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1+1+1 = Seven — Building a Relationship Between Customers and Your Brand

Custom Seven

A functional work of art

I finally did it. I, a confirmed “hobby slut” decided to make a lifetime commitment to a single activity – cycling. That’s like asking Hugh Hefner to agree to make a lifetime commitment to one woman (as in it is hard to do and probably won’t actually happen). Regardless, I decided to mark the occasion by springing for a bicycle frame made just for me. Living in Portland, Oregon, the bicycle capitol of the United States, I knew it wouldn’t be too tough to find someone who could help provide an introduction to my two-wheeled soul mate. Like a flash, I was off to River City Bicycles. Even in a town littered with bike shops, River City stands out. The staff doesn’t just sell bikes – they share their lifestyle with their customers. For example, Brian, the salesman whom I just happened to ask about custom bikes turns out to be a well-regarded local frame builder himself. And, while River city actually represents three custom bike brands, once Brian had an idea of what I wanted, he only recommended one – Seven. Not only that, he explained why the a carbon frame – which I was what I thought I wanted – wouldn’t be as good as titanium for my specific needs. Phase II of the project was research. The first thing I did was call Seven directly to get an understanding of the process and to get their opinion on frame design, materials, etc. Not surprisingly, they matched Brian’s recommendations. I then scoured the Internet for press coverage and any customer feedback. There was plenty of both and the overwhelming majority of it was really good. Seven and a few of its competitors had even been written up in the New York Times. I quickly learned a few important things. First, that Seven has a somewhat unique business model – the founder of the company has developed a system that enabled them to calculate the perfect frame geometry based on a specific set of measurements and an understanding of how the bike was to be used. He has been able to convert something that is considered an art to more of a science that can be applied repeatedly with great precision. This allows them to automate the process to some degree and gives them the ability to produce a large number of 100% custom products quickly and efficiently. I also learned that this fit system had been tested by one bike expert who purposely sent a few bogus measurements to try and throw them off and found that he was unable to fool them. Finally, I learned how far the company is willing to go to make sure the customer is happy in the event that they didn’t get something exactly right. I was sold.

One of the greatest bike shops in Portland

A week later, I reported to River City, where Danni from the fit department got the process started. The perfect fit on a bicycle meant to be ridden for several hours and, perhaps, more than 100 miles in a day is really important. It is one of the primary reasons to get a custom bike in the first place. She took a bunch of measurements of me and my bike and asked me a series of questions and sent all the information off to Seven. She also arranged a time when someone from Seven could call me for a follow up interview to ask more questions. Technically, I’m not sure this step is necessary to get the bike built correctly. The questions were pretty much the same as the ones Danni had asked. However, it gave me a sense that the company is obsessively detail-oriented and they wanted to make sure everything was right. It also showed that the company values a direct relationship with the customer. While branding might not have been the primary objective of that conversation, it certainly was an awesome by-product. It made me feel as if I was a vital part of a whole team whose sole purpose was to design me the perfect bike. And in some way, I actually was. Afterwards, I was given a Web address and password that let me track my frame through every state of the building process – very cool.
This is my Seven. There is none other like it and this one is mine!

This is my Seven. There is none other like it and this one is mine!

Ten days after we signed off on the design for the bike, the frame arrived at the shop. Not surprisingly, the bike was perfect and I was one happy customer. Thinking back, every step of the process did something to help to enhance my perception of the company. To start, Seven chose to partner with a top-notch bike shop. This is vital. Because I already had an established and personal relationship with the shop, I was much more willing to listen to the advice of the staff – many of whom ride Sevens of their own. In addition, bikes need regular maintenance, so the shop will really be an ambassador of the brand for years after the sale is complete – and River City’s service department has an unparalleled reputation. Next, without ever cutting the bike shop out of the process, they established a direct and personal connection with the customer, and provided a mechanism for staying connected until the frame was ready. Many bicycle manufacturers actively avoid customer contact and rely on the bike shop to be the interface. The contrast in approach couldn’t be clearer. The end result? My affinity toward the Seven brand is probably close to Sonny Barger’s affinity with Harley. The fact that Seven custom builds frames one-off for a specific customer means the chances are high that every customer will be highly satisfied with the product. This gives them a huge advantage over most typical consumer products. It is also not practical for many companies to have a telephone conversation with each and every customer. However, social media, online forums, blogs provide a whole array of tools that can be used to establish a meaningful and personal relationship with a large number of customers while continuously monitoring opinion. Businesses that take advantage of these technologies will have a significant leg up on their competitors.