By: Lisa Slagle, Founder & Creative Director
Every bike shop has one. You can recognize her by the scabs on her elbows, her messy ponytail, and her affinity for free t-shirts that reps have given her because they were too small for everyone else. She wears a hat so you can't see the flecks of mud in her hair. But you still see them. There is something cool about her. She’s friendly, kind, and she would never say it aloud, but you just know she is a total badass.
She is: the token Shop Girl.
The Shop Girl is important to the morale of a bike shop.
She keeps the mechanics in check. She actually knows how to fold the apparel and hang it nicely in the front of the shop so it doesn’t look like the mangled closet of a teenage gorilla. She can carry at least twelve boxed helmets up from the basement at once and arrange them into unique, color-coordinated pyramid displays. And to many customers, she is the much-needed sweet relief from the stress of walking into a bike shop.
That’s a thing. A lot of people feel anxiety when they enter a bike shop for the first time.
I grew up working in bike shops and still find this fascinating. A lot of people spend their childhood riding bikes with their friends, and then somewhere between getting a drivers license and getting too cool, they magically stop riding bikes. Then, as adults, they come sheepishly into a bike shop, terrified that they might sound stupid or explode from overwhelm or not be able to figure out how shifters have evolved since 1995.
These Customers Find The Token Shop Girl
I don’t want to totally stereotype bike mechanics, but I’ve worked in several bike shops across the country, and there is always a mechanic or two that inadvertently scares the hell out of timid customers. These are the mechanics with wrenches tattooed into their forearms and grease permanently embedded under their fingernails. You have a hunch that they actually just take your bicycle behind their bench and stare it into fixing itself. These mechanics are extremely intimidating to people who are just getting into cycling as adults.
“My wheel is flat,” you tell them.
“You mean your tube?” they correct you.
You panic. Shit. Is it a tube? You look around and see the word “tubeless” on a stack of tires hanging in front of you. Do you have something tubeless? You wish you had just left your bike in your garage. You wish the agony was over. You wish--
“Hi,” you hear her say.
You look up. It’s the Shop Girl, messy ponytail and all. Just when you think that she’s going to think you’re a total idiot, she smiles at you… and it’s genuine.
She is The Shop Girl, and she is here to save your bike shop experience.
She takes you up front while the mechanic stays in the back and stares your tire into inflating itself, and she shows you some new helmets she’s stacking and lets you pet her dog, which has a cool, outdoorsy name like Sprocket or Scout or Mavic. She starts talking to you about her favorite trails and the condition they are in after the latest rainstorm. “This isn't so bad, this bike shop stuff,” you think. You feel included. You feel cool. You feel like you’re part of the bike shop culture. You’re in!
You will come back to this shop when you want to buy a new bike, and you will buy it from her. Because she gets it. She won’t steer you wrong. She’s not an A-hole. And you like her for that.
Here’s to Shop Girls everywhere.
Here’s to Shop Girls showing up every day and making a difference in the lives of customers all day long, for making the bike shop look like less of a mess, for keeping the mechanics halfway PC in front of paying customers, and for making the bike industry a welcoming place.
I applaud the Shop Girl.
I applaud the Shop Girl for doing what a lot of bike industry marketing isn’t doing. I applaud her for making a brick and mortar experience better than shopping online. I applaud her for inspiring women to be more like her, to walk around like a boss despite the mud in their hair and scabs on their arms. I applaud her for not only being a minority in her industry, but also for making the bike industry more welcoming for everyone.
We need more Shop Girls, and we need more of her mentality in the bike industry.
We need her attitude in our marketing and our brands—inclusive words that can resonate with the gnarliest without scaring the newest.
We need her grace in understanding everyone’s experience is different and that everyone deserves to seek fun on two wheels.
We need her intuition, her innate ability to cater her language to different knowledge bases and experience levels, to hang with everyone from the most technical shopper to the one who doesn’t care what a 1x11 is as long as it works.
We need to bring her mentality to our brands. We need to make the bike industry fun and welcoming and open. We need to be more progressive in this area.
It seems like within the outdoor industry, the bike industry has some work to do in catching up with inclusive progression. Everyone brings their own experiences and knowledge with them when they walk into a bike shop, and these differences shouldn't make the shop experience intimidating to some and insulting to others. I think we can rethink the shop experience in general, rewrite and redesign signage displays, examine the photography and graphics on everything, and check our attitudes. I think it would take some work, but it's not impossible. We can all be a little more like the Shop Girl. We can all be kind and rad. We can help everyone seek fun.
So thank YOU, Shop Girl. You brave the mechanics' bathroom and all its old, torn copies of Dirtbag Mag. You have dropped a heavy cruiser on your face more than once when trying to lift it down from a ceiling rack for a customer test ride. And somehow you're the one who has to listen to awkward stories and recommend saddles to people experiencing testicular numbness. But you know what?
You show up to work anyway, and you make the industry a better place.
copyright 2021 Wheelie, LLC.
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