Let me preface this tale with a fact: it is incredibly difficult to break habits. That being said, it’s important to shake things up and embrace your differences in order to change, learn and grow.
Not too long ago, I found myself in a bike shop with 20-ish grown men. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bike store, but this particular night I was on my own while grown men quickly became youthful boys distracted by shiny new objects at every turn.
I quickly tried to find something I could fixate on for the next hour, and to my surprise, I found my shiny! It was in the form of a beautiful helmet, sky blue inlaid with flowers and birds. Then I realized there were matching bikes for my helmet. So I quietly excused myself with the helmet and bike to take a cruise.
It was serious. I was free. But most importantly, I was confident. From that moment on, I couldn’t stop talking about my newfound love for bikes.
It’s not that I’d never ridden a bike before, or even that I didn’t already own my own bike (I had a MTB, road bike and my grandmother’s Schwinn already queued up in my garage). But there was something about this bike. Part of it was the color, part of it was the helmet and the limitless options. But the biggest score for me was that I found a place for myself, a woman, in a store built for and catered to men.
By the end of the visit, I bought three bikes, three helmets and baskets (front and rear) for my bike. I had been Facebooking, Snapchatting and Instagramming the story. Word got out… I was in the bike business.
That meant I needed every girlfriend in my circle to understand the liberation I found via my bike. I felt the need to share this experience and help every one of them find their own shiny, their own liberation, their own bike.
My crusade had begun. My first converts? The Greenridge Ridge Girls! Every woman has her tribe, and these ladies—Sarah and Cheryl—are mine. We have each other’s backs (and help raise each other’s children). As soon as I was home, we started our conversation about riding bikes. They both loved the idea, and they wanted to head to Walmart immediately! So to Walmart we headed. You see, time is crucial for us, and we all just happened to have ten minutes and Walmart was a mile away.
Still reading? Did I lose you?
Together at Walmart, we found ourselves staring at a wall three levels high. The girls both saw their bikes and were ready to purchase them—I mean, you can’t beat $89. Rather than swipe their cards, I said “Let’s ride them!” Thankfully, I knew how to adjust the racks and take down the bikes, or the girls would have bought them without trying them out. Once we got them down and began to ride—without any help from an employee, despite our far-reaching laughter—their enthusiasm quickly waned as they experienced the pricepoint of these bikes: handlebars not secure, hubcaps rubbing wheels, seats not locked down. We decided to see what Target had.
At Target, we ran into the same experience. But after two trips, my girlfriends were becoming more comfortable and their confidence level was rising. They were becoming experts. They had caught the obsession bug.
Now it was time for them to try my bikes for comparison. For these newfound fans, that meant a big jump in price. If they were going to invest several hundred more dollars in their bike, I wanted them to be comfortable with their decision. After riding the rickety models at Walmart and Target, would they notice the difference in my fine-tuned two-wheelers?
Night and day! They got on mine and immediately knew they had to have one.
We scheduled a date to go find and buy the perfect bikes (remember, it’s difficult to get us all together at once). We were tasked with finding one by our friend Cheryl’s husband as a birthday gift.
Off we went: myself, my girlfriend Sarah and her three-year-old, Francis. Our first stop was our local bike store. We knew we needed to buy a bike that day, and that at many local shops that’s not possible since they have have a small stock and would need to order to the customer’s specifications. That was the case with our shop that day; they had some bikes we liked, but not in the right colors. We could wait a week and they would have the bike shipped, built and ready, but we were managing a three-year-old who was becoming increasingly disruptive and a tight birthday deadline. So we left with cool tassels for the three-year-old’s bike and made our way to REI.
OK, stop the eye rolling and judgement and listen up.
When you walk into an REI, you immediately know where your section is located. We beelined straight to the bikes and began to look for our colors because the internet said REI had our colors (and obviously the internet doesn’t lie).
As we looked, Francis found “her” bike and proceeded to get on it and ride it around in a circle—that’s when we actually got some help (leave it to the youngest ones to cause disruption and gain attention). We were able to identify that my friend’s bike was, in fact, there and just needed to be built. We also realized that the three-year-old needed a helmet to ride around in circles. As Sarah proceeded to pay for her bike, I walked with Francis to keep her entertained. As the bike was built, we left the store for lunch.
Fast forward an hour: I had received a text about the bike color for our missing friend and we walked into REI as giddy as the three-year-old at our side! Francis returned to her beloved bike, Sarah went to the service desk (trailed closely by Francis) and I went to get Cheryl’s new bike and helmet.
Then we heard the hair-raising words, “Where is your mother?”
A statement like that sends chills down a mother’s spine and, quite frankly, everyone else’s spine in the vicinity. The eyes of judgement were upon us. Mortified, Sarah went up to the sales associate and began explaining. Four times the sales associate told her about REI’s policy, four times Sarah attempted to explain our earlier visit and was interrupted, and four times Sarah was humiliated, beaten and derailed over policy.
I came around with Cheryl’s bike and helmet in hand and intercepted the policy sermon. The associate’s response: “Are you buying this bike?” “Yes.” “Well, you can’t buy it up here, you have to go to the back where they can service it.”
As I turned my purchase around, the sales associate asked four times, “Can I help you?” To which I consistently responded, “No.” Finally she said, “I am here to help,” and yet she had consistently represented herself as distinctly UNhelpful by policing and embarrassing the customers before her. She was in reverse mode the rest of the time I was trying to purchase the bike.
