My husband prefers to stay home when I utter the phrase, "I'm going shopping," on a Saturday morning. He groans and buries his head in his pillow. His idea of shopping is quick and precise.
But he surprised me one Saturday when he said he wanted me to shop with him for a bicycle. He'd done his research and wanted to check out a couple of bikes, but he really knew what he wanted. One bike shop, one Dick's Sporting Goods and one Walmart visit later and we were back at Dick's. He asked no questions, and then did what I call the flip -- meaning he flipped out his wallet.
I'm not often surprised after 25 years of marriage, so I took note of this interesting development. The idea of riding together percolated as memories rushed back of my college 10-speed. But now I'm 56, overweight and arthritic, so getting the right fit with the right bike would mean the difference between a fun activity and a machine gathering cobwebs in the garage.
I went back to the store to check out women's bikes and did a double-take. Sticker shock made me realize that I was looking at a serious purchase. I wanted more information. I needed to shop.
Bike shops, I now know, are pretty much a male domain, all those cranks and gears and shiny metal objects. Everyone is busy, but ignoring a potential customer is like throwing hundred dollar bills out the window.
Twice I was ignored at one bike shop even though the second time I wanted to test ride the same bike again. After the salesman was too busy to help me open the glass door when I came back from a two-minute ride, and then proceeded to talk with a male customer, my wallet did the walking.
At another bike shop, I was helped politely the first time, but when I went back, the salesmen were talking to other male bikers and left me and another woman standing in the middle of the store twisting handlebars. I flipped right out the door.
At a third shop, the salesman was more interested in getting a fan belt on his car than telling me about the features of the bike. I rode a bike I really liked, but when I went back eager to talk about features, I had the same noncommittal experience. No wallet flipping here either.
I was getting discouraged trying to look up unfamiliar names of bikes online. Cruiser, comfort, hybrid, mountain bike. I wanted a salesman to explain it all. I don't know the language of bikes any more than I do cars, but at least car salesmen realize that a woman in the showroom might be the actual customer. (On that note, I have bought all of our cars.)
Finally, I did what most women do. I messaged a friend who works in the bike business part time for advice. A journalist by trade, I knew his advice would be dead on and honest. (Full disclosure: He works at Trek Bikes occasionally as a mechanic.) He told me what type of bike to consider, and it was already on my list.
I was reluctant to head out to Trek Bikes at the far end of Mount Pleasant because it would be quite a trek from James Island. But now I knew the type of bike I wanted. It was just a matter of being sure the hundred dollar bills weren't going to sit on the floor of the garage.
This time, Hubby went with me, but for once it didn't matter.
The salesman came up to me when I told him what I wanted -- my back straight, no leaning on my hands, easy to get on and safe to ride.
Then he did something that no one else had done: He put a helmet on me and said he was going out to ride with me. While we circled in a safe parking lot, he made sure I understood the features of the bike and how to work them.
He was patient and showed me two bikes. He wheeled them in and out the door for me and adjusted the seat and handlebars before I started.
By the end of the second ride, I was sure of the bike I wanted, but it was still a big purchase. I didn't buy the bike that day, but I had a complete list of features. For a week, I thought about bikes. I made a list. I compared features. I could have punched the button on the computer and had a bike delivered.
In the end, it was the salesman's concern that tipped the scales. And when I showed up about 10 minutes before closing time to buy it, he didn't hesitate to make sure I was satisfied with my purchase. I've been happily riding my hybrid ever since.
Moral of the story: If you expect women to flip open their wallets in these economic times, give us some attention. Tell us what we need to know. Otherwise, hundreds of dollars in profit just walk out the door.