My good friend, and contributor here- Sarai Snyder– recently wrote an excellent Guest Editorial in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRaIN) in the February 1st issue. I liked it so much, and felt it valuable enough, that I reached out to both Sarai and BRaIN for permission to run the full editorial here. There are many great points in the piece, many things I have felt and said for years, but I lack the genuine credibility on the topic that Sarai has.
We, the cycling industry, have done so little to really grow and support women in cycling- historically speaking. It IS getting better, and more women are holding important roles within the industry (which is a long overdue trend), but there is so much more to be done… and Sarai’s piece does a lot to help explain how easy some of those steps can be. It’s not just about the products, which we’ve done a reasonably good job of creating. There’s more to it, as Sarai points out.
With the industry in desperate need of growth and “new” consumers, women are an important part of our collective futures… so if you didn’t read the editorial in BRaIN, please give it a read now.
How to create a female following… and why you should care.
Women are the fastest-growing segment in the cycling market. More and more are hopping on bikes everyday, but retailers sometimes find it difficult to connect with female customers. By creating a comfortable environment for women to shop, learn and advance as cyclists, your business can become a natural hub for women who ride bikes. Surprisingly, that might not be as hard as you think.
Here are a few tips on how to create, develop and maintain a loyal female following:
1. Get to know the female cyclist. Much more than just another rider, women are a huge asset in building a strong cycling community. Women are more socially and locally aware. As natural communicators, we like to build communities focused around our passions in personal networks and online, sharing stories and empowering one another toward our greatest goals. For these reasons, female cyclists are rarely created individually, but in groups of two or more. One new female customer can mean several, making us an extremely valuable market to reach. Women are motivated to have a positive community impact and therefore likely to get involved in local events and advocacy—another great reason to encourage more female ridership.
2. Make a connection. A good relationship with a female customer starts by making a connection. Recognize that women are not the opposite of men. As cyclists, we want the same things: great bikes, gear, places to ride and people to ride with. Women who ride bikes are just as diverse as their male counterparts in bike needs and interests. Finding that commonality is the first opportunity to turn a casual female shopper into a loyal customer. It starts with having a conversation and asking questions. As with each person that walks in the door, getting to know what sort of rider they are, their goals and challenges, you can meet them where they are and take them where they want to go.
3. Build community. Since women are socially motivated, having a healthy community in and around your shop is essential. Women’s nights have been hugely successful at many shops. These events provide an exclusive opportunity to get women in the door, introduce products and provide education. Lessons on flat repair and drivetrain cleaning are basic, necessary skills that all cyclists need to know. Many women have had less exposure to tools and often are not expected to be as mechanically adept as men. So offering education in a non-threatening environment is highly productive. Once women learn some basic skills they will feel more comfortable at more inclusive cycling events and rides. Women’s nights also provide the opportunity to meet and find riding partners. Following it up with a regular group ride is an excellent way to keep the momentum going, making your shop a gathering place for female cyclists. As friendships develop, so will your community.
4. Have at least one female on staff. Seeing another female in the shop will make a woman more at ease the moment she walks in the door. A female employee is also invaluable in bringing balance and diversity to your business. Additionally, her observations can lead to candid conversations on improving shop etiquette, especially when dealing with female customers. If you find it challenging to hire a female employee, consider searching out a woman to be your ambassador in the community, assist with events, lead group rides and be a sounding board for effectively reaching out locally. These women are usually thrilled to assist in making purchasing decisions for women’s-specific gear and bikes.
5. Lastly, have women’s gear on the sales floor. For many shops this is a chicken or egg scenario. Which comes first, stocking women’s gear or having more women ready to buy? This can be a fine balancing act, but taking care to grow the community and the gear offerings equally over time is a winning combination. Loyal customers who feel well supported and respected are often willing to wait for special orders. Reaching female customers is only marginally related to the products you carry.
As mothers, teachers and caregivers, women have the greatest influence on future generations. Attracting and developing more female riders is our opportunity to push cycling into the mainstream, thus leading to safer, stronger cycling communities. Improving the bicycle retail experience for women is essential for causing this shift and ensuring the sustainability of the industry we all know and love.
The cycling industry, like nearly every other industry known to man, struggles to come to terms with the growth of online retail and how to adapt to it/ with it. The cycling industry- especially at the retail level- has been fighting to survive the battle against online retailers ever since the earlier catalog mail order days. The vast majority of retail IBDs have been unable or unwilling to compete with the buying power and discount pricing of many online retailers. For several years nows, the manufacturers in the industry have also struggled to come to terms with the growth of online retail. Many brands have tried to cultivate twin distribution channels, attempting to remain strong in both IBD and online worlds. For some brands and product categories, it has worked with relatively few issues. The main category, but certainly not the only one, to receive the greatest amount if scrutiny and angst has been bikes- complete or framesets.
