Letter to the editor: Selling pink

Last month, our coverage of the issue of marketing and products aimed at female cyclists provoked a strong reaction – we were inundated with responses, opinions, points of view and support.

One email that stood out was a letter to the editor sent in by Jacquie Rescorle. We’ve decided to share it with you as she brings a different perspective to the table. As co-owner of a bike shop, she’s done her homework into what her customers want. 

Jacquie in action on the trails

I love riding my mountain bike, whatever the weather. I challenge myself, I’m improving, getting fitter, making some great new friends, pondering how I can bling up my bike and deciding where to ride next – but this wasn’t always the case.

For years I’d seen my husband return from his rides worn out, filthy, smelling, grazed, often with a broken bike, and been quite dismissive of this strange choice of ‘hobby’. When earlier this year he announced to the family that he wanted to make a living out of his passion, I went along with it (with a certain amount of trepidation), supported him, and together we opened our shop, Over-Ride CycleWorks.

For the first few weeks I watched and listened. One thing I noticed was the vast majority of people coming into the shop were men, and most of the few women who entered were accompanying their biking partners. Another thing was the excitement and animation that coloured every biking conversation I heard. I couldn’t join in and that irritated me.

It transpired Sheffield was a hub of cycling activity; there were trails being crafted all over the city at Parkwood Springs and Grenoside Woods, and the Tour de France was coming in 2014. Curiosity got the better of me and I bought a bike, but I was almost put off cycling after my first ride with my husband, and that’s when I decided I needed to find some like-minded people of a similar ability to ride with.

I had the idea of setting up a Facebook group for female beginner cyclists.

It began with a few wives and girlfriends of customers I’d met in the shop, many of whom had a similar tale to tell about feeling they were holding up the guys, and, with the support from Ride Sheffield (an advocacy group who campaign for trail building and maintenance in the area) the group quickly grew. Four months on, Over-Ride Ladies MTB is now 55 strong.

The Over-Ride Ladies MTB group look like they’re having fun – can we come please!

I’m still in my first year of business and like every good business woman I try to keep an eye on topical issues. I first became aware of the ‘pink’ article in the Guardian when I read Tina McCarthy’s reply to it on the Total Women’s Cycling website.

Tina clearly adores the colour and looks amazing in it! But both as a consumer and a retailer, I just don’t see many people wearing it or requesting it and so am puzzled over why the manufacturers of women’s sports clothing insist on incorporating pink into so many items, which inevitably condemns them straight to the bargain rack with no hope of realising their full recommended retail price.

In the Spring we had a delivery of dozens of helmets, mostly blacks and whites, some primary colours and just two with pink on. The pink ones are still on the shelf.

My taste in clothes is the same wherever I am. I have an urban style and I like greys and black. I don’t suddenly crave pink just because I’m exercising. Pink clothing reminds me of Barbie dolls and Woolworths. That’s just me though, so I decided I needed to do some investigating.

I began with my daughter’s Grazia magazine (for research purposes), and in a 168-page magazine I found the vast majority of items were neutrals. In the entire magazine red accounted for 23 items, green 11, purple 5 and pink 5. So less than 1% of items carried in a women’s fashion magazine were pink. Unless the major fashion houses had it wrong, it’s clearly not the most popular choice of colour for women’s clothing.

I considered when bike riding whether some women do want a change of look so I took the question to Over-Ride Ladies MTB and our road cousins WCS (Women’s Cycling Sheffield). A quick survey on Facebook revealed that for mountain bikers, the girls choose dark/black shorts as they can get very muddy! For tops, all preferred bold or dark colours. Three out of thirteen people said they may choose pink. The reasons given for choice of colours were personal preference, practical reasons or to match their bike.

The roadies were a different story. Only one person mentioned black, and that was when interspersed with other colours and patterns. Everyone said they choose bright, vibrant colours, and most gave visibility as a reason, apart from the lady who said;

You want guys to know they have just been dropped by a girl…

Three out of ten people liked pink (but not pale), and stressed they’d still like to have the choice.

So where are we? I don’t go for pink because I haven’t found a shade so far that I feel good in. Pink doesn’t appear to be the colour of choice in everyday wear, the majority of female cyclists I asked don’t wear pink, and everyone would like more choice.

