Not only did I get to travel to sunny Long Beach, CA for the National Women’s Bicycling Summit but I also got to be speaker in the “Media & Marketing: Who’s Selling Cycling to Women?” breakout session, along with Susi Wunsch of Velojoy, Mia Kahout of Momentum Magazine, Elly Blue of Taking the Lane. I titled my talk “Why We Bike”, and this is what I said:
I own Po Campo, and we make handbags with lots of functional features for women living an active lifestyle. If this was a year or so ago, I would’ve introduced my company this way: ‘Po Campo makes fashionable and functional bike bags’. I don’t say that anymore because I realized that our core customer is a woman who doesn’t consider herself a biker, even if she bikes often. I know this is true, because I bike about 15 miles a day and have been for about 10 years, and I still don’t call myself a cyclist. So if she doesn’t think of herself as a cyclist, she’s not necessarily going to be interested in a bike bag. So I had to rethink why we bike.
First, some background. During college, I began biking regularly around my quaint Midwestern university town because everyone did it and it was an easy way to get around. Moving to Chicago to finish up school, I continued to bike a lot, largely because it was now so normal to me. Plus, I was so poor that even public transportation seemed like a splurge. But even after getting a job and having disposable income, I continued to bike instead of taking the train or driving because, well, I liked it.
There are lots of things to like about biking to work (more to come on that). My least favorite part was entering my office carrying so much more stuff then everyone else, with my bags inside of bags and helmet and lights… I felt like I was being forced to choose between riding a bike and looking normal. Why do those things have to mutually exclusive? Why can’t I have a bag that does what I need it to do and still feels like something I’d want to actually own?
As I continued to think about being forced to choose between biking and looking normal, I realized that with cities improving their bicycle infrastructure, I knew there were going to be a lot more woman like me, in this predicament, wanting to add a new form of transportation into her options of how to get from A to B, but doing so would force her to buy a bag specific to this new form of transportation. I think this problem, like many other issues, are unique to women so it is our job to solve them.
The original idea behind our bags is that they would not be bicycle specific, but rather bicycle compatible. Our first design, the Armitage Satchel on the left, accomplished this well. I was so excited about these bags that I thought they were going to fly off the shelves.
But that didn’t happen. The bags did not sell well at first. I thought the bike store was the natural home for them, but going into a typical bike store, it was clear that a cute handbag did not really belong. The bike shop buyers/owners operated their stores because, well, they really loved bikes. (So do I, but in a different way). This is how my sales pitch would typically go:
Me: Hi, I designed these cute bags that you can easily attach to your bike and then quickly detach when you get to work.
Bike Shop Guy: Oh, okay, I’ll need to show it to my wife/girlfriend/daughter/sister to see what she thinks first. If she likes them, then we can just put them over with the other women’s stuff. [We walk over to area with Spandex shorts and jerseys]
Me: Oh, no, I’m sorry, they’re not for racing, more for like riding around the city.
Bike Shop Guy: Oh, like bike commuting?
Me: Yes, like bike commuting.
Bike Shop Guy: Oh, well, bike commuters are super cheap. They prefer just using milk crates. Or maybe you’re thinking of the women who ride fixies. They are more style conscious, but they don’t have a rear rack, so they can’t even use your bag.
I’m generalizing and paraphrasing here, but that was a pretty standard interaction for the first two years of Po Campo’s existence. (Note: I know there are a ton of women who use their Po Campo bags on their road bikes and fixies and I love that and don’t stop.)
The resistance made me do a little soul searching. If my product doesn’t fit in with the bike world, is it still a bike bag? Why do I bike? After conducting some informal research, I came up with four reasons why biking is awesome, which we use in our marketing to speak to women like…me. :)
1) It’s fun. Not speed-thrills-fun or almost-being-hit-by-a-car fun, but feeling-the-wind-in-your-hair fun. Coasting fun. Sense of freedom fun. With our days packed morning to night and our hectic schedules, the 20 minutes that you get to feel like a kid again is complete enjoyment.
2) It’s doing something a little different and unexpected. It’s a way to express yourself and exert your independence. Also – it’s cool.
3) Bicycling indulges your sense of adventure because you’re always stumbling across new things. It’s easy to find yourself on autopilot during your commute, sitting in traffic in your or car or engrossed in your smartphone on the bus. On a bike, you’re right there in the thick of it, living in the moment.
4) It feels good! The physiological benefits are great, but it also feels good to know your are doing something good for the environment, for your city and for yourself.
I intentionally did not include any photos of bikes in my four reasons because I want to shift our view from the bike industry’s perspective where it is all about the bike to viewing the bicycle as more of a means to an end. A way for her to have the experiences she is looking for – via the bike.
When we DO show the bike, we show it with a woman who is:
1- Confident and comfortable. She’s not scared or insecure, she knows what she is doing.
2- Care-free, because what it to look fun and pleasurable.
We also always have our models in comfortable clothing because we want bicycling to seem like something that you could just do, starting today.
We like to think of Po Campo bags as the item in her life that helps her connect the dots, that shows her how bicycling can provide her with the same feel-good feelings as the other activities she enjoys, like yoga.
We still sell our bags in bike shops, but we’ve branched out to gift stores and boutiques, too. The benefits are twofold: It makes sense for us to be in a retail environment that complements our bags, and it also to show her how biking can fit into the rest of her life.
I don’t want someone who’s interested in biking to feel like she needs new friends, clothing or that she has to make time in her already busy schedule. I don’t care about how often she bikes, how far she bikes, or even if she does bike yet. Really, I’m just happy if she views bicycling positively and can picture herself doing it. Because then when she is ready to try it, she will.