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Arleigh Jenkins argues that women-friendly bike shops are only one small solution to a much larger problem.
Following on the heels of a League of American Bicyclists report about the bike shop industry’s failure to welcome women – and an abundance of recent debate on the subject – Bike Shop Girl‘s Arleigh Jenkins penned an excellent article entitled “The Bike Industry is Sick and Hiring More Women Won’t Fix it.” Contrary to the report’s findings – which suggested that greater gender-inclusivity could save the struggling industry – Jenkins argues that the problems within the bike shop industry run much deeper.
Jenkins puts forth a strong four-point argument for why the industry is broken, which we’ve pulled excerpts from below:
1. There is No Barrier for Entry or Standard of Training
“There isn’t a available degree, school or class regime that you can take to ‘learn bikes’ outside of simply putting in time. Due to this lack of infrastructure there is no standardization of training.”
“Most shop general managers or service managers are there due to Peter Principle and not due to having managerial experience or skills.”
2. Lack of Training
“This lack of training (and education) breeds lack of basic business understanding. Employees are doing their best with little guidance, and typically when a customer is unhappy you will only know from a negative Yelp review.”
3. Low Average Pay
“We have employees working off hours (10-7, including weekends) that must know as much as possible on the niches of bikes their shops carry, including competing brands, making between $11-16 an hour, typically without any benefits other than a discount.”
4. Product First Mentality
“The industry has shoved product education down these under paid adults throats but we haven’t taught them about business, about building a brand, about selling or making a community.”
Jenkins highlights an unhappy truth about many bike shops. They’re not just unfriendly to women, they’re unfriendly to everyone. Who hasn’t at some point walked out of a bike shop feeling like the employees at best were diffident, disorganized, or unhelpful, and at worse were just plain rude. Bike shops are an invaluable resource for people who ride bikes and those who may be interested in cycling. When they’re run well, they serve as an entry-point to the world of cycling, a hub for local information, and a space for the development of community. If they’re ineffective, it doesn’t just hurt business, it hurts everyone.
Jenkins goes on to suggest eight key steps the wider bike shop industry needs to take if it has any hope of shaking off its unfavorable reputation and surviving in the modern market. First and foremost among them is gaining a better understanding of basic business practices, “This includes marketing, sales and data,” Jenkins wrote. Improved business models would mean higher profit margins, which would translate into higher wages and employee benefits so the industry stops losing its best people to more viable careers. She argues for a basic training model, standardized by the National Bicycle Dealers Association, that would begin with customer service and retail basics and then work towards tech and product training. “Why?” she posed, “Product revolves every 6 weeks, being a good human does not.”
Jenkins – who writes from 15 years of experience in the bike retail industry – is effectively arguing that the focus on women’s bike products and the debate around women-friendly bike retail may not address the larger issues that the industry faces. While greater gender-inclusivity in the bike industry is inarguably positive, it may provide only a band-aid solution over a wound that runs deep.
In her conclusion, which I’ll let speak for itself, she wants to remind the world that bikes are not a hobby:
“In conclusion, I would also like to ask that we stop comparing ourselves to golf, or some other hobby. I would love to compare us to the auto industry. Not only because bikes are transportation but because cars aren’t so different. They require sales, service and have a lot of variations in models. What is different is the training. To work in a car dealer you go through intensive training for both sales and service. My favorite part of comparing the bike industry to auto? You don’t see cars designed only for women.”
The article in its entirety is definitely worth a read, it can be found here.