My personal opinion is if people are buying what they truly like, the pink bargain basket won’t empty and the stockists should think very carefully about their female customers, and send a strong message to the manufacturers by re-stocking less of it.

Like other retailers up and down the country I am now ordering stock for the coming year. I would be very stupid indeed not to listen to the likes and dislikes of my fellow riders. My task appears easy, I know what people want because I’ve asked them; now I need to find the right brands. I also know from the quotes used by Grace Wong in the Guardian that what’s called for is strong, empowering images of women.

More research.

My first point of call for inspiration is the mountain biking press in the form of MBR magazine. I was quite reassured to find the August issue wasn’t full of pink-clad ladies. In fact there was no pink at all, and the entire August issue featured only one woman! The September issue also contained no pink, this time there were two women. October contained two pink women’s items and featured five women. One of those women was Rachel Atherton, the new downhill world champion. So maybe it is Rachel we have to thank for the massive jump from two to five women featured in an entire issue and the sudden inclusion of pink clothing despite the fact that she wasn’t actually wearing any of it.

As a retailer, Jacquie has made the effort to find out what her female customers want, and make sure they get it

Mountain Biking UK October issue has five pictures of the same woman, and she wears pink. Singletrack magazine, issue 84, fared better in its portrayal of female MTBers featuring fifteen pictures of women and no pink items. Don’t get me wrong, I do subscribe to these magazines and they have many useful and interesting articles.

But, while they do not put women in pink, neither do they get the message across that more women are starting to enjoy mountain biking.

Grace Wong also discusses the over-sexualisation of female cycling. I can’t say I’ve noticed any of that in the mountain biking press, as to have that, you’d have to actually feature some women! So what part do the marketing companies play in a woman’s choice of attire?

If I wanted to buy some shorts I would first go to a bike shop to see what they had. So who are the marketing companies aiming at then? I’ll tell you; they are aiming at their customer, but their customer is not my customer. Their customer is me, the bike shop owner and the person who decides what range the customer will be offered.

I went in search of how the demographics stack up for bike shop owners and I found the results of a survey done by the National Bicycle Dealers Association in January 2013 in the U.S. The results showed that 89% are men and 66% are aged between 48 and 67. So this is the profile that steers the top level marketing campaign.

Back to stocking my shop. My mountain biking pals want dark, bold, maybe red, tiny bit of pink perhaps? I visited Race Face on the dealers’ site and on entering the women’s area was greeted by a picture of a lovely looking lady with a top that she must have forgotten to zip all the way up and no bottoms on. I looked across at my husband, who tore his gaze away and looked back at me with a “What?” look.

I want to see the clothes because that’s what I’m ordering. I don’t want to see the “no clothes”!

I wonder if some owners get so distracted by the first image they see that they forget why they visited the site, don’t place the order and hey presto, not a great range for women in store? Luckily, for my female customers all I could think was that she was going to get very saddle sore with no shorts on and clicked through to the products. And I’m glad I did; yes, there are some pastels and pinks but there are also a great selection of greys, blues, blacks and reds.

One brand where I don’t have to wade through innuendo and half-naked women to get to the products is my own personal favourite, Royal Racing. Not only is it endorsed by local hero, world class DH rider Steve Peat, but the quality is great and it both looks and feels amazing.

Admittedly the 2014 range still has lots of black, but they’ve introduced a dark raspberry and strong turquoise for anyone who wants a splash of colour. The 2013 stock sold very well and Royal Racing shorts are worn by many of the Over-Ride Ladies MTB group.

A selection from the 2014 Royal Racing range

I’ve also decided to expand my range of women’s road cycling clothes by stocking the Columbian brand Suarez with its interesting patterns and vivid colours. I feel it will be a good option for the road ladies in terms of visibility and design, based on my research.

It’s been very interesting over the last nine months watching the transition away from what was an almost excusive male clientele. Moving forward, there needs to be a joined up approach between the woman who wants to buy and the person who makes the goods. I’m beginning to realise that this is where I come in, as the shop owner, “the middle man”, increasing the choice available to women.

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