There are many arguments why a brand would want to partner with online retailers, the biggest and most obvious being the sheer number of consumers doing their research about brands/ products online, and then hunting for that ever popular and hated “buy now” button. For traditional IBDs, there are plenty of reasons to fear online retailers- many online retailers offer prices that can be cheaper than what an IBD can buy a similar product for, thanks to their massive buying power and lower overhead. Online retailers, often referred to as evildoers attempting to undermine the health of the industry and put shops out of business, are far from The Evil Empire®. Is it fair to paint all online retailers as being ruthless bloodsuckers for simply being often more efficient and existing in the space where so many consumers spend vast amounts of time?
For brands, especially for smaller bike brands fighting for dollars in an increasingly competitive market with dominant incumbents increasing their control over retailers in the traditional IBD world, choosing to ignore online distribution- either through consumer-direct sales or with an online retailer- could spell death. With retailers often seeking to streamline their businesses, to keep things easier in a tough market or because of pressure from their major brands, smaller/ newer brands are left with very few options if they want to survive. Ignoring online distribution means saying “no” to consumers interested in their products. In my previous role as Brand Manager at Masi Bicycles, I had to frequently tell a consumer that I couldn’t directly sell them a bike, and that there were no online retailers who could sell them a bike… I had to say “no” to a sale. And I did it a lot. Masi had very large geographic areas without any retailers, and consumers in those areas who wanted to buy bikes… but we had to say no to selling direct and there were no retailers who could help them out. And things haven’t changed much in the industry in the few years since I was at Masi. It’s not entirely about small/ new brands either, because there are plenty of consumers who can’t get easy access to established brands too- or they simply choose not to deal with the local IBDs available to them. What are brands to do? Continue to say “no” and allow the brands who say “yes” to steal their sales?
For the IBD, there are numerous issues at play. If they attempt to compete on price, they may end up selling products- just to capture the sale- for less than they paid for the product, or at such a small profit that it becomes hardly worth stocking the product. Many retailers have had the experience of being “shopped” by consumers who use the retailer and their expertise to determine the proper product/ size/ fit that they need, only to have the consumer go home and buy online (or even within the store on their smart phones). Sometimes, it isn’t enough to explain the added value of personal service, good relationships, and proper product knowledge that the consumer misses by shopping online. Many consumers are addicted to the thrill of getting the ultimate “deal”, even if the shipping and/ or labor to install/ set up the new widget brings the IBD and online source to pricing parity. There is an increasing number of consumers who just flat-out prefer to shop online, for everything they purchase. This coming Christmas season is expected to be another record-breaking year for online sales. In fact, just this past week, UPS shares went up significantly in value based on reports by the company of the anticipated increase in business due to online sales. Even if an IBD is able to entice consumers into their shop, there is always the chance that they will not have the item in stock and need to order it themselves, increasing the desire of the consumer to go home and order it… and possibly get free freight, unlike the IBD!
Online retailers, have struggled for years to develop a better buying experience than walking into the local trusted retailer. Sometimes it’s easy, and other times it’s not. Online retailers without knowledgable staff, or with high turnaround, can struggle to survive as well. It takes a lot of volume of low margin closeouts to keep the lights on and the computer server humming. Having the right mix of product and inventory is an equal challenge for online as well. There has to be a balance of closeout inventory pulling in the low-price consumer, as well as new and currently hot products (at full margin) to keep “the geeks” coming back. Logistics is its own nightmare too, especially for larger companies doing their own private label products.
With brands, the answer will likely settle into a hybrid model of traditional IBD retailers and some sort of online presence. Either consumer-direct sales or some version of a “buy now/ buy local” option on brand websites, even if it directs the consumer to a nearby retailer- similar to Shopatron. For the retailer, the answer is likely going to require developing both an online presence, and learning how to offer a buying experience that trumps the convenience of buying online and potentially saving tons of money. And online retailers are increasingly attempting to develop IBD footprints, as well as learning how to increase profitability without just selling an increased volume of closeout products at low margins.
