Chris Zane, founder and president of Zane Cycles, offers a brilliant look at customer service and business growth through the tactics at a scrappy and innovative bicycle retailer. Reinventing the Wheel: The Science of Creating Lifetime Customers sounds a little more technically researched than it actually is. Yet Zane provides the right clues to the puzzle of building a retail organization and selecting the perfect elements to satisfy customers. The book caught my eye while browsing a Barnes & Noble shop, so I asked the publisher for a review copy.
Great Service Begins the Moment a Person Enters Your Store
To get into Reinventing The Wheel you have to understand the author. Chris Zane loved bikes and business at a young age. He has owned Zane’s bicycle shop since his teen years, and has grown it into one of the largest bicycle shops in the United States (it is also the largest Trek bike retailer in the world). He has won awards and has been featured in Harvard Business Review and Inc., among other publications.
How did he attain this visibility and success – over $15 million in annual revenue? Zane illustrates how providing unexpected service builds customer loyalty with a metaphor about a bowl of 400 quarters representing how much he’d spend on service to a customer. In his standard presentations he encourages the audience to take quarters from the bowl, watching the various amounts the audience members would take. Yet no one “takes the whole bowl”:
“The point is that when you as a customer are presented with more than what seems reasonable, like a bowl of 400 quarters, you will self-regulate …. By providing more service than what folks consider reasonable we can build trust and loyalty and remind them how hard we’re working on their behalf.”
Zane goes on to note how giveaways that cost his shop just $86 brought about 450 one-on-one interactions that “alleviated a bit of pain for customers and created a lasting memory while doing it.” He also notes what at stake for businesses that don’t live and die by the “quarter mantra:”
“As hard as it is to win a customer’s loyalty, and regardless of how big your bowl of quarters is, you can also lose that customer in a heartbeat if you and your employees ever turn on your autopilot.”
Retail Insights and Guerilla Marketing Muscle
Much as Bob Taylor gets into the fine points of guitar manufacturing in Guitar Lessons, Zane describe growth challenges he faced along the way, such as gaining corporate approval to sell Trek bicycles into the premium market. These stories provide useful insight into how a business owner transitions from a small operation to an advantageously organized provider of niche services and make moves beyond the hustle mode. Zane notes to a Trek rep how his job is easier, selling 100 bicycles in one call, where Zane must find 100 buyers for those bikes.
Zane explains how he upsets the competition in segments like “drive up the price tag on competition” in which he tried to recruit a competitor’s manager. He gives several examples of strategically outwitting the competition through guerrilla marketing to acquire new customers:
“My competitors didn’t understand that I had changed the rules of the game on them and that every time they thought they were matching me, they were actually falling further behind.”
Some of the game-changing tactics will sound overly competitive if you operate in an industry where “frenemy” relationships among service providers are the norm. But there’s understandable science behind the madness, like not competing on price. Zane makes much-touted concepts like customer service as a profit driver more real than any white paper could.
The last chapters touch upon people-oriented subjects such as employee selection and embracing customer diversity as good business. The last chapter, “Think Nationally, Act Locally,” sums up the previous chapters well and serves as a reminder of how working with customers locally can make a difference.
Who Will Benefit From Reinventing the Wheel?
The book contents best aids service businesses. The most prescriptive text will benefit thoughtful, aspirational business owners who know that a hustle mode is not sustainable beyond specific moments of sales growth. There is a lot of bravado mixed in with Zane’s suggestions, but daring to offer your customers the best is Zane’s overall point. I found the book a stimulating concoction of aggressive competition and customer-oriented focus that distinguishes it from other memoir/business books.
Reinventing the Wheel will show how reinventing your business for growth can be easy.