Four Reasons Why You Don’t Really Want a Job in the Bike Business

Four Reasons Why You Don’t Really Want a Job in the Bike Business

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.

pq 1 everywhereThis 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.

Don’t.

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.

pq 2 always done them 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.

pq3 outdoors 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

pq4 name tags#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.”

 

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21 comments

  1. Brian

    As a friend of mine once said. . “We take a vow of poverty upon entering the industry. ” But, slowly things seem to be changing. Companies are realizing that they do need to keep experienced people in the industry. But, even finding an opportunity when you have 20 years under your belt is tough..

  2. Jon MacKinnon

    I’m trying to run my own business making bags for bikes, tool rolls, frame bags, etc. and I’m actually doing quite well, but it’s so incredibly difficult. I’m fortunate to be able to balance it with my full time web development job, but I agree completely with point 3 and 4.

    I went from consistently riding thousands of k’s a year including a couple of trips over to Portugal for 5 days in the Algarve, to 600k last year, and it’s only since I bought my girlfriend a bike a few months ago that I’ve actually started riding again, my most recent ride on my Strava until her and I went out was last August!

    Then there’s the hours… because my girlfriend lives a couple of hours drive away, we only get weekends together, and as much as I’d love to have her sit around watching me sew for hours on end I’m not sure she’d be too happy with that, so weekends are less sewing and thankfully more riding. That’s great on one hand, but means I now get up early enough to get an hour or two of sewing in before work, and then the same after work, cutting fabric before grabbing something to eat, then heading to my machine to get everything made.

    Don’t get me wrong I absolutely love what I do, I really feel like I’ve found my calling, and I guess I’m in a different position to people who want to work for a big brand dealing with sales or marketing or whatever it might be, but I have definitely had to sacrifice spending time on my bike in an attempt to be part of the bike industry, and don’t get me started on the frustrations involved in reaching out to press – not including yourselves I must add. My emails have been ignored by all but two of the dozen or so cycling websites I have contacted since I started the company, so now I just don’t bother.


    1. Author
      Rick Vosper

      Hey Jon, Ping me separately (rick at-sign rvms.com) if you’d like help with that. I’ll spare the other readers the RVMS advertisement .

    2. Padraig

      We receive an incredible amount of spam: hangover remedies, new mascara, prayer vigils, stuff that’s not remotely cycling related. Dozens every day. As a result, we miss stuff that we are actually interested in. I can’t answer for others, but finding the stuff we care about amongst the sea of crap makes new introductions hard.

  3. Jakula

    This sounds a lot like the SCUBA industry. How do you become a millionaire dive shop owner? Start with 10 million.

  4. Scott Montgomery

    Oh doom and gloom. We just need to keep improving the products, retail experience and there is still hope. Sure you can make more money elsewhere but it is a great life with great people. I can give you 10 reasons to stay in but if you don’t like it – go play somewhere else.

    1. Freddy Salgado

      HI Scott,
      You have been around for awhile, I am curious to here your 10 reasons. Some of us are slaves to the industry and this is the life we chose. I have tried leaving the cycling industry but inevitably get pulled back in. Lay some words of wisdom on us brother!


    2. Author
      Rick Vosper

      Kendkrick’s Law is similar to what @Jakula points out for the SCUBA business, only we only get to start with one million.

      And to @Scott’s point, there’s Vosper’s Corollary to Kendrick’s Law: the only real reason to be in the bike business is that you really like bikes.

  5. John

    Good article. The best way to kill your passion for bicycling is to work in the bike industry. I was in for 10 years. Finally quit and didn’t look at my bike for 2. Now I ride because it’s fun and therapeutic again.

  6. Luc Rae

    I realize you are just attempting to be inclusive, but the saying “balls out” does not refer to testicles and therefore is not gender specific.

  7. bagni

    rick
    nice blurb
    bike industry like lots of other “enthusiast brand” gigs
    however
    bike industry been around long time joe
    and
    bike biz is quite incestuous
    after a while you’re working somewhere sleeping with what you thought was your enemy
    but…tangenitis…..
    the real enemy isn’t competition it’s sameness….
    and there’s another article for you rick
    ::))

  8. Charles Pelkey

    Having worked on the journalism side of the industry for 17+ years, I have to say the bike industry was terrific for me. That said, I have a great deal of sympathy for those who end up working long, underpaid hours for manufacturers large and small. The margins are so small in this industry, and the desire to be part of it by so many, that salaries are depressed. It’s a tough business, but it is fun. I can’t imagine another job in which I would have been able to closely follow my favorite sport and to get an early view of some of its greatest innovations. I am glad I was part of it … and glad I’ve gone elsewhere since.

