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Heather Mason: On authenticity

Published February 24, 2020

Editor's note: Heather Mason has done nearly everything in the bike industry. The former pro 24-hour racer has been a retailer and national sales manager for a well-known brand. Now she is a bicycle industry advocate, business developer, columnist, and athlete who shares her knowledge, insight and passion with everyone she meets. She is also in charge of eastern U.S. business development for Bianchi Bicycles. BRAIN will be sharing monthly columns from Heather in 2020.  

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I had the opportunity to attend the CABDA Midwest show recently. Spending a few days at an industry show always leaves me with several takeaways and mind-scrambling thoughts to sift through. The opportunity to sit with multiple shop owners and employees, as well as industry insiders from many brands, provides countless areas for feedback and conversation directed at growth and strategy.

With my recently expanded role at Bianchi USA, CABDA would play host to several one-on-one meetings with our Midwest shops for the first time. I was preparing for these meetings and also a seminar I was hosting directed at retail strategies.

My mind was humming.

As a trade show veteran, I have always steered away from having a table in the booth and sitting down. Never wanting to get bogged down, I crave movement: standing, talking and showing bikes. This show I tossed old school Heather aside and welcomed the table in. I was craving knowledge. I continue to look for solutions to help shape our industry and felt with this first-time introduction for many of my new accounts, I wanted shop owners to sit and talk. I asked people to take off their jacket, put down the bag of swag and get to know me. Tell me about how the shop started, how many square feet, what brands over the years, how many employees, do you work every day, what is your goal, why do you love it?

I knew every shop would be unique, but I kept replaying several of the conversations in my mind. Each IBD was so different, in fact, that each story left a memorable image in my mind. Captivated, I mindfully connected the dots, noting ideas that could help everyone in a field so scattered.

A few days later, I was still sifting through the experiences, pondering chats, and gathering thoughts when I opened Instagram to an enlightening image posted by IBD Inner Banks Outfitters, featuring new rider Julie Osmond Patton. It was then that I felt the stars aligned and it all made sense. Bicycle shops can vary radically. It's their individuality they have in common. It's their uniqueness, ironically, that is similar.

I stopped on the image and looked closely. It was not the rider or the bike that stood out. It was the message. The authenticity in the shop post. “If your dreams don’t intimidate you, they’re not big enough. First Bike Road Ride — February 16, 2020."

This was it. The key is not to combine all the shop stories — it is to tell each individual one. Each story is the key to success. How each shop owner decides to share their passion is what will draw us in. This post by Inner Banks Outfitters showcased the passion that owner Liane has for changing people’s lives via the bike. How can we learn from this?

Be genuine. 

Don’t get bogged down in posting images of bikes, sales, rides, events and promotions. Utilize your authenticity to fully connect with consumers. It’s easy to win a consumer based on price, but to gain a lifelong client, we need to connect on a deeper level that involves authenticity. 

Why be authentic? 

There is so much noise and clutter out there that it’s easy for people to be distracted. Just like this image captured me, being you is the best form of marketing you have. Catch us off guard. 

As I reflect on the conversations I had at CABDA, I believe authenticity begins with your values and purpose. Why does your business exist and why does it matter? Begin with the story of your business. Share it, then share it again.

People value connection. With so many choices out there, today’s consumer wants to spend their money and time on things with value. They have an option to make a choice they feel good about. Create an environment that allows a sharable story of an experience, something they can connect with and relate. People are moving away from just buying the bike; it’s about the process, reason and people behind it. 

How do you show your shop authenticity and gain consumer trust?

As I reflect on the conversations I had at CABDA, I believe authenticity begins with your values and purpose. Why does your business exist and why does it matter? Begin with the story of your business. Share it, then share it again. It is who you are. Go all in and be vulnerable. Then look for ways to spread your story. Promote your shop ideals. 

Be transparent. Share the story of your business. Opening up a “behind the scenes” look into the shop adds credibility to your shop and builds loyalty. Pull back the curtain on your day-to-day operations by introducing your staff members or giving a look into how bicycles are received. Showcase a shop transformation. Communicate your brand stories and why you have chosen to sell what you do. 

Make sure your staff fits your culture. Authenticity efforts will be crushed if your employees’ attitudes are not consistent with the values you want to promote.

Show vulnerability. Business is not always glamour. Seasonality and competition and finding good people, the struggle can be real. It is good to show the ups and downs of business. In the end, this allows us to develop a real emotional connection to our customers. Be real. 

Authenticity demand is at an all-time high. Millennial consumers and NextGen entrepreneurs are demanding it. It is up to you to convey genuine, unmediated values of your business. No two shops will ever be identical. Comparable to a custom-built bicycle frame, shops are tailored, sculpted into form over time and effected and morphed through personality and experience. What is successful for one bike shop may not be for another. Walk into any bicycle shop and instantly step inside the psyche of the owner, the staff and what they stand for.

Define your shop's authenticity and identify key items that will open your door to a lifetime of long-term relationships that will keep customers coming back again and again. 

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