Overall, the answer is going to be uncomfortable at times, and is going to require a lot of dialog between all parties. There are many more pieces to the puzzle, and nobody seems to have the lid to the box so we can all look at the picture and figure it out. Consumers are online. A lot. They’re comfortable buying everything from watches to clothing to food to cars… and bikes. Brands need to reach more consumers- the industry has not had enough growth beyond its regular customers in over 10 years. Retailers have to make money and reach consumers- whether online or off the sidewalk. With the market’s hyper-competitive environment, the answer is likely going to get muddier before it gets much clearer.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser
I love my “job” here as the Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser! I get to “work” with some of my favorite people on the planet, some of the sharpest minds I know, and just genuinely good people. A perfect example of that is our newest contributor, who happens to also be a good friend of mine (though she can be a troublemaker- “she started it”)- Sarai Snyder. Sarai is one of the most genuinely passionate advocates I have ever encountered in cycling, but when it comes to women in cycling, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody more passionate, or knowledgeable. That’s high praise indeed, given the exemplary women I know in this world of cycling. And, I’d be willing to bet that all the other women I know, would agree with my assessment.
Sarai is genuinely one of my favorite people in the world of cycling, and on that same precious list outside of the context of cycling. She’s kinda the ginger-haired, freckled little sister I never had. And if she doesn’t stop touching my stuff and get out of my room, I’m gonna yank her pigtails!
As is the tradition here, I’ll let Sarai cover her own intro… if for no other reason than the fact I absolutely LOVE making all of my contributors talk about themselves in the third person voice.
Growing up in the hills of Kentucky, rolling around on bicycles meant riding on anything other than paved roads and cement sidewalks. At the age of 10, with her younger sister Tamar by her side, Sarai would bomb down steep hillsides and launch off homemade jumps.
Several years later, on her new-to-her Barracuda, she found that mountain biking was what she was born to do. Some say, in 1994, when she went out for her first mountain bike ride, she never really came back.
In 2005, Sarai became intimately involved with one of her local bike shops and soon took on the role of manager. The shop noticed an immediate shift. The number of women showing up for group rides and making purchases grew substantially.
Seeing the importance of community involvement in building the local cycling culture, Sarai started working with local advocacy organizations and later co-founded Queen City Bike, now Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s non-profit cycling advocacy organization. With an education in fine art, Sarai felt she had finally found a practical application for her creative skills, bringing a fresh perspective to actively encouraging more cyclists.
Taking the knowledge and experience she gained in Kentucky, Sarai moved to Boulder, Colorado where she founded Girl Bike Love. Recognizing the need for a larger women’s cycling community, the mission of Girl Bike Love is “to educate and empower women in cycling”. With such a simple mission, the online community has grown beautifully, connecting women all around the world.
With the support of this passionate group of followers, in the spring of 2012, CycloFemme – A Global Women’s Cycling Day was launched. In just 9 short weeks, 163 rides were registered in 14 countries. In 2013 those numbers grew to 229 rides in 31 countries.
Sarai loves every aspect of cycling and is constantly challenged to decide which discipline she loves most. Outside of running Girl Bike Love and CycloFemme, Sarai spends most of her time consulting for cycling companies, writing, and riding.
Perfect! Third person… I love it.
Now it’s time to prove just how damn smart she is.
We, as an industry, need to read these words and really chew on them and digest them. There IS a Revolution, and it IS here now; how are WE going to be a part of it? If you’re on the outside looking in and trying to “figure this out”, you could learn a lot by getting involved and listening. LISTENING. Small word, big concept.
While most of the cycling industry spent their time at Interbike ogling fresh lines and paint schemes, fumbling new gadgets, trading stories with old friends, searching out the next best happy hour, and hand counting the number of consumers they personally witnessed on day three, a notable revolution was taking place in a cozy little corner of the showroom floor with comfy couches, pillows, velvet stools and gasp – WOMEN.
Throughout the three day show the Women’s Lounge hosted by the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition (OIWC) was abuzz with momentum.
Women from all over the industry came together in quiet little game changing meetings while most others quietly strolled on by.
As the cycling industry continues it’s pursuit of “What Women Want” they largely fail to ask, listen, watch and learn from the very demographic they are trying to reach. Most will read this article, snicker and point fingers.
We all know it’s true. Many will say “We are being innovative, we listen, we like women, look here, we have an entire line of amazing women’s products”.
And while amazing products are much appreciated, this is exactly when it becomes clear who is missing the boat.
The answer to attracting the female consumer is only marginally related to product. Women are not the opposite of men. Women are riders, cyclists, mountain bikers, roadies, commuters, huckers, bmxers, fixies, pros, messengers, bike tourers, and track racers just as men are. Our gender does not change the fact that as such we want bikes and gear that fit well, function flawlessly, look good and make us feel even better. We want great places to ride, great bike shops and mechanics to care for our bikes, and great events and races to participate in.
Above all, as women, we want to be supported and acknowledged as equals, not physically the same, but as riders, racers, consumers and leaders. In turn, we use our buying power and our social influence to vote for the companies that are doing just that.
