What Makes a Bike Shop Attractive to the Ladies

26 Sep

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.

Lots of Bikes

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.

This crowd was just the middle group. The chill and fast pace groups were elsewhere in the park.

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.

Start by recruiting friendly, fun and experienced ride leaders.

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.

Jersey Shopping

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.

Women Specific Gear Wide

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?

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Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Dirt Trails, Women & Bikes


15 responses to “What Makes a Bike Shop Attractive to the Ladies

  1. Rose

    September 26, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I’ve always felt welcomed at Passion and they are great with repairs. They take the extra time to explain how to get the max performance from your bike. I’ve also been on their women’s only rides and there will be a ride on Sept 28. I’d recommend any Mt Bike women to come and meet the great staff of Passion.

    • ladyfleur

      September 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      Hi Rose! Glad to know you’re coming on Saturday.

  2. ladyfleur

    September 26, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    BTW, Passion Trail Bikes is hosting another women’s ride on Saturday, September 28, 2013. Since it’s getting dark earlier these days, it’s a ride + brunch. Bring on the mimosas!

    Details are here:

  3. Rachel Unger

    September 26, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    For me, I keep going back to Cognition Cyclery in Mountain View. There are two reasons – they listen, and at some point they started to recognize me. They know which bike is mine when I come in to pick it up from getting something fixed! That’s attention to detail. I can bring the bike in with a problem, and they’ll listen to what I have to say instead of cutting me off or gazing off into space while I talk about problems with shifting/etc. I’m not wild about clothing or food selection there, but the repair shop and the staff are what make me a repeat customer.

    I used to go to Performance Bikes in Mountain View, but stopped going there because they never talked to me – they talked to my boyfriend. About my bike, or what I was looking for in a bike (when I was shopping for one). While I was standing there. Every time.

    • ladyfleur

      September 26, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      I’m glad Cognition is working for you. The first photo in the story and the one with the women’s mannequin and mountain bike were taken at Cognition last night. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the first thing you see now is that women’s display. I like the pale teal jacket.

      I really don’t know why some bike salesman talk to a guy you’re with vs. you. I know my former bike sales manager husband would make a point of continuing to address the female customer even when her male “expert friend” would sometimes try to take over the conversation.

  4. Nate

    September 27, 2013 at 9:41 am

    The shop I work for is much smaller than Passion Trail, and based in a more rural community. We do mostly new bike sales and repair, some accessories, basically no clothing sales. I’m the only employee (besides owner) and part time at that. We sell mostly hybrid bikes for rec use, some road bikes, some mtb.

    I want very much to be welcoming to anyone who comes in- and I want a reputation that would make anyone feel comfortable with the idea of visiting.

    We’ve had some luck with group rides, we did an all gravel ride that was 40% female, and I’d like to keep growing that.

    As far as attempts to be more inclusive, more attractive to women, I find that my behavior needs to be more consistent between genders. Things I try to work on and improve:

    1) No sneer: Doesn’t matter what ridiculous thing comes out of their mouths, my job is to gently guide, help them arrive at a few informed options, then get out of the way.

    2) Ask very careful questions (start with “What kind of riding do you see yourself doing on the bike?”) to find out their wants/needs, and their level of knowledge. This avoids the possibility of patronizing or confusing a customer.

    2) The biggie: Talk to the person who will be riding the bike. Esp with couples that have been together for awhile, and Dad/Daughter pairs, I need to deliberately pin the conversation on the rider, and not let the woman defer (take the easy way out and let Dad/Spouse decide) or the man dominate the conversation (make sure that the woman gets the bike that the man wants).

    From a business perspective, it baffles me that so many shops seem to ignore half their customer base. I’m interested in any ideas, in addition to the excellent ones mentioned above, that would help me get women interested in riding (and buying my bikes 😉

    • ladyfleur

      September 27, 2013 at 11:45 am

      Hi Nate, sounds like you’re on the right track with how you approach your customers. A local bike shop owner once said: “It’s about your customer’s dreams, not yours”

      I think what limits bicycling participation across all bike disciplines, ages and genders is simply having enough pleasant, comfortable and fun places to ride. It’s hard to sell bicycling if all the scenic backroads don’t have shoulders, if all the city streets are filled with high-speed traffic, if all the dirt trails go straight up the hill and if the nearest recreational bike path is a 20 minute drive. And even where there are good places to ride, people may not know where they are.

      Creating maps and descriptions of fun rides in your area for the different types of riding could be a start. Like a five mile family loop, a mellow 15 mile road ride, a more challenging dirt loop. Here are a couple of sample maps: a MTB route suitable for first timers and a 10 mile City Cruise for Art Lovers

  5. RoZa

    September 27, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    I personally go to a one man shop for 90% of repairs, Happy Trails Cyclery. He is willing to work on my tandem and my cargo bike, and is a nice guy to boot. The big shop in the area is a mountain bike shop and quoted me two weeks to fix the tandem as they don’t stock road bike parts. Well, Happy Trails had to order the part as well and my bike was back on the road in 5 days.

  6. RoZa

    September 27, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Er…guess what I was trying to say is that I prefer the personal touch and not walking into a boy’s club with a lot of people (usually all men) and merchandise (that isn’t what I am looking for), and trying to explain the issue’s with the bike or what type of part I am looking for. The people at the big shop are very nice and try hard and have a very efficent repair shop, but I didn’t realize that a wheel stabilizer was an esoteric item. Plus, when I told them my bottom bracket was clicking I was told that the bracket wasn’t loose and it was fine.

  7. hoghopper

    September 30, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I hate to post “me too” comments, but …

    I rent a bike from Passion Trails every year when I fy out to join some friends in a quest to cover as much of the peninsula’s delicious singletrack as we can ride in a four or five day weekend. (And we usually shake out the rentals at Waterdog, since it’s basically at the end of the driveway. It would be the best trail system in the state, were it in Texas). I think I like Passion Trails because of the comfortably casual customer experience — even for once-a-year customers impatient to get out of the shop and go ride. But that I know how it is growing trail participation for women, I like the store even more. The dirt needs more women, and more shops that know how to make them feel like they want to be there.

  8. Jean

    October 5, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Placing some women’s clothing/bikes at the front of the bike retail store window, door is useful….here in Calgary, the biggest bike shop puts women’s clothing area (a lot of it expensive lines) way over on the 2nd floor in a far corner and bikes in middle of store and also way over on the 2nd floor.

    Do they have women’s rides? I haven’t a clue..and I’m a long-time cyclist for past 2 decades.


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