Spend more than a little time scanning the posts on LinkedIn forums like “Bicycle Industry Group,” or “World Cycling Industry,” and you’ll quickly learn the majority are from people not in the bicycle industry, not cycling professionals, and come to think of it, not very worldly, either.
These posts come in two varieties: from people from outside the industry trying to self stuff to people inside it, and from people outside the industry trying to get in.
This piece is about the second group. And why you don’t want to be a part of it.
Meet Terry Malouf, the go-to recruiter for much of the US bike business. She’s been placing candidates in the outdoors industry—and mostly in the cycling industry—since 2002. Malouf has successfully placed hundreds of candidates, including the current directors of Bikes Belong (now People For Bikes) and IMBA. Other placements include managers and executives at a Who’s Who of industry heavyweights: Giro/Bell, Camelbak, Specialized , Seven Cycles, Campagnolo, Cateye, Diamondback/Raleigh, Haibike, Hayes, LaPierre, Reynolds, and SRAM. And currently she’s scouting talent for distributors Hawley/Lambert.
The woman knows her stuff. She’s been everywhere, done everything, and most important, knows everyone worth knowing in the industry (and probably a few who aren’t). And Terry Malouf has a word of advice for cyclists who want to turn their passion into a paycheck.
Actually, she’s a little kinder than that. “Nothing worthwhile is easy,” she says, speaking from her Boulder, Colorado offices, taking her time and choosing her words carefully. “There are more people than jobs out there. But if this is something you’re creative and passionate about, and you are creative in business, you should pursue it.”
And, having said that, she proceeds to comment on our four reasons why that may not be such a good idea.
#1. The Doors Aren’t Just Closed, They’re Usually Locked, Too.
Malouf’s speech is full of pauses; her pauses are full of meaning. You don’t get to be the top recruiter in a cutthroat industry by running your mouth.
“(Bike industry) clients usually want people who already have bike experience,” she points out—although she often advocates for industry outsiders who bring fresh perspectives and new ways of doing things. “They will sometimes consider candidates from outside with enthusiast-level experience, especially in disciplines like finance, marketing, and operations. Sometimes salespeople can move in from other industries.
“Product development and management is much more difficult, but not impossible. And of course there are more opportunities in the mass side of the business than in specialty retail channel for people from outside the industry.”
Marketing roles for people from outside the industry are becoming more accepted, especially if you are a digital marketing guru, “which is becoming an ‘in’ for folks from outside the industry.” That’s Malouf’s polite way of saying that, aside from a few A-list players, the bike business is still scrambling to figure out this whole social/digital space, rather like watching your parents trying to master their Facebook accounts. And the one place they can find people who really know that space is outside the industry.
Malouf continues, “Engineers can come from outside, especially in industrial design and advanced materials, usually by way of the aerospace, motorcycle, or technology sectors.”
Of course, the positions she’s talking about here are just for the middle-to-upper management rungs of the corporate ladder. Entry-level opportunities? Those are usually snapped up by bright young talent from the retail segment, who may spend several years being underemployed before getting a shot at an actual sales territory.
The bottom line is, the bike industry tends to be change averse—slow to change. They like doing things the way they’ve always done them…which is to say, with people who are already in the industry.
#2. The Pay Pretty Much Sucks.
Well, Malouf doesn’t say that, exactly. What she actually says is, “A lot of people want off the corporate treadmill, either for reasons of boredom or job security. But expect to take as much as a 10% hit for mid-level candidates making a switch from another industry, especially if it’s hi-tech or biotech. Even more senior positions can expect to see at least 5% less. Executive level pay is almost at parity.”
Malouf lays it out. Big companies pay better than small companies. The higher you go, the less the differential. The Outdoors industry, her other area of expertise, typically pays better than bicycles. But then, so does just about anything.
#3. You Won’t Get To Ride Your Bike As Much.
Many bike companies are famous for their Lunch Rides—hardcore, testosterone-poisoned, take-no-prisoners throwdowns that go balls—or increasingly, ovaries—out straight from the parking lot.
“But you won’t get to ride your bike as much as you think,” Malouf cautions. The reason is the amount of time you’ll need to put in for things like trade shows and travel. Which brings us to
#4. The Hours Can Be Brutal.
The basic bike industry work week, depending on the company, is about 45 hours, which employees from the financial or hi-tech sectors might describe as “leisurely.” But bike industry employees in the sales, marketing, or product disciplines can expect to spend at least one, and more likely two, weekend days every week at cycling events throughout the Spring and Summer months.
This may sound like fun until you realize that, instead of spending that time in the saddle, you’ll be on your feet in choking dust or freezing rain under an Easy-Up tent ten hours a day, plus another couple hours setting up, breaking down, and getting gear stowed securely. And the days you’re not actually at the events, you travelling to or from them.
Twenty or thirty days without a day off is not uncommon.
Comp time? What’s that? Industry insiders joke about having name tags made that say “Dad” or “Mom” so their kids will recognize them when they finally come home in October after Interbike.
“The good news is, more bike companies are trying to emphasize quality of life, but it’s a slow process,” Malouf says tactfully.
But assuming you still want that bike industry job even after the last thousand words, Terry Malouf has a final, encouraging piece of advice for you.
“Bring something relevant and of value and—if you’re willing to take the pay hit—you might just make a difference,” she says. “If you’re a high performer and a creative thinker, the bike business can use you…even if they don’t know it.”