Specialized Australia recently ran a women’s tech training session for female shop staff. It was a world first for Specialized, and is a great show of leadership in this area, Hopefully it’s something we see more of from other organisations as well.
As a woman working in a bike store, you’re definitely an anomaly. Last time I worked at a bike shop, every now and then, a customer would ask to speak to one of the ‘guys’. ‘Ask me your question, and if I can’t answer it I’ll go and get some help,’ I’d say.
Things usually went pretty well from there. If help was needed, I’d call on our female mechanic, just to make a point.
In a sport that still attracts a lot more men than women, it follows that female staff in the bike retail sector aren’t as common either. This can sometimes lead to the unfortunate assumption that women aren’t as skilled as their male counterparts, or can’t provide the same level of customer service and advice.
This unspoken condescension, coupled with the traditional ‘blokeyness’ of bike shops (particularly the workshop) is an ongoing barrier to more women taking up work in bike retail. And it’s to the detriment of our sport.
Less ego, more attention to detail
Specialized Australia’s training expert, (formally titled, a Specialized Bicycle Components University (SBCU) Professor), Adam Nicholson, came up with the idea for the women’s tech course after a shopping experience for his motorbike.
Impressed with the way that, ‘Women are typically able to articulate technical information with less ego and more attention to detail,’ he saw a massive need to help empower female store owners, managers and sales staff in the bike industry and developed three day technical training course for likeminded ladies.
‘I wanted to develop a platform where Specialized employees are able to use resources we have, digest the technical aspects of our products and deliver second to none customer service for every cyclist. The course allowed us to do it as a group rather than one on one.’
The course is one of a series of workshops Specialized run under their Specialized Bicycle Components University arm. We joined the girls on the final day at Specialized’s HQ in Melbourne where an incredibly impressive training facility has been built. There’s a room full of identically equipped workstations, each suitable for the most involved of workshop task. The group spent the morning bleeding brakes and pulling apart front suspension – the kind of workshop skills that women are rarely taught.
Next, a test fleet of Specialized’s new women’s trail bike, the Rumor Expert, were loaded into a van and we drove from Melbourne to the You Yangs for an afternoon ride. This was the perfect environment for the attendees to play with the dropper posts they’d pulled apart the day before, and put into practice the suspension setup knowledge they’d learnt to give customers the ride feel they’re after.
Key to the success of the course is hands on technical training, actual riding experiences and ongoing discussion. It enables participants to build skills, digest theoretical information and actually feel what different product innovations mean for experiences had while riding.
For Carolyn Lyon, who manages Red Bike in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand, the course motivated her to help customers get more out of the products they own. ‘I have a confidence I never had before in promoting bike maintenance,’ she said afterward.
For someone like Carolyn, who doesn’t have much contact with other female shop staff, meeting likeminded ladies was another critical element of the trip. ‘The women I met on the course are, to me, an extension of our store. They are an important point of contact when making decisions about issues relating to women who ride. We contact each other to solve all sorts of issues and also to share great ideas that work well within our own cycling communities.’
You can’t buy everything online
The women’s tech training was a first for Specialized, but hopefully the first of many courses like it. In fact, Adam, who developed the curriculum in Australia, is now looking to expand this to a global level through the Specialized headquarters in the United States.
The broader context of the initiative is important too. Globally, bike shops have to find new ways to maintain their edge as online retail grows, integrating additional services and points of difference to the once-familiar sales and repairs model. These might include cafes, indoor turbo studios, weekly social rides, exclusive training and racing activities, support at community-based events; things you can’t buy with the click of a mouse or swipe of a touch screen.
Building the confidence, skills and professional networks of female staff is part and parcel of this; in this day in age, you cannot afford to have staff members who are unable to provide a high level of service across the board. It’s widely recognised that walking into a bike shop can be an intimidating experience too, particularly for women – it’s one of the reasons some people turn to the anonymity of online shopping. Having well-educated female staff who, as mentioned by Adam previously, generally approach sales with less ego helps make bike shops a more welcoming environment.
As the bike industry continues to reinvent itself we look forward to seeing what additional opportunities become available next. Especially if it means better experiences for customers and staff, and helping riders of all types get even more out of their time on the trails.
Meanwhile, the next time you receive help from a staff member of either gender, take a moment to consider the passion for products, servicing and ongoing learning they bring to the shop floor. Working in a bike shop is a lifestyle as much as a job.