There is an emerging core of women in cycling that are creating strong partnerships, with great ethics, professionalism and powerful leadership. We are being innovative in our relationships, aligning with non endemic partners. We are working together to actively, strategically, and effectively attract more women to cycling.
So why does this matter to you, to your brand, to the cycling industry as a whole?
Because we have the women’s cycling market at our fingertips. And contrary to traditional marketing set forth in the industrial or marketing economies of the past, as Seth Godin suggests, “we are living in a connection economy”. Today, branding and marketing strategy hinges on the emotional connection.
By proudly supporting and investing in women’s cycling organizations, initiatives, and individuals that are directly cultivating the women’s cycling community there is a special opportunity to create lasting, authentic, emotional connections with female consumers.
The question is no longer “how do we attract more women to cycling?” but “how do we support those who are?”
Next time the opportunity arises to engage with the leaders of the women’s cycling revolution, take the time to create that emotional connection, to listen, to ask how you can show your support, and above all to say ‘thank you’.
The revolution is not about quicker shifting, cleaner cable routing, lighter, stronger, faster bikes, wheels, shoes or helmets. The revolution is not a product, the revolution is women in cycling.
Short and sweet… a lot like Sarai herself.
Are YOU… are WE… a part of the Revolution, or watching on the sidelines worrying about the restless masses? As you evaluate your marketing dollars (as I look at my own), consider the possibility that you might effect actual sales of your products/ services by supporting a growing customer base that is clamoring for your simple acknowledgement of their existence.
Cinelli is one of the iconic brands in cycling, around since the late 40’s in one capacity or another. Cinelli is responsible for lasting designs and innovations that will be part of cycling’s history and heritage into the next millennia and beyond. The incredible history of the brand is something any company would like to have.
It is not to say that Cinelli has not had its problems and defeats, as well as all those victories. There have been many setbacks along the way, but Cinelli has managed to always smartly find a way to climb back from the abyss and reestablish itself as a brand to be reckoned with.
Cinelli had fallen on some pretty rough times in the 90’s, but then they introduced a very innovative handlebar extension called Spinaci. These clever extensions became exceptionally popular with racers around the globe and at the highest levels of the sport. Sadly, the international governing body of cycling- the UCI- decided they were unsafe and banned them from competition in mass start events. This meant the death of Spinaci and the countless copycat products they’d spawned. This also threw Cinelli back into some rough waters.
The brand never went away and was never all that close to vanishing, but the image had been dented again and the name was fading from the hierarchy of brands at the top of the sport- despite the best efforts of the products and the engineers and designers at Cinelli.
Ultimately, what saved the brand and has kept it alive to this day, is the brand’s great eye for Italian design. Cinelli has always had a strong reputation for iconic modern Italian design. From the famous winged “C” logo, to the hallmark use of color and an eye for spotting trends. This all lead to Cinelli constantly maintaining a cult following of rabid fans willing to look past mistakes or missteps, eagerly awaiting the next design- whether with glee or morbid curiosity.
It’s the eye for design and ability to remain “current” with fashionable trends that gave the fans something to love. And those fans have spanned multiple generations. The young fans of today are largely in love with the deigns of the past- and Cinelli has been smart enough to give them what they want. Cinelli has remained relevant by listening to their fans and allowing them to dictate where the brand is going… or returning to.
The strength of Cinelli today lies in the fact that the brand has been co-opted by the fixed gear/ urban cycling culture. Most of the fans of Cinelli now only know of the brand’s vintage appeal from the aesthetic, as opposed to the long history of race wins and product innovation. They’re drawn more to the cool factor than anything else… and Cinelli has no problem with that at all. Which is a stroke of pure genius.
In this incredibly cutthroat market for bikes and parts, Cinelli has been able to rise above the fray and retain it’s sense of style and elegance. The Cinelli of today looks a lot like the Cinelli of decades prior because that is what the consumers of today have been begging for. From aligning themselves with arguably the strongest name in the fixed gear subculture- MASH SF– to reissuing the products that originally built the Cinelli name, they have placed themselves in the center of a very visible and vocal segment of the cycling world.
Cinelli stands out as a brand that understands who they are, who they aren’t and who their true customers are and what they want. Unlike many brands who tell their customers what they want- or should want- Cinelli listens and gives their customers what they have asked for. It sounds stupidly easy to do, yet too few companies even bother to try; the idea of letting go of control is too frightening. It isn’t to say that Cinelli simply spits out product by request- they still design avant-garde products that push the edge of being a freak show highlight. It’s this blend of innovation and retro reproduction that keeps Cinelli alive today…
… and is likely to keep them alive tomorrow too.
Chief Kool-Aid Dispenser