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State of Retail: Does your shop sponsor a team or have an ambassador program?

Published November 15, 2021

A version of this feature ran in the November 2021 issue of BRAIN.

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — For our November magazine edition, we asked our State of Retail panel members: Does your shop sponsor a team or have an ambassador program? How effective is it?

KANSAS CITY, Mo.: Christina Baanders-Decker, owner Midwest Cyclery

Christinia Baanders-Decker

The majority of our clients are commuters who ride for transportation or people who ride to get out of the house and exercise. We do sponsor a triathlon team at a local college, but overall this has been a part of the business that we have not been able to get rolling where it benefited us in any way. Pre-COVID, we were building a group of ambassadors and individual team members. They seemed to really enjoy the "buying at a discount" part, but they didn’t seem to grasp the “loyalty and selling the shop to new people” part. We offered a 30% discount on parts and accessories and they could "bro buy" a bike via our vendor. We also offered jerseys at cost but they never wore them to events — and they continued to shop online and buy at other shops. We have stepped away from having an ambassador program and hope to someday find the right people and resume it.

SYOSSET, N.Y.: Howard Chung, co-owner The Bicycle Planet

Howard Chung

In an ideal scenario, sponsorships build up the cycling community with excitement and camaraderie, but we felt that we always fell short of that ideal. We used to sponsor many teams and individual athletes in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and it felt like we were constantly inundated with new requests for sponsorships, discounts, and donations from so many worthy causes, teams, and organizations. It was really difficult to sift through all of that and try to evaluate the worthiness and the mutual benefits of each one. Oftentimes, there would be offended egos, unpleasant personalities, and a sense of entitlement involved — all things that we like to avoid. Managing the sponsorship program became just too stressful and time-consuming for us, so we made the decision to terminate all of our sponsorships and to move forward with one mission: to support local organizations that work with children and cycling. Having that extremely simple and clear direction has led to some wonderful things. After every event and every check we cut, it always feels right.

HOOD RIVER, Ore: Jodie Gates, co-owner Oregon E-bikes

Jodie Gates

We've declared some dedicated customers “ambassadors” over the years, though more as a recognition of their support of the shop instead of a clearly defined program with incentives. Our most impactful ambassadors have proven to be our staff members who are out riding in the community daily and drawing more exposure to the shop. We've tended to focus on demo events, group rides, and community engagement rather than a handful of ambassadors, though putting more effort and definition into a program is on our long list for sure. Our shop is housed in the same building as our windsport sister store, which creates opportunities for cross promotion and customer integration that may not normally happen.

JOHN’S CREEK, Ga.: Brent Noisette, owner Twisted Spokes Bicycles

Brent Noisette

We have an ambassador program, and we keep it simple: “Represent us out in the wild through social media, wearing our jersey and other items, and we reward you with discounts on products and priority service when your bike breaks.” We sign people up using an application form, and we set clear expectations about tagging us in social media posts, mentioning us in race results, and anything else that  represents our store in a positive light. The discounts and benefits we offer each individual depends on the amount of presence and deliverables received. We do not start off with giving big discounts, but the more someone represents us, the bigger the discount and benefits they earn.

SUMMERVILLE, S.C.: Michael Haldeman, owner SpokeWorks Bicycle Workshop

Michael Haldeman

We have several shop ambassadors that help with shop rides, events, and promotion of the business. This, in addition to several local events and small-business sponsorships, is a great way to help get our shop name into the community as well as promote the sport of bicycling. To choose our ambassadors, we start with a questionnaire/interest form and make selections from this information. Typically, ambassadors are helping us lead shop rides, so teaching and being able to explain how group rides work are imperative skills. We offer our ambassadors discounts on tuneups and special pricing on items like shop jerseys/shorts, priority service scheduling, and other perks. We have had the unfortunate experience of one individual severely taking advantage of the perks of our ambassador program in the past, but overall the program has been great so far.

BENTONVILLE, Ark.: Shawna Macan, manager Mojo Cycling

Shawna Macan

This year, we switched from sponsoring mountain bike teams to creating an ambassador program. From our experience, sponsoring a team always ended in “What can you do for me?” or “What do I get for free?” and it wasn't worth the hassle of making sure the riders were following their contracts. It created more work than it was worth, and we weren't seeing a return on investment. 

By contrast, we’ve found that ambassadors want to represent Mojo Cycling because they've had great experiences with us. We offer them a 10-15% discount on purchases, a free jersey, a photo shoot with their bike, and a social media post about them. In return, we ask them to refer customers to us, wear our jersey while riding, recommend us on social media, share our posts, help out in the community, and at events. We started seeing a return on investment immediately with customers coming in saying they were referred by an ambassador, which has been a great way to build rapport with that new customer.

MEMPHIS, Tenn.: Karen Malogorski, co-owner Bikes Plus Inc.

Karen Malogorski

Visibility for our brand in the rider community is a critical component of our marketing effort. Our ambassadors and sponsored individuals are a demonstration of our commitment to the health and fitness community, the cycling community, family activities, and growth. We sponsor and support bike and triathlon racing teams, two NICA high school mountain bike teams, the 1,200-member Memphis Hightailers club, and the Major Taylor Cycling team. We also have a large core group of longtime shop customers who wear our logoed kits. Our ambassadors are expected to stay active in their respective sport, represent our brand name, use our products, and promote our capabilities. We offer them product and service discounts of 10-20%, clinics, event support including on-road sag support, and placement of our logo on kits, T-shirts, websites, etc. We do not offer bike brand mass/group purchases because they haven’t generated an acceptable return on investment. Through our programs, we’re known for our dedicated involvement in the community, which helps us gain credibility and a deeper trustworthiness for referrals and potential new customers.

CLAREMONT, Calif.: Dale Mattson, owner The Velo

Dale Mattson

We do not sponsor a team, but we do donate BikeNab Bicycle Registration Cards to the local races and organizations. The BikeNab Bicycle Registry helps people register their bikes to help prevent theft. I give away 100 packs of registration cards to help groups raise funds for anything bike- or school-related, such as a high school mountain bike team. We hope that by donating bicycle registration cards, people will register their bikes to help prevent theft.

WHEATON, Ill.: Muneer Radi, general manager, Spokes

Muneer Radi

Sponsoring teams has been very tricky to get dialed. The point of a sponsorship or ambassador program is to create new customers for the shop; with teams, the aspect of getting everyone on the same page has always been too difficult. We have found it to be too much effort for not enough promotion. Instead, we’ve put our focus into having our staff select and approach key community ambassadors. We believe that this approach has the best return on investment and is most effective. Ambassadors discounts and benefits are earned rather than rewarded. We provide nothing up front, but upon achievement of goals, benefits are distributed to our ambassadors in the form of products or labor. The more they work, the better the sponsorship becomes. This helps us filter out the people just looking for discounts without fulfilling their end of the agreement.

Seeking 2022 State of Retail panelists

Contribute to one of BRAIN's most widely read features by joining the State of Retail. We're recruiting a combination of nine shop owners, managers, and staff to weigh in on the issues that affect your businesses. To learn more about this unpaid, year-long commitment, email before Nov. 30.

Muneer Radi.
Topics associated with this article: State of Retail, From the Magazine

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