Reinventing the Wheel: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: August 16th, 2011 by bobmorris

Reinventing the Wheel: The Science of Creating Lifetime Customers
Chris Zane
BenBella Books (2011)

How to establish and then sustain long-term (if not lifetime) customer relationships

What we have in this book is a personal account by the founder and CEO of Zane’s Cycles. It began when Chris Zane was 12 and repairing bikes and really began to grow after he bought a local bike shop (he was 16) and eventually built it into a multi-million dollar company today, with an annual growth rate of about 25%. There are no head-snapping revelations nor does Zane make any such claim. When he wrote this book, presumably he was well-aware of other CEOs and other companies that learned how to establish and then sustain long-term (if not lifetime) relationships with their customers. More specifically, they created what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba aptly characterize as “customer evangelists.”

After briefly identifying the “what,” he devotes most of his attention to the “how” and “why” of what seem to be nine core concepts:

1. Know what your core business is. Long ago, Home Depot’s then CEO explained that his company doesn’t sell half-inch drill bits, it sells half-inch holes.

2. Focus on building a lifetime relationship with each customer. Think of each purchase as a partial payment toward what the total (potentially lifetime) value of the relationship could be.

3. Always offer more than is expected. For example, over-serve and indicate how grateful you are to have the opportunity to do so.

4. Over time, the shared experience – rather than a product or service — becomes the brand. Take full advantage of every opportunity to strengthen it with personal attention.

5. Keep looking for a new niche. Zane urges his reader to “stretch your comfort zone.” Try new ideas. What about potential allies who could be referral sources? Which of them might be willing to co-sponsor an event such as a bicycle safety rally? Constantly energize the enterprise with creative thinking and prudent experiments.

6. Keep the competition off-balance with game-changing tactics. Pleasant surprises for the customer will be bad news for competitors. If you are proactive, they must be reactive. This concept suggests a classic strategy that Sun Tzu recommends in The Art of War.

7. Focus on continuous improvement. To borrow a line from Marshall Goldsmith: for Zane’s Cycles and just about any other organization, “what got you here won’t get you there.” In fact, the title of this book suggests to me another title: Reinventing Zane’s Cycles…Every Day.

8. Hire for character and temperament (especially emotional intelligence) and use training to provide orientation, complete knowledge transfers, and strengthen skills.

Note: I well recall Warren Buffett’s observation, “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”

9. Respect and embrace differences between and among people. As I read this final chapter in the book, I was reminded of a passage in Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

To me, that is the definitive description of human diversity.

Yes, Zane’s Cycles sells bicycles and accessories but what it creates – as Chris Zane explains with eloquence as well as pride and appreciation — is much more interesting and much more valuable…precious, shared memories of joyous experiences.


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