It’s a good thing Ludi Scholz likes a challenge.
Scholz, the global off-road category manager for Liv, has been with the brand since 2014, when she was recruited to drive around a VW van with 12 demo bikes around Europe and convince people to throw a leg over the women’s specific frames. Now, Scholz is so deeply involved in the production process of new bikes that it’s hard to see where her role begins and ends; she’s responsible for everything in the development process from idea, through design, to testing, to finished product. Her work inspires the marketing and messaging of the brand, as well.
It’s been six years, and though many of the initial challenges of convincing people that a women’s specific bike brand makes sense remain, Scholz has found her niche: she’s helping build Liv from the bike up.
Tell me about your early days in the bike industry.
I finished my studies in molecular biology, and then I wanted to get my Ph.D., but the program didn’t happen due to funding. I started working at a friend’s bike school, teaching clinics. Then, I told my parents I was going to be self-employed as a mountain bike guide, and I started running clinics and big mountain tours in Innsbruck [Scholz was born and raised in the Austrian outdoor mecca].
That was my first contact with some bike companies — getting sponsors. I was guiding, running tours and skills clinics for three years and moved into the scene that way. I was an ambassador rider, and after several years, I got hired by Cube to do demo tours, then Giant Germany brought me over in 2014 to help build up Liv.
I had a VW Crafter van with a demo fleet of 12 bikes to maintain. I would drive around, go to women’s camps and bike festivals all over Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. It was a fun time and super hard as well as being a one-woman show.
What did people think of the concept of Liv in 2014?
In Austria and Germany (where it’s super chauvinistic already), no one even looked at the bikes. Men or women. For a year, not a single bike got demo’ed. Everyone was like, ‘I want to have a man’s bike.’ I had to try and convince them. It was super difficult, just the perception. A women’s only brand in that bike segment was really hard. I liked the challenge, to be honest.
I grew up with guys. I never had anything to do with girly girl stuff. I was a tomboy. It was interesting to try and convince women.
I also had to do shop visits, dealer visits, and introduce Live Experience Centers (LECs). It was usually the corner of the shop where women have their stuff. Guys would be like ‘ok, maybe we’ll take one bike and one pair of gloves.’ Especially in Germany, it was super hard. Like I said, I loved the challenge. I especially loved to talk with the guides.
So, how did you convince people to take Liv seriously?
I was doing a lot of clinics. In Germany, everyone looks at print magazines and the internet. I did a lot of photoshoots of my clinics and so on. In the German scene I was known as who I am and slowly but surely got more visibility with the bikes. Of course, we pushed in the media and in the events we did, just being visible all the time. That’s how we grew.
During the second year of demos, there was interest there, and it just peaked. Sometimes we didn’t even have enough bikes to accommodate all the women. Women were just curious. At that time, at the events, it was all about starting to mountain bike and trying something new. I think women really responded to that concept.
In 2017, you went from dirtbag demo van driver to off-road category manager on Liv’s global team. How did that happen?
I had a job interview in October 2016. It was ‘kind-of a four-days-no-answer thing. Four more days, no answer. By that time, I was like, ‘ok they don’t want me, they didn’t reach out to me.’ In April the following year, they called me and said you have to go to Taiwan in a week. Luckily, I could get away. I went to Taiwan and they kept me for three weeks, and then they were like ‘now, you have to go to Sea Otter.’ And then the whole loop started. Every third or fourth week I was going to Taiwan for two to six weeks to get to know my colleagues, to get to know the workflow.
I got to know all the people, talked about the challenges I’d faced. Somehow, they felt confident in me that I could do something more with the brand and asked me to join the global team. It was crazy. Full on, full gas, non-stop. That’s how you learn your job.
What does a category manager do?
Everything! It starts with an investigation of bikes and asking what product is needed in the global market. Then, it trickles into the whole commercial planning. Everything down to the nipple of the spoke. Line-up planning, spec planning, spec decisions, vendor meetings. It also ties into marketing because you have to be able to explain the product. You want the product you’re planning to be the best received. It’s really everything from planning to getting it out on the showroom floor.
What’s your favorite aspect of the job?
R&D. That’s where I come from. Riding, testing product, developing product. Being outside.
Let’s talk about Liv the brand. Why make bikes for women only?
The idea started as ‘we need to include women.’ We’re 50 percent of the population, and we don’t have a women’s specific brand for mountain bikes. I mean, we have women’s specific razors! So, it started with wanting to bring women into the sport and attract them to it. We based our geometry charts from a database of women’s proportions.
We found we needed smaller bikes. We needed different marketing. We can’t attract all women with this ‘bro, brah’ attitude. We just wanted to get women in. This is how it started.
Right now, it’s going more toward performance and trying to attract more and more people from that side. The market evolves.
It seems like now, other people in the industry have become afraid of ‘women’s specific.’
Of course, a lot of companies are backpedaling. The problem isn’t that the product is bad, but you can’t make the same amount of money. That’s why a lot of brands are like, ‘it’s not a thing, we don’t need it.’ But, it’s not only about, ‘oh we have different geometries.’ The whole picture counts.
What do you mean by that?
People love to pin us down on the geometry thing, but this is just one piece of it. That’s not all of it.
We have the only women’s enduro team. They even have a female mechanic. We really try to push hard for that and not to be seen as ‘shrink it and pink it’ or even to be seen the other way – ‘you only cater to women and that’s sexist.’ People can push it any way they want to, to find something bad.
Why can’t you see it as a bike brand that makes awesome stuff and includes women where they’re normally left out?
It’s ironic in a way, you grew up as a tomboy and now you work for the only bike brand dedicated to women.
Yes, now I can make my own bikes and they’re awesome.
We ride differently, using different muscle groups. It trickles down into women’s specific tuning. We have different rider weights. I’m on the low end, so it’s always been hard to get the suspension to work. If I worked for Giant and said, ‘hey I need the tuning to be this and that because with my style and weight, the suspension doesn’t work. They’d say, ‘oh you’re just one person.’
Now, I get to talk to vendors and say ‘hey Fox, hey Rock Shox, this doesn’t work for us, can we improve?’ At least I have a voice. If you wouldn’t have a women’s specific brand, you wouldn’t be able to talk about this in a legit way.
What was the first bike you saw through from concept to consumer product?
The Intrigue and Intrigue E, our 140/150mm trail bike, and the e-bike version.
Personally, I like the enduro-style bikes, with 160-ish millimeters of travel. I come from that segment and have learned all the other bikes through my job. And, learned to love them all. Before, the only real bike for me was an enduro bike and now I even love the cross country bike.
What are you working on now?
Working on new projects for MY22 [model year 2022] for calendar year 2023. It’s always that far ahead. Testing, waiting for prototypes to be delivered, working with vendors, developing spec strategies, planning. Always, always, always planning. I’m working very closely with Giant and Liv sales companies globally on a daily basis. Having daily meeting calls. Lots of updates, lots of excel spreadsheets.
Everything that happens now and happened from December on, when China was in lockdown affects our planning, our forecast, our delivery planning. There’s a lot of work to do right now. In a normal world, I would only be focusing on MY22, right now it’s MY21 as well.
From your early days with Liv as a demo driver to your position with the brand. How have you seen the messaging change?
It’s totally evolved. We went from ‘hey, it’ inclusive and everyone can ride’ to ‘hey, we actually kick ass.’ The middle step was ‘I can.’ It’s good growth from starting the brand to strong messaging. There is still a lot of room to grow.