January 18, 2013

Brand Loyalty

What generates brand loyalty? I’m willing to bet there are whole studies on the subject, and no doubt any marketing executive could tell me their thoughts. I read something a while back that suggested a study had found the secret to happiness. The secret, it was said, was down to personal relationships – the links we have to others. And I think this is at the heart of brand loyalty.

People versus product. There’s no doubt the product counts, of course, but a person’s experience of dealing with the company behind the product will probably breed the strong, binding, feelings of loyalty.

A little under five years ago I started to plan my dream bike build. I spent a year looking into frame builders and components, test riding potentials and looking for the special pieces to complete the puzzle.

Eventually I settled on a Parlee. Partly on the product, but mostly I was motivated by their excellent customer service. With me based in the UK, and them in the US, I was extremely impressed to receive a call from their sales director, Tom Rodi, whilst teetering on the edge of purchasing via their UK distributor, Bespoke Cycling.

_MG_1358

Tom and I discussed, at great length, my exact requirements for a bike. I’m a bit of a fickle so and so (my wife often affectionately refers to me as “_Mr Particular_“) – and I had, have, very specific requirements of a bike’s handling characteristics. The detail with which Tom and I talked showed that Parlee would very much listen to their customer, and make suggests to effect the requirements. I liked this approach.

When the frame was delivered and built up to a full bike, I discovered the measurements were millimetre perfect to the CAD drawings, the finish quality exemplary, and the handling exactly as I’d requested. In short, it was perfect.

But then things started to go wrong. Two months into my ownership the seat collar bolt sheered – titanium, too weak. This was on the morning of the 2009 Etape, an event I was very much looking forward to. It [the ride] was a right-off before I’d even started.

Then at the start of a training camp, I was struggling to get my gears aligned and shifting smoothly. It turned out the drop outs had come unglued. This is where Parlee really shone.

Stuff goes wrong in life, that’s a fact. But for me, personally, it’s how problems are dealt with that matters. Parlee accepted full responsibility without challenge. The frame was shipped back to the US and repaired, and they even cleaned up some scratched lacquer. All was, naturally, done at no cost to me. The entire saga was dealt with calmly and without drama. I was satisfied with that.

Six months later, whilst refitting the front mech, another bolt sheered (at this juncture I’d like to point out I always use a torque wrench!). A quick venting on twitter (sometimes one’s calm is taken to its limits) and Tom sends me a message “_drop me a line, tell me all about it_“. I mailed him the story – he sympathetically replies with an “_aww man, that sucks – we’ll send you a new mech_“. And they did. I run Campagnolo Super Record.

Yes, Parlee are a high end manufacturer. Yes, they’re expensive. But I can’t imagine many companies being that good about post sales. Parlee have always been brilliant to me – before the sale, and after the sale. That has bred a very strong brand loyalty in me. Of course, I love the product too, there is no doubt they make a fabulous bike frame.

Earlier this year I decided I wanted to run Campagnolo EPS, and after many conversations with Parlee it became apparent there was no way we could get it on my old frame – so I decided to sell the Z2. Something I thought, back in 2009, that I would never do. There was only one option, I bought a Z5sli.

IMG_0978

For a while I wondered if swapping my fully bespoke Z2 for an ‘_off the shelf, Far East made_‘ Z5 would ultimately disappoint. I am pleased to say no, it doesn’t. Things have obviously advanced in the last three years, and the Z5 is a cracking frame – I actually prefer the handling to my old Z2.

Loyalty is, in the long run, about people.

I first wrote this article for my good friend Bike Tart. It appeared on his blog in October 2012.