We are dedicating this section of our Resource Center to helping our partners grow their local businesses, and Melissa Balmer was at the top of our list of experts to reach out to. As the founder of PedalLove.org, Melissa has devoted her energies to growing sustainable transportation for all. Here she shares her thoughts on some of the challenges facing our country in bike accessibility. She also shares her insight on how bike shops can make their stores more accommodating to the new or returning rider.
For the past eight years I've been passionate about growing bicycling through local, regional and statewide advocacy in California. As a creative marketing and media relations strategist I've done this both through my own website PedalLove.org, and as the former Media Director for the California Bicycle Coalition.
It is through these efforts that I have come to realize that the bike industry has become a victim of its own success. It has continually done well selling high-end bikes to the fitness set. Now, however, the bike industry (on both the wholesale and retail levels) needs to be willing to throw the net much wider in its sales and marketing efforts.
To illustrate this more clearly I've identified 6 types of bike riders:
The wholesale bike industry loves the top three categories, and so do many retailers. These are the people who either compete professionally, or are avid athletes. They often look like the sales staff of the bike shops they frequent and they also speak the jargon.
Of late, the growing number of those who either regularly commute by bike, or regularly do their errands and appointments by bike (me!) are finally getting love and attention. Still the marketing and outreach to this group has often focused on an athletic approach to this consumer as well - many of whom want to dress for the destination, whether it's the office or coffee with friends.
The "dress for the destination" riders have no interest in spandex. These consumers are often not going to walk in looking like the bike shop staff, nor are they necessarily going to speak the right jargon, but they already have enough experience to know what looks and feels right to them when riding.
And then we have the final two categories of the novice and the newbie. Ditto on all the above except they might not have a clue what style of bike they want: they simply want to feel confident and comfortable while riding.
We're going to touch on why compassion, creativity, and connectivity are so crucial for successfully selling to these last three categories - the categories that are really the sweet spot for growth in bicycling for the U.S.
Start with yourself and your store staff. It's never easy to change and learn to do things in new ways. It's especially challenging in today's tough and transforming retail market. Give yourself and your team credit for the hard work you've been putting in. Recognize everyone's strengths, including your own.
Next use the concept of compassion to create a space for your team to try out new ideas without harsh judgment and criticism. Recognize that success will only come if you're open to tweaking and polishing regularly even if your first efforts don't net the results you want.
Finally expand the concept of compassion to your customers. If you want to serve more than the sport minded then you have to create a space in your store for those customers. You need to show that city bikes and cruisers and eBikes are as important to your store as the top of the line road bikes.
Steve Jobs is famous for saying that a computer is like a bicycle for the brain, it's a strength maximizer, and can make your life more convenient, but not if you only focus on sport riding. Make sure that the commuter and city bikes in your store are shown decked out with baskets, racks, panniers and water bottles to showcase the possibilities. These items are high margin and will likely turn over more often as they are at lower price points.
Extend this creativity into your store's window displays. It'll be easier to do your homework if you look to what's going on in your town's best fashion boutiques and hot chain retailers. Be inspired by what Pottery Barn does with color.
Make sure you're using inviting, happy images of all forms of bicycling on your website. Don't just show road racing and mountain biking if you want to attract commuters or novice riders. Reach out to your suppliers and request images, or use crowd-sourced images from your followers on social media sites.
If you're not already connected to your local bike advocacy organization do so now. Why? They are making the streets safer and more accessible for cyclists. They are working on laws and infrastructure and policy, things that have long term benefits and take a lot of dedication and passion to make happen.
As an example, consider co-hosting regular bike education classes in your store with your local bike advocacy group. If there isn't one locally the League of American Bicyclists is a great resource for local bike education professionals.
Host rides for cyclists of all levels. You can reach an entirely different audience with a short ride and a fun outing afterwards than with a 20-40 mile tour. For example, a guided gallery tour is an amazing way to connect with both cyclists and the local creative set.
Harness the power of your email newsletters to engage each type of rider. Newsletters are a low cost form of marketing that can reap significant rewards. I highly recommend MailChimp, which is free up to 2,000 subscribers.
Melissa Balmer is the Founder/Director of PedalLove.org. She is a writer, media relations specialist and speaker dedicated to growing more active, mindful mobility. Her mission is to share the power of artistry and personally engaging storytelling to inspire. Melissa has placed stories about bicycling in such media outlets as the Associated Press, Bicycling Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, City Lab, the Los Angeles Times, Momentum Magazine, Next City, National Public Radio affiliates, Sierra Club Magazine,and many more.
Photo courtesy of @kikhaly
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