Selling to the Ladeez

A random conversation on Twitter yesterday evening (responding to this nice post on Chasing Mailboxes) threw up a plea from someone in the US: “In all seriousness, as a guy (trying) to sell bikes to women, I’d love to hear your do’s/don’ts”

This got me thinking. I’ve had mixed experiences in bike shops, and I don’t think this is something unique to women either. When I was first looking for a replacement for my old bike, I didn’t really feel that any of the bike shops I went into were trying to sell me the sort of bike I wanted, and were instead concentrating on trying to sell me the sort of bike they had. It didn’t help that I wasn’t able to use the right words to describe it beyond ‘I just want a bike bike.’* I knew what I wanted, all right: I wanted a bike that looked like the sort of bike I remembered growing up, I wanted it to be comfortable on longer (for me) rides, I wanted a practical bike I could use for going places not just for going round in circles, I wanted a bike that didn’t scare the pants off me, and I wanted a bike that would be reasonably easy to maintain. And ideally I wanted it to fly up hills of its own accord, but e-bikes weren’t really a practical option at the time. What I didn’t want was a cyclocross bike, which seemed to be what was on offer. Fortunately, the brilliant Common Wheel managed to turn my rather incoherent list of desires into an actual bike which has served me well for years.

bike with accessories

A ‘bike’ bike par excellence

But I now know rather more about bikes than I did when I was shopping for my new bike. If I go into a bike shop now, then I’m likely to have a fairly firm idea of what I want – regardless of whether the bike shop person thinks that’s a good idea or not. Yes, a kickstand adds weight and you can usually find something to lean your bike against, but I want to be able to park it anywhere. And yes, spiked winter tyres probably aren’t worth the money, but I would like a set anyway. The young lad who ran the bike shop in Bigtown where I took my bike for a service earned my undying loyalty simply by taking me seriously and carrying out my most eccentric requests, even though I’m sure he thought I was mad half the time.

bike and snow

I probably don’t need a cow pannier either but you have to admit it’s cool

So advice for shop owners who want to sell bikes to women? You could try not assuming anything about them based on the number of X chromosomes they appear to have, and instead listen to what they say and respond accordingly. If they come in saying ‘I want a bike, possibly a blue one’ then you may need to ask some fairly basic open questions like ‘what kind of things do you see yourself doing with the bike?’ to help guide them to what they want. If they come in saying ‘I’m interested in the Gran Fondo carbon bike but I’m not sure about the Ultegra groupset on it,’ then they may not appreciate being treated as if they don’t know what they’re talking about. Curiously enough, you may find that this is helpful in selling bikes to men as well.

At this point, I’d love to be able to point to the success of my local bike shop as an example of how this approach pays off in spades, but sadly he had to close his doors last summer, having failed to make a decent living out of the shop. So my final piece of advice would probably have to be not to take business advice from me…

* It turned out what I meant was I wanted was a steel bike – I didn’t like the look of those fat aluminium frames, although I had no idea at the time about the relative merits of steel vs aluminium. I could, however, bore for Britain on the subject now if you like.

10 Responses to Selling to the Ladeez

  1. zungg says:

    I LOVE your pannier. Do you have a close-up?

  2. zungg says:

    The “cow” one I mean.

    Unfortunately most bike shops still cater more or less to the sport/fitness cycling market, not to everyday all-purpose cyclists. I think more shops are slowly waking up to the points you make – and you’re right that they apply equally to both genders – but still, most shops’ inventory is 90% road/cross/mountain bikes and 10% unappealing-looking hybrids. But I’m seeing more specialist shops dedicated to utility/casual cycling, and maybe it’s too much to expect in a low-margin industry that a typical bike shop can offer all things to all people.

  3. Bob says:

    You really have to go to the Netherlands to have the ultimate bike buying experience, in my humble opinion. They know what questions to ask, and let you try out as many as you’d like.
    Of course, I have very little to compare that to, since the last bike I bought in Canada was an ill fitting thing that I ultimately gave to my son-in-law, who is almost a foot shorter than I. That was mostly because it was purchased at a “chain store” (Sears), there was nobody around with any clue as to what I should have, and it was dirt cheap.

  4. disgruntled says:

    @Zungg – better picture of the cow pannier here

    Fittingly enough, it comes from Really Useful Bikes, a bike shop catering exactly to the utility marked

    @Bob – I’m certainly not going to buy a bike I haven’t been able to try.

  5. Nathan says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. As the asker of the question, I’ll give a few more details
    I’m switching jobs, and will be working full time at a LBS. We work out of a small town, so we have to attempt to carry something for everyone. I feel like we’re headed on the right path, our gender balance in sales is better that average, but not 50/50, though our weekly group rides are majority women. (No idea how/why that happened)

    While I’m obviously interested in the answer to this question from a evil capitalist standpoint, I also want to build a place that a rider (like my wife, or yourself) would feel comfortable in.

    Thanks for your time, your thoughts are much appreciated.


    • alpincesare says:

      Nathan > While I’m obviously interested in the answer to this question from a evil capitalist standpoint

      What’s evil about being paid for solving people’s problems?

      • Nathan says:

        I was being a bit sarcastic :). Obviously, if you’re running a business, it’s in your best interest to do whatever it takes to grow said business. (Sell bikes to women=profit!) A big part of the reason that I’m changing jobs is to do work that improves people’s lives. I’m all about that, darn near religious about it. The “evil” is allowing myself to forget about doing “good” and instead focus entirely on making money. True story from my shop: Woman buys basic bike, rides 1800 miles in 4 months, loses 80 lbs, calls it best therapy ever. Awesome.
        “Evil” would be being unhappy that I can’t get her on a $2000 road bike. I want to remain a person that can be happy with just the story.

        I am incredibly happy about the prospect of doing good for people in a job I love and making a living doing it.

  6. Found your article through an Elly Blue tweet.

    And here I was thinking that about the only bicycle I know how to sell is one with a steel frame. Hydroformed aluminum? I wouldn’t know where to start, which is to say, I wouldn’t start at all.

    As far as assumptions are concerned, I’ve learned not to assume much beyond the existence of gravity. Assumptions are never the shortcuts assumers assume they are.

  7. disgruntled says:

    Nathan – good luck with the new job, sounds like you’re doing the right things
    16inches – you’d be surprised how much people do assume. And of course the worst assumptions are the ones we don’t even know that we’re making

  8. […] My favorite Scottish bike blogger turned leading bike advocate says if you want to sell bikes to women, maybe you should actually listen to them. […]

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