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Bicycle Dealer Showcase : January 1995

   by Walt Jarvis

How Zane's Cycles Inc. Keeps 'Em Coming Back

It's spelled out as soon as you walk into the store: lifetime free service...lifetime warranty...90-day price protection. Chris Zane, president of Zane's Cycles Inc. believes in putting it in writing.

"The number one thing is customer service," he says flatly. "Service will keep you in business, and the lack of it will put you out." What's the bottom line with great service? "I keep my customers out of my competitors' stores," Zane says. "They don't have the opportunity to sell even a water bottle."

When a customer who has bought a bike from Zane's brings it in after a year for a tune-up and is told there is no charge for that service, he or she becomes the best promoter for the store Zane could ask for. The policy is paying off: Zane's now draws customers from all over Connecticut and from the New York City metro area.

In his opinion, even the mechanics do a better job because they know if they don't fix the bike right the first time, they're going to see it again. And again and again.

In explaining the service policy, Zane's sales staff makes it clear that tires, tubes and cables aren't included. "While the bike is in, we'll do everything to make sure every part of the bike is working properly," he adds.

Zanes applies the warranty part even to products that normally aren't covered, such as pumps. "When they get a free replacement pump, they're going to be my customer for life." He admits that the policies do get abused, but it's so small that we have to "laugh it off."

"We can sell Trek products at a profit and promote it heavily," he says. Fisher, also owned by Trek, is a different product and fills another niche. "It's for the customer who is maybe turned off by the mass popularity of Trek," he adds.

But Zane is a firm believer that "the dealer dictates what he sells." He has dropped popular brands that couldn't provide the product or the service. "We base our suppliers on what the company is, not the product," he says. For him to carry a brand's warranty credits for two months-which has happened in the past-is unacceptable. When Zane's makes a big helmet order so the rep can make his quota, and then the distributor turns around and won't ship bikes because the store is now over its credit limit (this, too, has happened in the past), the supplier's days in the store are numbered.

Zane forecasts that a decade from now there will be two stores in any given market-a large independent bicycle dealer (IBD) that will offer a full range of product and service, and a small store that will be equally profitable but very niche-oriented.

Zane's guarantees its prices for 90 days. If, during that time, a customer finds the same bike at a cheaper price, Zane's will retroactively meet that price and add in a 10 percent refund. "What this means is that the consumer isn't shopping price anymore." The consumer should bring in an ad with the competitor's price published, but Zane's will make the refund without it. How quick is it? "We hand them cash on the spot," Zane says. Usually, he says, the store gets the money back the same day through additional purchases.

How much does the lifetime free service cost? Zane recounts the story of a customer who had really taken advantage of the service policy. Over three years, he had brought the bike back every couple of months and had gotten the equivalent of 20 years of free service. One weekend he brought his girlfriend in and shebought a bike. The next day they returned with more friends, and before the weelend was over, Zane's had sold six bikes because of this one customer, generating more than $3,000 worth of new business.

Other stores, he says, offer lifetime service policies, but have loopholes. This creates adversaries instead of customers. Of course, Zane's didn't start out offering a blanket policy; first it was one-year free service, then two years, until finally making the quantum leap to a lifetime policy in 1986.

And his refund policy-are you ready?-is simply whatever it takes to satisfy the customer. "If a wife buys a bike for her husband and she's not sure he's going to like the color, we tell her to bring it back in a couple of weeks and exchange it," Zane says. Another customer brought a two year-old wind trainer back and wanted to exchange it for a mag unit. Zan'es simply charged him the difference.

"If you're looking at the lifetime potential of a customer, one sale that goes badly can really screw things up," he says. And that's the last thing that Chris Zane wants.