With magazines, websites, races and events now dedicated to women’s cycling, but few retailers taking it too seriously, it was only a matter of time until the gap in the market was spotted. Mark Sutton talks with Phil Bingham, half of the co-founding VeloVixen team fast becoming a ’hub’ for women’s cycling…
Let’s start at the beginning, when in the summer of 2009, VeloVixen founders Phil and Liz Bingham met on a blind date. The pair clicked and with a twist of fate, Phil was soon to find himself at a career crossroads. With a desire to travel and nothing aside from new love Liz to keep him from doing so, the duo embarked on a journey the length of South America, over the Andes and down the West Coast of the USA from Vancouver to Mexico.
Having spent a year on their bikes, conquered 15,000 foot climbs and weathered a journey spanning more than 10,000km side-by-side, the pair got engaged at the end of their journey.
“We had a year to mull over the quality of product and service provided to women in the cycling business,” says Phil Bingham. “We spent 2011 analysing the state of the UK’s women’s cycling market, approaching other retailers, distributors and – importantly – female cyclists themselves. We quickly concluded there was a viable business to be created, though being an online store we had trouble convincing some distributors to back us. Some retailers we spoke with told us ‘it’ll never work, we’ve tried it,’ though it became apparent that many hadn’t done so with a female mindset.”
Mindsets are changing though. With the women’s sector now seeing the launch of new magazines, websites, and events such as Cycletta and Diva, Bingham believes 2012 was a good time to launch into the market.
“To begin with there were firms that we tried to work with that didn’t ‘get it’. But times have changed and not only are our chosen partners embracing our business model, but they’re also realising we won’t just be a faceless internet firm. We’re here to become a hub for women’s cycling and we work hard to source stock from like-minded firms who use female designers and recognise that female cyclists shop in a different way to the men. Our mission statement is to get as many women on to bikes in as healthy, safe and stylish a way as possible and that takes an element of care and attention.”
As such VeloVixen’s team spends much of the working day personalising the descriptions on its items, offering inside knowledge on its stock.
“We’re not looking to become the next Wiggle. Each and every product is chosen for merits that we’ve personally seen. We offer free returns and postage to ensure the customer receives the right product for their needs and we actually like to take calls from customers asking for our advice.”
With road safety an ever-important issue, Bingham tells BikeBiz that he feels they sell a disproportionate amount of safety gear compared to your average bike shop.
“I think for women it’s a very real concern, whereas men are often bit more macho about it. That’s why we like to be part of events such as the Cyclettas and bike shows to meet the customer and take on board their feedback. We are the Headline Sponsor of the inaugural Women’s Cycling Awards later this summer and exhibited at the Vitality Show – an exhibition focused on women’s lifestyle and healthy living. From exhibitions like these, the London Bike Show and Manchester’s Bike & Tri Show we take home invaluable feedback and even recommendations for brands we’ve yet to come across – it’s great to meet so many women keen to cycle, whether casually or competitively – we’re learning from them all the time.”
As an active brand on various social media platforms, Bingham believes the way women shop is a world apart from a man’s experience.
“We often see Twitter exchanges between female cyclists. They share links, talk to each other, ask questions. If we can chip in to these chats with ideas we eventually become ‘known’ to the cyclist. Through this approach, we’re really hoping to become a ‘hub’ in women’s cycling.”
So what does the future hold for VeloVixen?
“We’ve a big marketing drive coming soon and there’s a long-burning idea to develop some VeloVixen branded products. We’ll continue to support women’s group rides and perhaps in future host our own. Beyond that, perhaps I’ll get out on my bike again soon. Probably should get training, I’m riding the Tour de France route with the Tour de Force event one week before Wiggins and co kick off the main event.”