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Guest Editorial: Full Circle in the Industry: Yes or no?

Published June 18, 2021

By Suzette Ayotte

A few weeks back one of my customers — Tasha Tinagero,  the retail purchaser and head of marketing of Luckyduck Bicycle Cafe in Oakland, California — asked me to pen a profile of myself. She was curating an in-store promo highlighting brands owned and managed by women. And so I began ...

Mint Socks. Solo-owned, solo-managed, solo-run. One woman; 20 hats. To those that have worked with Suzette – a 26-year bike industry veteran – the multi-hat approach is no surprise. Her get-shit-done mentality means that if it takes a Kentucky Derby of hats then that's what it takes. Everything she does, she does with purpose.

Early PR career burn-out, I continued, led, reluctantly, to an inside sales gig at Ritchey. The thought of making cold calls did not sound fun but I'd recently been introduced to the Ritchey brand on a 500-mile charity ride and figured, at minimum, maybe I could get a cool bike. It's just a PR sabbatical and it won't be forever, I reminded myself.

It was 1996, and while we were just starting to use email for business communication most shops were not yet online. My job was to call bike shop boys on the phone all day long. I was single and in my early 30s, so it wasn't your average sales call drudgery. More often than not, I got an order, and I always made my numbers. I took the job seriously, attacked it with purpose, and made some friends along the way.

Back then the industry was mostly all boys, with a few exceptions. Paving the way were product managers Sky Yaeger and Ellen Johnson; Ashley Korenblat and Jenn Dice were establishing themselves as the prodigies of advocacy and non-profit; and Mary Monroe, Dorothy Pacheco and Elayna Caldwell were marketing and promo gurus. Other than a handful of females, this was an all-male industry where every event was a sausage festival.

The story goes that the day I accepted that job at Ritchey became a career-defining moment. Not only have I stayed in the bike industry forever but I've come full circle and am not too proud to say that I am back where I started from, calling on bike shops all day long. This time I'm a small business owner, hawking my own brand, MINT Socks.

Some things haven't changed. I still believe that if you want to sell, you have to pick up the phone. Despite technology, email can be a black hole. Other changes, though sluggish, are now part of the daily conversation not just in the bike industry but globally and politically. We're white and we're Black; we're men, women and trans; we're he, she and they, and we're all genders. Our industry is not a perfect, balanced and diverse demographic but neither is our world. As a female veteran, believe me when I say we've made huge strides.

It used to be normal to be in OE meetings, attending Sea Otter dinners, at product launches or at BPSA events, to be seated at a table with anywhere from five to 20 men and be the only woman in the room. Sky, Ellen, Ashley, Jenn, Mary, Dorothy and Elayna remember it well, I'm certain. It was standard fare, and our minds weren't blown by it; it just was. I, for one, am grateful for having had the experience of working within what truly was a "good old boys" network during some of those years and in some ways, felt select. Good or bad, it contributed to my character today and was most certainly confidence building.

Post Ritchey, post-13-year stint as fi'zi;k's U.S. Marketing Director and a slew of clients later via my PR Agency, Aspekt PR, I'm grass-roots style, calling bike shops selling socks brand. In my profile for Tasha, I wrote, "she intends to grow her business the old-school way, like the Ritchey days, by calling on bike shops."

Luckyduck Bicycle Cafe is living proof. I recently picked up the phone, made a cold call, a guy answered and invited me to stop by. I happened to be in town and so I did. And there I met Tasha.

The full-circle revelation of this story is that I’m doing exactly what I was doing 25 years ago – calling on bike shops with purpose. It takes persistence and there’s a fine line that I likely often cross (Supergo’s Alan Goldsmith once said I was like pit bull tugging at his leg); but if I don’t cross it, how will I know? I have to know if it’s a yes or a no.  

The real revelation here, however, is who’s on the other end of the phone. Twenty-five years later, I’d wager a guess that 40% of the time, women answer the phone or they’re the person I need to pitch. We’re salespeople, buyers, managers, shop owners and small business owners. We’re NBDA Presidents, VP’s and CEOs. For those that haven’t been here long enough to know what this industry was like with almost no women in it — it gives me hope. Prevail long enough and change is possible.  

It also gives me hope about my small business. I’m not curing the next infectious disease, because it’s just socks. But they are quality socks, made in Italy, they have a backstory and I donate a percentage of sales to NICA. MINT is how I’ve chosen to cap my industry career and because it’s my lifeline, I make the phone call with purpose.

I call on shops that I called on 25 years ago and reconnect with old friends like Mike Weiss of Big Shark, Joe Drennan of Earl’s Cyclery & Fitness, Joe Traill of Joe’s Bike Shop, Dan Hughes of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop and yes, Alan Goldsmith, owner of South Bay Bicycle. Better yet, I get to make new friends, like Tasha at Luckyduck. Sometimes I get to call on the same shop 10 times over. Prevail long enough and I might even get the order. At a minimum, at least I’ll know if it’s a yes or a no. 

Suzette Ayotte

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