Cycling and entrepreneurship have long been guiding forces in Offord’s life. Watching her father work long hours running his company instilled in her the entrepreneurial mindset. Yet, the dream of one day launching her own business stayed back of mind while she worked full-time as an administrator at the University of Alaska while raising her family.
“I married, had children, raised children, worked to put the kids through college, and after all that was suddenly struck with the thought, ‘Wow, I have time to do something that I’ve always wanted to do,’” says Offord.
At first, that extra free time manifested in hiking, cycling, traveling, and socializing. When COVID hit, however, Offord’s dreams were framed with new urgency.
“During the first wave of lockdowns, I felt incredibly grateful to be surrounded by the Alaskan Wilderness — especially all of the trails,” Offord explains. “I frequently got together with friends for hikes and rides, and one of the topics that kept coming up was the need for a local women’s apparel store.”
The time was now, Offord decided.
Alaskan consumers face a unique conundrum: accept the limited selection of goods you can find locally, or pay exorbitant shipping costs to ship in goods from elsewhere.
To find most cycling apparel, women in Anchorage previously had to order things online.
“This is something a lot of women I know struggle with,” Offord says. “When you have to order a garment online, you can’t be totally sure it’s the right fit. So you take that risk, buy it, and it gets sent to Alaska, which has some of the highest shipping rates in the U.S. Then if it doesn’t fit, you have to return it and wait for an exchange or a refund to process. It takes forever.”
On top of shipping headaches, Offord was determined to challenge the notion of “shrink it and pink it” — an unfortunate aphorism that succinctly illustrates the choices women regularly face in this marketplace.
“The industry needs to work harder to make clothing and apparel that fits women of all sizes,” notes Offord.
In the beginning, sourcing clothing for the store fell largely to Offord’s then-business partner, Nancy Richmond. After Nancy decided retirement was more her thing, the buying now falls solely to Offord.
Offord is also constantly keeping an eye on new women-owned apparel startups, searching for companies that prioritize more exact fits and inclusive sizing.
“There’s a large component of women out there who want to get back on a bike or even want to start riding for the first time, but they don’t fit the profile that they see in the ads,” tells Offord. “We are really trying to bridge that gap.”
Offord’s careful research for brand partnerships also extended to finding the right payment processing system.
“I actually made a spreadsheet with all the POS systems out there, so I could compare them,” says Offord. “What really set Clover apart was the simplicity of its design and the response that I received from Clover Merchant Services. It was super easy to get started.”
So easy, in fact, that Offord and her team were fully equipped with two POS devices before they even had a storefront. This allowed them to take payments at events and start building brand awareness ahead of their grand opening. “We had some hats and t-shirts custom made with our logo on them,” Offord shares. “We did pop-ups across the state to get our name out there, and the Clover Flex was perfect for that.”
Spreading the word about AK Cycle Chic continues as they now occupy a beautiful storefront with vaulted ceilings and an art gallery.
What at first seemed like too much space for the fledgling business has lent itself to the type of community-building that Offord always envisioned. Almost by accident, she and her team created a monthly event — First Fridays — that features more than cycling.
“We knew we wanted to host events with local musicians, and to have an art gallery and promote local artists, especially women. We didn’t intend for it to become this big thing,” Offord remarks.
The commensurate First Friday kicked off their grand opening, filled mostly with friends and family. Now it has grown into a monthly event — complete with beer, wine, snacks, a rotating gallery installation, and live performances by local musicians — that entices people beyond just the cycling community.
“We’re getting these people that wouldn’t normally come to this shop because it’s not their niche, but they’re coming in for the art, live music, and good time,” tells Offord. “We’ve gotten some repeat customers from that. I feel like that’s a really good investment, let alone just a lot of fun.”
Investing in the community was always core to Offord’s business ideals. Now, it’s satisfying to see her dreams take shape.
“It was really important for us to be community-minded. We just wanted it to be an accepting place, a place where anybody can come and gather,” says Offord. “We’re working really hard to do that.”
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