Can Women-friendly Bike Shops Save the Bike Retail Industry?

A report from the League of American Bicyclists Women Bike Program advocates for gender-accessibility in bike shops.

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Despite a steady increase in rates of bicycling across North America over the past few years, brick and mortar bicycle retail has been in a dramatic decline. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of bike retailers in the US fell from 6,195 to 4,055.

With hopes of supporting the waning industry, the League of American BicyclistsWomen Bike program, in partnership with Specialized, has released a new report entitled Bike Shops for Everyone: Strategies for Making Bike Retail More Welcoming to Women.

While bicycle retail sales for men have virtually flatlined in recent years, sales for women continue to grow. Women now account for 51 percent of adult bicycle owners and are projected to spend approximately $2.6 billion on new bicycles and bicycle-related products this year. Despite those figures, only 38 percent of women bicycle owners visited a bike shop in 2014. This is due in large part to a major shortfall in the bike retail industry, namely that many bike shops at best do little to cater to female clientele, and at worst, offer a hostile or unwelcoming environment to women.

Bridget Brennan, author of Why She Buys and Founder of the consumer research consulting firm, Female Factor explained that catering to the women’s market is key to the success of any consumer business, “Women are multiple markets in one… Every time you deliver great service to a woman, she has a multiplier effect on your business because she represents a broad range of other potential customers, and will likely tell people about the great service you offer.”

Report author Liz Cornish undertook a voluntary survey of 156 bicycle retailers across the US, ranging in size and geography, and from their responses and further research, developed seven keys to success for making bike shops more accessible to women:

  • Sponsor women’s racing teams and events
  • Challenge assumptions about women and cycling and confront sexist behavior and beliefs head on
  • Hire more women
  • Create stores that are welcoming & inclusive to all
  • Host women-only instructional clinics and shopping events
  • Invest in store’s aesthetic feel
  • Commit to high standards of data collection at the point of sale

Interestingly, the report noted that the gender of the shop’s owner contributes little to its ability to attract women customers, nor does outside training on customer service correlate to an increase in women’s sales.

Cornish outlined two critical steps that bike shop owners must take to increase their own profitability and reverse the decline of the broader bike shop industry. “First, shop owners must relinquish old models of bicycle retail that, by their very nature, perpetuate stereotypes about bike users, and unintentionally exclude new consumers to the market…Second, shops must proactively work to make people of all backgrounds feel that bicycling is for them.”

This second step is particularly crucial, not just in the creation of spaces that are welcoming to men and women, but also to people of all socioeconomic, geographic, and racial backgrounds. Bike shops serve as a key entry point for those who are new to bicycling, and offer an enduring sense of community to new riders and long-time bicyclists alike. Creating accessible bike shops is not simply a matter of growing a consumer base and increasing profitability, but one of building a large, diverse, and healthy bicycling community where everybody feels welcome.

9 Comments

  • We own a shop that is constantly making the effort to make all bike riders welcome. We based our business model on the fact that most shops exclude too much of the cycling community. We respect all riders, and go the extra mile to be the friendliest bike shop in a 100 mile radius.

  • Karen Maxwell

    This prejudice is true. I experienced that just now in Santa Cruz. Walked up to do a demo ride and prepared to spend cash for a high end mountain bike only to be told they could not accomadate me until the following week. When I signaled for my husband to come up to the counter, the story changed and I was able to get my demo ride in. “Just had to bring someone with a penis along I guess.”

  • Shana

    This is such a great article! Lots of bike shop jagon and hyper-macho environments can be intimidating to new cyclists, and especially such a male-dominated atmosphere can be isolating to women. I’ve noticed certain bike shops popping up that are so successful as they cater to both genders seamlessly. Lovely!

  • Paul

    I see more people buying (inexpensive) bikes at Target, K Mart, and Toys R Us than at higher priced bike shops. Price has to be a major reason why people don’t visit more expensive bike shops.

  • The need for diverse shops is crucial. For many, it’s the point of entry to cycling and to do the sport justice, we should be welcome everyone. This can obviously be achieved in a number of ways. Love the article! Thanks for sharing.

  • DDD

    lol I’m a guy and bike shop customer service is hit and miss. Not a gender issue…

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