BDS

GOOD FOR A LIFETIME


In Today's Highly Competitive business climate, it's service extras that separate the independent bicycle dealer (IBD) from the competition. One of the more innovative service pluses offered by a IBD is Branford, Connecticut-based Zane's Cycles' lifetime bicycle warranty. The long-term business gains the policy provides are well worth the lifetime costs, says Chris Zane, president.

When Zane opened his original 900-square-foot store, he determined that it was service that would differentiate his operation. Zane's didn't initially offer lifetime warranties. It first provided one-year free service to offset competitors' 30-day warranties. When the competition started providing one-year service as well, Zane's went to two years. However, when two-year warranties became standard in his area, Zane decided to step into a completely different arena - lifetime warranties on all bikes sold. The result of this service edge is a solid, devoted customer base and strong sales, Zane says.

THE PHILOSOPHY

The purpose of a lifetime warranty is to offer the customer a service that is above and beyond the competition's. "Our business philosophy is that everything we sell is built for life," Zane says. "We extend the manufacturers' warranties for a lifetime." Trek's warranty is one year, Zane points out. If after one year anything goes wrong with the bike, Zane's Cycles covers it. "We take the hit if we have to, but it works out for us," he says.

"There really is only a service issue when it comes down to bikes," Zane adds. "It doesn't really make a difference what brand you buy, it's what the shop's going to do for you after you make the purchase."

HOW IT WORKS

Parts and Labor are provided free of charge to the original purchaser of the bike for the lifetime of the bicycle. The service is provided as a customer service benefit and doesn't cost the customer a cent extra. That includes replacing any broken parts as well as servicing the bike. "It's anything that the bike needs to keep it working properly," Zane says. And that includes wheel truing, brake adjustment, gear adjustment and tuneups.

WHY OFFER THE WARRANTY?

The point of the lifetime warranty is to have a customer for life. "We are buying the future," Zane remarks. "For example, if the customer is going to true a wheel, he won't go to the competitor and pay $10, he'll come to me. When he walks in, he may also buy a pair of gloves, or maybe not. The thing is he walked into my store." In the long run, the price of keeping the customer is less expensive than buying a new customer, Zane says. "Also, our customers really promote our business to their friends," he adds.

THE SALES EDGE

Offering a lifetime warranty allows for a low-pressure casual sales atmosphere. Salespeople worry less about closing the sale and spend more time talking with customers about product on a more relaxed level, Zane says. "If a customer says they want a $500 bike, we say, 'Fine, we have five brands. Come in and test ride them.' If they want to just look around, we say, 'Fine, just check it out.' We're trying to sell only one thing - service. When someone asks why they should do business at Zane's, we point to the lifetime warranty."

THE COMMITMENT

A lifetime warranty is worthless if the IBD doesn't follow though with expedient service when the customer needs it. Zane cites as an example a customer who called from Vermont saying that his bikes rear axle broke. "We Fed Ex'd the part right up there to him and did it for free," Zane says. "The customer knows that we'll do whatever it takes to make him or her happy."

Also, don't just make a verbal promise, put it in writing. The store splashes it's lifetime warranty commitment in all it's newspaper, television, radio, direct mail and yellow pages ads, Zane says. "The customer can come to us and say, 'You say this right here.'"

KEEP ADDING SERVICE

Don't just stop with the lifetime warranty. Look for other service extras to provide your customers. Last year, Zane's Cycles added a 90-day price protection policy on every item it sells. Essentially, if a customer buys a product from Zane's and sees it later at Zane's or a competitors for less, Zane's refunds the difference plus 10 percent. "Now if someone comes in and knows that someone is having a big sale later, they can take advantage of that sale and still be using the bike during those three months," Zane says.