  9. Peter K

    I have 30 + years in the bicycle industry from store management and ownership to international experience. The onee thing that I have found is that finding a new opportunity in the bicycle industry becomes very hard when you cross that 50 year old mark. Its like all the companies want young faces that they can pay a pittance to vs older folks that have the experience but will have to be compensate more fairly.

    A case in point are retail bike mechanics. Most of them that have years of experience aren’t paid a living wage (garbage men make more money) and are expected to routinely work 50 + hours a week for $9 – 12/hr with no overtime pay. Our industry needs to clean up its act if it expects to grow and flourish in the 21st century.

  10. Roger Smith

    Although I am an outsider wanting to sell to the bicycle industry, my opinion is that Peter’s comments are very correct. Years of industry experience seems to be a detriment, not a positive attribute. Is that because the owners are desperate for some excuse for lack of growth and lack of good margins? I go beyond that, and IMO the industry (and I don’t mean bicycle technology) lacks innovation to keep the customer coming in.

    We all know the ‘buggy whip’ manufacturer was short sighted. The bicycle industry needs to expand it’s vision. Look at the Fitness Industry. Why has it grown crazily? What does it offer?… A place to hang out, a place to get good (nutritious and fresh) drinks and food, the (good or bad) membership programs, referral programs, personalized training, boxing, scuba diving trips. Oh yes, they have their buggy whips lined up in the floor to ceiling windows too. I’m sure some ‘bicycle shops’ offer a range of these non-traditional suites also, and their overall margins have got to be good. If I were a bicycle executive, I would be hiring a leader from the fitness industry. We would start with ‘store in store’ as a low cost way to expand the experience.

    Yes Rick, I am the outsider wanting my company, Artic Displays, to be part of retrofitting bicycle shops as they innovate to attract a wider range of higher margin portfolio options, just as you got in your plug for Terry.

  11. Erik Kugler

    When I got started in bike retail it was something that you did because you liked bikes and the people who you met who also liked bikes. That you could earn money while doing it was a plus, even though it meant shared housing. These kind of people inspired others.

    20 years later I have people coming to me telling me what they will work for, and it doesn’t fit into the business model. Perhaps they move out of the industry, or stay where they are, but keeping people with this underlying level of discontent is not good for the industry.

    We’ll get more people riding bikes with the former type employee, even though they might not be versed in the latest technological innovations. And that aligns with the vast majority of customers, who just want something that is fun, which looks good, and works like it should.

  12. Trey Richardson

    “The Industry” I consider post retail. So many get into retail then leave or stay. The real dummies are the ones that take the leap into the B2B pit…. then it becomes like the Hotel California. You can check out, but you can never leave. It’s a little bit like heroin. You don’t want to give it up regardless of the effects. You will befriend other addicts and it will keep you wanting more while keeping you away from what got you there in the first place. RIDING A BIKE! On top of that, say you went to college and had an actual “career path” you started. After that first year on the B2B side of the bike industry, if you keep going, it will turn into five and any previous professional training you had as a corporate wellness director *eh hem*, will pretty much become obsolete. See… now you’re stuck!

    That said, once you get in get some experience in one part of it meet/network with as many people as possible… then move into another segment. To grow or at least survive, you need to be well rounded and be a networking guru. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck in an unsatisfied position. Also, if you want to make some decent money, become an over-worked & traveled sales rep. If you have that “door to door” sales personality, you’ll do okay. If not, you’ll burn out eventually and be happy taking something that makes 20-30% less. If you really want to torture yourself and be taken less serious than ever, start a company. (this is where that “passion” can kill you).

    Why have I… and some other’s stayed in it for decades? Well, I don’t mind being stuck in it. Liking what I do and having the ability to do things that drives me eases the blow. I have also found meaningful things I can contribute my bike industry powers towards in the name of good deeds. Oh, the friends and occasionally riding my bike in some cool places rocks too. You really need to be one of those that considers your overall quality of life and the importance of having a job that drives you as part of your income, so to speak.

    And more of a personal quip, when your career and passion are of the same thing, be self aware of the “big picture” and don’t let one ruin the other. It then becomes pointless.

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