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The Bike Industry is Sick and Hiring More Women Won't Fix It

The Bike Industry is Sick and Hiring More Women Won't Fix It

by Arleigh Greenwald

June 05, 2016

Over the past few weeks there have been a few articles highlighting the need for better inclusivity for women in order to help grow the industry. First, there was Amanda Batty who left PinkBike as a writer after being bullied and not supported by her employer. Then, the League of American Bicyclists released a Women Bike report, “Bike Shops for Everyone: Strategies for Making Bike Retail More Welcoming to Women.” Quickly behind the Bike League, People for Bikes released new research on Women’s participation. Finally, Molly with Bicycling Magazine wrote a piece on how bike shops can be more friendly to women.

Over the past 5-10 years the focus of getting more women riding has spurred a lot of new product, brands and a great amount of debate within the inner circles of the industry if women really need a special product. As a woman that has essentially grown up in the bike industry, I really hope that the industry will catch up with the times and start to understand the larger problems that are keeping the industry from growing. These same problems will also keep turning women away.

In no particular order, here is my personal take on why the industry is sick and only getting worse. These thoughts come from running bike shops, working on the vendor side, and being an outside rep for 370 dealers in the Southeast.

Why is the Industry Broken?

1. There is No Barrier for Entry or Standard of Training

Finding a job in a bike shop isn’t hard if you like bikes and present yourself well you can find a job at one of the 5,000 bike shops in the US. As one works up in their shop career or decide to work for brands or distribution some experience comes into play but there isn’t an 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. Some folks will go to mechanics school such as UBI but if that is your only experience as a mechanic you probably won’t land a job in a shop right away as these schools do not teach real-life situations. There isn’t a class you can take in high school unless you are lucky to have a community shop. There is also no training provided by a hierarchy of the trade commission. If you aren’t a shop that carries Trek, Specialized or Giant than you don’t have much chance to teach your employees (or yourself) valuable skills like bike fitting, sales techniques, or basic accounting functions. Some brands such as QBP, and Mann University, have identified this and are trying to help but it isn’t standard or a requirement.

We have bike shop employees learning under fire and representing that shop to the customers that walk in the door. If they are lucky enough to work at a shop that has their own training protocol they are lucky, but unfortunately the employees often look at this training as “corporate” and not valuable. 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. Many, if not most, bike shops are being run on super tight budgets with low profit margins because the owners, buyers and managers don’t understand where they could be saving money, where they shouldn’t be spending it and how to maximize their bottom line.

3. Low Average Pay

Low-profit margins mean low average pay. Low average pay within an industry that requires a lot of knowledge within tech and product. Shop and brand employees are often quizzed by customers who have been researching the heck out of product online. There are tech events hosted by brands like SRAM, Park, and Shimano to keep industry employees knowledgeable on the product. 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 underpaid adults throats but we haven’t taught them about business, about building a brand, about selling or making a community. There are multiple events during the year like Interbike and Sea Otter where brands and shops ship their employees to drink the latest Kool-Aid, but we are serving them a product that will be phased out in 6 months and not knowledge that will help any customer that walks in your door.

How Do We Fix The Bicycle Industry?

1. We teach bike shops how to run as a business. This includes marketing, sales, and data.

2. Once bike shops are running as businesses (and not passion fueled shells simply sitting in the black every year) we can pay people, and give them benefits so they don’t leave for another industry.

3. Start training with the basics.
 Any large retail company trains their employees first on customer service, standard processes like working the register, store layout, and then product. Why? Product revolves every 6 weeks, being a good human does not.

4. NBDA needs to standardize this basic training
. Provide it online at no costs to your members.

5. Shops require this training before an employee sets foot near a customer
. Stop hiring 16-year-old high schoolers to help sell kids bikes their first day on the job. Parents will continue to look at bikes as toys if we don’t teach them otherwise.

6. Sponsors and advertisers hold your magazines, bloggers and athletes accountable. If an article is released that talks shit about women in the auto world, even in an off-hand remark, do you not think there will be hell to pay?

7. Grow up. Don’t show up to work smelling like beer. Keep your bathrooms clean. Brands keep it classy at demos. If your employer pays for you to go to Interbike don’t be so drunk that you don’t remember anything.

8. Be human and respectful. When a customer’s bike is wrecked and they are heartbroken, please don’t be a jerk about it. If someone is stoked about their first $750 mountain bike, give them a high five and recommend a couple of your favorite beginner trails. Stop talking down to each other. There is absolutely nothing to gain by proving others wrong or showing that you know more than them. You don’t earn a bonus, and you may have just turned someone off from biking.

We Aren’t 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 requires 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.

Next Steps

Are you in the industry, or a consumer? Does any of the above ring true to you in your experiences? Tell us about them.