Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ride Report: Pie Champ Ride

Team Estrogen IT wizard & pie lover Jeff Mendenhall tells the tale of Tuesday's Pie Champ Ride, one of hundreds of creative rides happening over a 2-week period all around the Portland Metro area as part of Portland's annual Pedalpalooza event. For more details on Pedalpalooza, please visit

In many ways it was inevitable that Jeff would enter last night's pie eating contest. He comes from a long line of pie eaters who have escalated the traditional Thanksgiving pie into a requirement that the pie-to-people ratio at that blessed event be maintained at a minimum of 1:1. One of Mr. Mendenhall's most treasured posessions is his "Pie for Strength" T-shirt. He is frequently asked by friends and neighbors to bake a pie for dessert. Given this rich history, and the fact that he is an avid cyclist, it is completely understandable that he would find the advertisement for a Pie Ride irresistable.

Jeff and his partner Susan rode their tandem bike from Hillsboro to the start of the ride in NE Portland. At 10PM sharp, a motley collection of 30 or so cyclists riding everything from BMX bikes to hand-crafted Tall bikes, left a non-descript parking lot and coasted downhill about 1 mile to the "Whiffie Cart" where the contest was to be held.

The field of challengers was small. Only 6 brave individuals stepped up to the plate to participate in the "no hands 3-pie speed eating" division. 3 foolish but gutsy men opted to compete for the title of "Pie Champ" and try to break the current record of 7 pies.

As he engaged in pre-race banter with the other competitors, Jeff felt he had a good chance of winning the 25 free pies that were being offered to the winner of the speed eating contest. "After all," he said, "this is just like eating 3 medium size pieces of pie, and I routinely eat that many pieces of pie AFTER a large Thanksgiving meal. How hard can it be?"

At the start of the clock Jeff dived face-first into one of the golden fried piles of gooey, coconut creme goodness and gobbled up the first pie in mere seconds. But then he had to come up for air and actually swallow all the pie that was stuffed in his cheeks. By the time he was halfway-through the second pie (a chocolate pudding concoction), the crowd was chanting something about only 1 bite left. Unfortunately, Jeff still had an entire pie to go!

The winner slurped up three pies in 2 minutes and 14 seconds. She employed a winning strategy of using her face to smush all 3 pies into a slimey mass and then hoovered it all up with amazing speed. She then thoroughly demoralized the competition by proceeding to eat a 4th pie, all in less than 4 minutes.

Mr. Mendenhall says he'll be back next year, but only as part of the chanting crowd.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hearts, Flowers & Butterflies

It’s a common customer refrain: “Why do apparel companies always make women’s product in nothing but hearts, flowers and butterflies?? And pink – yuck! Why do manufacturers think all women want to wear pink??”

Oh my, where to begin?

First, you should know that it drives me bonkers when bike industry vendors “shrink it and pink it” as a means to attract female customers. I can recall an especially egregious case of a vendor trying to sell to Team Estrogen a “women’s floor pump”. What, I asked, made these pumps women-specific? Why, they were pink, of course! Not surprisingly, we declined to purchase them.

When it comes to women’s apparel, I have several priorities when making buying decisions for the website.

1) Has this item been designed to fit women well?
2) Does this item provide a good value at its price point?
3) Will the color/print photograph well enough to look good on the website?
4) Will the color/print appeal to our customers?

I am confronted with the hearts/flowers/butterflies/pink issue every time I try to answer questions 3 & 4. After eleven years of selling apparel online, here’s what I’ve learned.

A) Brighter/bolder colors photograph well and sell best. Saturated hues of red, blue and pink are always strong performers. Orange, yellow, green and purple tend to be hit or miss, either because the color is difficult to capture accurately, or because the color is “out of style” in a particular season. “Easter egg” colors, ie. pastel hues of blues/greens/lilacs, etc often sell poorly because they can look grayish or washed out online, even if they are quite pretty shades in person.

B) PINK is a perennial best seller. Time and again, if we carry a style in several colors, pink almost *always* outsells the other color options. I recently did an analysis of search terms people type on the website. Searches for “pink” outnumbered every other color search by more than 14 to 1! Consider this search data for a recent time period:

504 pink
36 green
36 red
36 orange
33 purple
30 blue
28 yellow

So, it would seem that the people who dislike pink items are far outnumbered by the people who specifically want to buy pink items. An interesting historical aside is that pink was traditionally a *man’s* color. Pink did not become associated with women until sometime around WWII.

C) Prints always outsell solid/color-blocked jerseys. We’re told by our vendors that the opposite is true for traditional brink-and-mortar retailers. We’ve come up with 2 theories as to why that might be the case. First, prints tend to “pop” off the webpage and catch a shopper’s attention. We have many, many prints that aren’t typically found elsewhere (some of which we request vendors to make specifically for us) and customers seem to gravitate towards them. Secondly, bike shops often have limited floor space and the shop’s buyer (oftentimes a male) may be inclined to purchase mostly solid colors as they are more of a “sure thing” than a print that the buyer is unsure will appeal to his market’s female customers.

D) OK, so if prints sell well, why do the prints always seem to be hearts, flowers and butterflies? Ah, this is harder to answer. Some of our vendors are creative with geometric prints and alternate designs (see Sheila Moon or Shebeest for a few good examples) but in other cases it’s because the designers lack imagination. We’re always thrilled when we find designers who are thinking outside the heart-flower-butterfly box, but some seasons it is slim pickings. To address this, we recently sponsored a jersey design contest on the team estrogen forums to put the design process into the hands of our customers. We received dozens of entries. Nonetheless, many submissions, as well as the winners by vote of the forum members, included styles that had flowery themes.

We will always try to offer to you apparel in all colors of the rainbow, and in every conceivable print. At the end of the day we will be most successful, and our customers will be most happy, if we give you what you ask for. And for some of you that continues to be… hearts, flowers, butterflies and pink.

We welcome your comments!