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Zane’s Cycles: A 34 Year Small Business Success Story

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A lifetime activity.

Chris Zane owns two bike shops. He sells good bicycle brands that you can buy anywhere. His store is filled with the usual clothing and accessories. But Chris Zane’s marquis product is uncommon, and uncommonly valuable; superlative service to the customer, the customer’s bike, and the community. It’s kept Zane’s Cycles growing continuously for 34 years. In 2014 Chris Zane’s bicycle shops did $21m in sales.

Chris Zane opened his store in 1981. That’s a long time to stay in business and make it a growing proposition. Chris Zane did it (and still does it) by selling service. Four examples have worked so well that they’re baked into the store’s persona:

  • Every bike is guaranteed for life, with lifetime free service and a lifetime warranty
  • For the first 90 days, a promise to refund you, plus 10%, the difference between the Zane’s price and the price of any other in-stock bike in Connecticut
  • For the first 30 days, for any reason, you can return the bike for a free exchange
  • Chris invites you to complain. If you do, he’ll respond personally and make it right, immediately.

Others, like pick-up-from-home service, where Zane’s Cycles would pick up customer’s bikes at their home for service didn’t work out and were dropped. But the point is that Chris Zane is always experimenting with new ways to give service. In an interview with Inc. Magazine in 2012 he explained why.

If I don’t make money on one individual transaction, but the customer is satisfied and the customer is happy, then he’ll come back over, over and over again. How many different transactions will I have with a customer?

I get them on their first bike. I get their second bike. I get them when they graduate from high school and then maybe graduated from college. You know, they get married, they have a mid-life crisis bike, their retirement bike. If you add up all those transactions, and granted, there might be 40 years from the time, you know, or 50 years from the time, we start till we finish. That customer is gonna be worth $12,500 to me in revenue if you take the average of each transaction. And that subsequently turns into about $5,600 in profit.

Like Jack Stack of Springfield Remanufacturing and Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, Chris Zane has branched out into authorship.  His 2011 business book, ‘Reinventing the Wheel: The Science of Creating Lifetime Customers’ chronicles 30 years of lessons about service-centered retailing. His first big lesson: realizing he wasn’t in the bike-selling business, he was in the problem solving business. Unlike many others, Chris took that realization and charged full speed ahead, making service the centerpiece of Zane’s Cycles. Then he wrote about the successes and failures, highs and lows, and about the how to get and keep customers. You can buy his book at ABE Books, our favorite online used booksellers.

(What’s a good customer, and how can good customers become great customers? Read about it in this GoodBusiness article.)

Still, on any given day, you can find Chris Zane figuring out how to offer more service.

What does the future look like for Zane’s Cycles? For starters, bikes are going digital; gear changing is electronic, bike computers becoming a common accessory. Bike mechanics are plugging laptops into bikes to adjust derailleurs, and dedicated fitness fanatics are connecting their phones to measure energy for every pedal stroke. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Chris is reviving home service by pioneering remote bike diagnosis and adjustments.

[Author’s note: Five bicycle stores are within walking distance of my house. But I still go to the next town over when I want to talk bikes and get mine worked on. Of course, it’s because of their service. If you’re looking for a repeatable, scalable retail business model to create your small business success story, you can find that too at Zane’s Cycles.]

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One Comment

  1. Love this, Chris. I also have several bike shops close to me as well (living in Chicago, they’re everywhere). But when I need things worked on my bike, there’s one bike shop I always go to. And it’s for the exact same reason — the service. I trust they’re giving me a good deal and not cheating, and the service is totally worth the extra trek to get there. Great reminder for any business to focus on service for repeat business.

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