With International Women’s Day (8 March) having recently passed, and much to celebrate in women’s cycling lately – race results, improved media coverage and some further progress towards gender parity – it seems timely to chat female bike riders.
While females sadly comprise only a small percentage of overall cyclists in Australia (somewhere around just 10% across all types of riding – commuting, leisure, mtb and road/gravel), they are, nonetheless, an important audience for all bike retailers.
Rule number one: make no assumptions.
When a female enters your store – whether she be alone, with friends, family or a partner/spouse – make no assumptions about her previous and current experience and knowledge of cycling, the industry and products. Make no assumptions about who the key purchaser in the group might be.
The best place to start is to simply ask. Sounds common sense, but it’s surprising – and disappointing – how often some bike retailers presume that females know very little and are inexperienced in the cycling world, and – as a result – provide ‘dumbed-down’ information to female customers. Or that they presume that the female is not the primary customer when she may well be.
It shouldn’t matter if your customer is male or female, of what age, ability, fitness or other variable. Regardless, there will be some who are new to the sport, some who are returning to the sport and some who are very experienced and knowledgeable. In any and all cases, you should make it your duty, and basic customer service 101, to know who your audience is.
This will improve their experience and be more likely to result in a successful sale and repeat business for you.
A female gravel grinder. Gravel is a great sport for females – it helps overcome barriers of perceived safety issues (road and mountain biking); and offers social cycling opportunities. image credit: coen-van-den-broek-1138566-unsplash
Rule number two (and this one is a bit more challenging): differentiate without discriminating.
Some females want to be recognised as distinct, with needs and interests which differ from male cyclists. Others want to know that they’re just another cyclist. The best way to overcome this is to provide an area in your store that is women’s specific, while also including women’s products alongside men’s, throughout your store. Make sure you have a good range of styles and sizes for women.
Rule number three: make sure your staff can answer female-specific questions.
Maybe ‘female-specific questions’ is not quite the right phrase. But it’s about understanding women’s specific cycling. It might be questions as to why Giant provides a female-specific line of bikes but others such as Specialized (who once did) and Giant don’t. Saddles, knicks and chamois, fitting a helmet for someone with long hair that’s usually tied up… There are a range of queries, related to products and experiences that are specific for women.
Suggestion number one: It’s great if you have female staff or can seek to employ females when next you need to recruit.
Not to tick a box for gender parity and not to look like you’re doing the right thing. But because some – again, not all – females relate better to other females. This may be true especially for women who are new to cycling. Groups such as Women on Wheels, Chicks Who Ride Bikes and Females in Training (ACT) all have strong followings because many women prefer to ride in women-only environments where they feel more comfortable, more confident, and better supported by fellow women. For some female cyclists, the thought of riding with men seems too challenging, often accompanied by perceptions that men are much stronger and faster. For similar reasons, some women feel more comfortable talking with female staff in a bike store. However, refer rule number one!
Suggestion number two: Ensure your store design is aesthetically appealing.
This will be appreciated by all your customers, male and female. Customers will feel more comfortable in your store and will be more likely to linger longer and return. Make sure you include female mannequins and products as part of your store design, and that fitting rooms are comfortable spaces.
Suggestion number three: Promote any initiatives you have that support women’s cycling.
Whether it be women’s specific rides or training/mechanic courses, sponsorship of women’s racing, or other ways you support female cyclists, make sure you promote that you’re doing this. If you host screenings or other events to share men’s rides and races, make sure you do the same for women’s wherever possible. This will help show your support for female cyclists, sending a positive message that your store is welcoming to females.
It’s in every bike store’s interest to improve the experience for females both on and off the bike. Several factors have been shown to account for low ridership numbers among females, including safety concerns, appearance (especially for transport and commuting purposes), lack of time and concern about fitness and/or skill level.
The positive of low ridership numbers and what it means for bike retailers? Opportunity! Studies have shown that large numbers of women are interested, but concerned, about riding. Imagine if your store could tap into this and help overcome those concerns. Making women’s experience of the bike industry a positive one, through excellent customer service, is a great starting point!
Make sure your bike store is inclusive, and that it makes everyone feel that riding a bike is for them. In-store and online, including social media.
For further and more detailed reading on this topic, the League of American Bicyclists in North America has written this article, based on industry research and insights.
Feature image credit: Leah Owen, Canberra