Meanwhile, Sarah was in the accessory section looking at fun baskets, bells and cup holders to buy for her bike. She then went to the counter to ask if they could install the accessories on her bike. The mechanic gave her a passing glance and said that those accessories were not for her bike, and she’d have to pick new accessories online.
By this point, we were exhausted and irritated, but the hardest part was yet to come: loading. With a three-year-old on the verge of a breakdown because of the policy change that magically occurred in our hour absence, we asked for assistance. This time we were met with another rogue policy: “We can only help you out to your car. We can’t help you put them on your car. But we can walk them out and watch you put them on your car. Thank you.”
We managed to get the bikes in and on the truck. Thankfully Sarah brought a stool, or it would have been a very comical three-ring circus. As we were loading the truck, she was sharing her excitement with the gentlemen that walked our bikes out to our car. She told them that this was the first time since she was in elementary school that she had bought a bike and all the things she was going to be able to do now that she had a bike and all the accessories she was going to buy. Their response? Flat, unemotional or nothing at all. She stopped talking to them and we began to take pictures of the bikes and her on her bike. They did not offer to take any of us together, but just stood by, hands at their sides.
As we rode back, we evaluated our experience and discussed how utterly mortified we felt but completely excited about the bikes that we purchased. How can something that brings so much freedom and excitement to us be so incredibly hard to purchase? And in that we find the mystery of bikes.
Walmart and Target: Brings freedom and ease of purchase, but not a quality product.
Specialty: Scarcity of options and delivery in a week.
REI: Policy and pretentiousness.
In the end we got the bikes, but this sale would not have happened without persistence, a friend and a desire that outweighed the hassle.
What a great rant… but how do we fix it? Or even what brainstorming ideas do we have about how to fix it?
THE BIG BOX
Whether we want to admit it or not, the Big Box is the most familiar and safest place for most shoppers. Most of us (meaning 85% of the population) buy our first bike or our children’s bikes at Walmart or Target.
While we did not get any service at all, there is a big convenience factor about Walmart and Target. The biggest advantage of these two locations is familiarity; with familiarity comes a calm and safe atmosphere, and with that comfort comes a willingness to spend. There are no expectations when you go to Walmart or Target—we have been trained to self serve.
The Opportunity: If we are really promoting the simple idea of getting more people on bikes, and 85% of the population is buying at these places, then let’s put good bikes together and make them safe. What if Walmart and Target partnered with the local bike shops to bring in mechanics to put together the bikes, rather than having unknowledgeable shophands throw them together? What if it was a local shop inside of big box look and feel? We do shop within a shop for our brands, so why should bikes be any different? Why not have salespeople from local stores at Walmart and Target to teach kids how to ride bikes?
Our Questions: What is your solution? What would work in your area? And why are Huffy and Schwinn considered “bad brands?”
YOUR LOCAL STORE
If you are a small shop and you don’t have what I’m looking for or can’t carry it, then get it ordered and shipped to your store within 24 hours and deliver it to me. If your brands can have it to me in that amount of time and then I have to bring it to you to put together, then why can’t they ship them directly to you?
If you are going to carry kid’s bikes, make sure you train your staff how to manage children. They are not aliens from a different planet. If you don’t treat a mama’s child properly, she is not going to buy from you.
The Opportunity: I realize there are limits in the local realm, but are there limits or are we excusing our performance and blaming what we can ultimately own? Local bike stores are the experts; the experience you have when you go into a local store should be an expert experience. Local shops should be offering unique opportunities.
Every Friday I ride my bike to my local wine store (I am a sucker for FREE wine tastings). Every Friday I am loaded with three baskets because you never know what new wine you might bring home. Every Friday I have on average 8 to 10 women stop by my bike, touch it, and make under-their-breath comments about the bike. Then they realize that I am the owner and the questions begin.
Your opportunity? Show up. If Beeline can show up at my home, fix my bike or put a bike together for me, why can’t we show up at parks, wine stores, markets? Where does 80% of the population that doesn’t come into our bike store hang out? Be creative!
Our Questions: We have to start with this question: Would you shop in your own store and pay full price for the product that you are selling? Why or why not? Make adjustments from there. And how do you make more products more accessible to more customers?
REI (Customer-Owned Store)
I believe that there is a love-hate relationship with REI no matter who or where you are. They have some things fine-tuned and a lot of room for opportunity and improvement. Again, how do we get more people on bikes? It is critical to have policy and procedures, but it is equally as critical to train staff on the importance of redirecting rather than being the policy police.
The Opportunity: The brand REI represents a different type of story in the consumer’s mind. It represents hope, a possibility that I might be able to be a hiker or climber, a place to start a new goal. REI has also taken an incredible stance by closing doors on the famous Black Friday, a campaign that has influenced an entire nation to reconsider priorities. An all-store bike strategy is critical.
Our Questions: If REI is truly going to be in the bike business, BE in the business of bikes. Take an even greater stance on bikes. What would happen if REI drove the world in a different way of thinking about transportation?
We all need to pause in our own policies and rules to address the bigger question: How do we get more people thinking about riding bikes? We need to become true advocates for a greater purpose. People are so incredibly happy on bikes, and we have the opportunity to make that a reality for more and more folks. What if we could change the outlook of the world by selling more bikes, creating healthier communities and being successful at the same time?
I have gone on to get 12 more friends and family members on bikes. Each one has a unique story to tell, many of them with bumps in the road like the ones I described above. The end product is happiness, but if it’s about the journey, how do we make that journey of bike-buying better?