rides leave from the shop and roll a couple of miles across town to Water Dog Lake, a small city-owned open space that’s is known for challenging trails, most built by experienced mountain bikers, including founders and staff from Passion Trails. Water Dog is all about skinny singletrack carved into sides of steep canyons and tight turns and narrow wooden bridges. More technical than most local parks, it can be intimidating for less skilled riders. Many have been bitten by the ‘dog and have limped home with severe sprains or broken bones.
So how does a shop selling high-end mountain bikes entice women to a group ride on technical trails? They started by recruiting a few female customers with experience as ride leaders that also had female riding buddies. Then they recruited men as BBQ chefs and bartenders (that part was pretty easy). They promoted the event in the shop’s weekly newsletter, on their Facebook page and asked their ride leaders to promote it too.
At the event, the ride leaders helped the women divide into groups: a “chill” group taking a slower pace on less technical trails; a faster-pace group with fewer regroups for riders wanting a workout; and a large middle group that wanted to do the same technical trails as the fast group but at a more casual pace.
After the ride, the shop hosted a party with a gourmet dinner and cocktails prepared by the guys. I can’t tell you how much the women appreciated being served and how proud the men were to show off their culinary skill. The shop was also open for minor bike repairs and shopping for that next pair of favorite shorts or a new cute new jersey. Having other women around for gear advice and to help with important decisions like jersey color choice made shopping not only more efficient but a lot more fun too.
I’m sure my friends can add more, but here’s my advice for bike shops who want to sell more to women:
- Host a women’s ride. If you don’t have enough women on your staff or among your loyal customers to host one, take a hard look at how inviting your shop is to the average woman who walks in off the street.
- Offer bike repair classes for women. But avoid implying that riders “should” be able to do much more than pump their tires and fix a flat. Many women do want to learn how to repair their bikes, but not all. Don’t assume one way or the other, just ask: “Do you want me to show you how to do this?”
- Don’t call mellow, less technical trails “beginner” trails. Many riders who prefer gentler trails (or roads) have been riding for years, they just may not be looking for technical or physical challenges when they ride. Don’t imply they should be advancing their skills or strength.
- Put some women specific items out front. When women walk into a store and see items designed for women they get the message that they belong, even if the bike or jersey isn’t their style. Don’t worry, the guys will find mens clothing. Most are probably paying more attention to the bikes and gear anyway.
What’s in it for retailers? Women’s products currently only account for 14% of sales in bike industry, but they account for 34% in snow sports and a whopping 46% in running. I’d say there’s a huge opportunity knocking.
Women, does your local bike shop do anything special that you like? Are there things they could do that might make you a more loyal customer? Are there things you wish they would quit doing?