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.
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.
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.