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Fred Clements: Welcome, come as you are

Published July 15, 2013
A blog by NBDA Executive Director Fred Clements

Editor's note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, Executive Director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements' previous blogs can be read on 

Are non-white people uncomfortable in many U.S. bicycle shops? If so, does reaching out and welcoming them represent a huge opportunity for the future of brick-and-mortar bike stores?

A number of NBDA e-forum dealers think so. Sensing a business opportunity and new potential market, they have decided to focus on serving under-represented people and it’s working for them. There are a whole lot of people out there, it seems, who don’t visit bike shops but love bikes, ride them, and perhaps most critically for a brick-and-mortar store, are local.

The conversation started: “This has become a touchy topic for us here in South Texasas the “normal” cyclist (white males) seems to be the only group that the bike industry tends to market to. They give women some lip service but I cannot find any form of marketing to Latin/Mexican, blacks or any other groups of people. With the white male going extinct in South Texas this is a deep concern for me.”

Continuing: “Do you think any of the bike companies are aware of this and are doing anything about it. I guess my frustration is that we as an industry are so focused on what is fast becoming the minority and should we/IBD expect change?”

The responses rolled in: “Where you have lunch or dinner in a room with maybe 500 bike folk, and just try, very hard, to find anyone in that room who isn’t white. Oh, wait, yes you can! Those serving you. Your point is valid and real. Cycling at the moderate-to-high-end caters almost exclusively to a non-pigmented crowd. Look at your point of sale material.”

More: “Our cycling industry tends to play it safe and pitches their goods to their known customers. Upwardly mobile and successful people of all cultural backgrounds have found their way into cycling, while the blue collar segment, again of all cultural backgrounds, has not traditionally been our customers.

“I will say that women have been successfully embraced by many bike industry companies. We here in this shop certainly have focused on women’s products; we have a large women’s section set aside in the store and always have women as staffers. Women as customers are a great fit for bike shops, as I think most women value our services more than many men.

“As for the other valued but infrequently seen minorities, I see a slow but distinct evolution as they become more successful, have more discretionary funds available for such recreational diversions as cycling, and then they come to our shops with their business. So, the big question is, will lots of advertising and promo accelerate that change? I am not convinced. But it would be nice!”

A store owner in the East commented: “I’m not one of the people to advocate ‘on purpose’ pushing towards a direction. This will have to evolve. My advice is to widen your clientele and your product mix- one should go hand in hand with the other. You’ll have a more interesting life, too. This, imo, is an act locally thing.”

Another Texas dealer wrote: “When we opened our East End store, which is in an almost entirely Hispanic neighborhood, the locals came out of the woodwork to support us and express their gratitude for believing in them. It was the same way when we opened another store back before gentrification stormed through there. Believe it or not, minorities DO ride bikes. Unfortunately, most of them are buying their bikes in big box stores, multi-sport stores (like Sun and Ski), and online simply because they have no easy access to real bike shops or because they feel out of place and unwelcome in most local stores.

“This thread is actually pretty funny to me since I was just marveling at how ethnically diverse our Wednesday Night Ride has become. In our fast pack last week our group was being lead by two very dark African-Americans, a Mexican, and a Puerto Rican. The rest of the group was more than 50% Hispanic, with a Vietnamese and two Chinese men, a Korean female, another Caucasian girl, and a heavily tattooed white guy (me) rounding out the mix. When our group cruises through the Near North side it’s fully awesome to watch the looks on the locals’ faces as they realize that folks that look just like them just blasted past on road bikes chattering away in several different languages and that they could be having fun too. Also, you might want take a trip out to the start of the next Critical Mass before you bemoan the plight of our Caucasian ridership slipping away with nobody to replace them. There were almost 2,000 riders out there in June, and I guarantee that at least half of them were Hispanic and every other ethnic group under the sun was well represented.”

While many individual retailers are reaching out, is there a role for the supplier side?

“If mainstream America isn’t interested in cycling, do we really expect our manufacturers and vendors to promote cycling to a wider, more diverse audience? Would they see a return on their investment? Would we?”

From Minnesota: “I think the industry itself has completely missed the greatest potential growth of cycling by focusing on the wealthier markets and ignoring what I call ‘underserved’ markets, both urban and rural. In urban areas they concentrate on larger shops in white dominated areas making it difficult to establish any base in minority ethnic communities.

“The demand for community-based retailing is also likely to grow dramatically as the Millennials come of age, not only is this the largest generation in our history but they are taking a different view lifestyle wise. Traditional retail is missing the key ingredients to attract them.

“In rural areas, which have reversed a hundred year trend of emigration and showing resurgent growth, building a retail presence gets no help from the industry. Instead, our industry resists this trend and continues to try to move upscale within the existing base. There might be more dollars there, but not more cycling participants. As to what the industry can do, I don’t think we can move the supply side very much, but on the retail side we need to get more involvement from the network of existing community service/non profit shops, we should actively seek their membership in the NBDA, and their input on the issues. If we can find out what will motivate these potential customers we can take broad steps to drive these new markets and establish neighborhood cycling centers.”

Are there specific steps the industry can take to broaden its appeal? Some ideas from the forum partipants:

  • Locate stores in communities with minority residents.
  • Have a diverse staff in gender, ethnicity and language.
  • Represent all races in promotional materials.
  • Advertise in multiple languages. “Something as simple as Spanish ads in Spanish magazines is a good start, magazines that are similar to women’s magazines that we now see companies like Electra and others go after so heavily. Why don’t these companies go after the minority dollar just as much if not more?”
  • “Wouldn’t it be great if SmartEtailing made a Spanish language version of their web database?”

“There ARE shops that get it and do it right, but the industry as a whole is doing nothing to support that effort. The NBDA should get behind the innovators and progressive shops and learn from their experiences, then share that back to our membership. There is far greater growth in smaller sub-markets than all of the big markets put together.”


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