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Last Update: Tuesday July 27, 2021

Key Idea: Give Customers A Forum

If you listen, customers will tell you want they want.  

Key Question:


Chris has personally built relationships with the leaders in his industry. Even though every top person was not his customer at the time, he invited them all to a fabulous off-site event. He wined and dined them, asked what they would like to see him make for them then he and listened.

Q:  What happened as a result of this one event?

He won every single account that he did not have previous to the event. Big companies spend millions of dollars trying to find out what customers want. As a small business owner you probably think you know what your customers are thinking because you work with them day-to-day. On the other hand, most of us don't ask our customers the hard questions.

Q: Why don't we ask our customers more questions?

A: Fear and lack of time. You think if you really ask the question, "what would you like us to be doing that we're not now doing?" you'll actually have to change.

Look at other examples.  Click on the question and it will take you to other people who answer that same question.

At Record Technology, owner Don MacInnis turned his total attention to his devoted customers. He said they told him, "You have a great product. There's no better vinyl record manufactured anywhere in the world, but we feel it can be better,' because there are places that are making a thicker, heavier record, a record that--the typical record weighs about 110 grams, and there were places that were making phonograph records that were 180 grams, which is about 50 percent heavier. And our customers were saying, `If we had an RTI pressing on a 180-gram record that would be just great for us, because we could really sell that, and we would also be willing to pursue more licenses for product.' "

  Should you wait to listen to your best customers until competitors with a new technology nearly eat your lunch?

No, no, no. That is arrogant, solipsistic and just plain stupid. Don't ever wait to dig into a customer's mind. Instigate a plan whereby you ask two questions on a regular basis. Number 1: Did we give you exactly what you expected? Number 2: What can we be doing for you that we are not now doing?

This takes courage but you've got that or you wouldn't be a business owner. Now you have to find time to do it.

Q:  What did Don do when he heard what his customers wanted from him?

He took action but he didn't go so fast that he sacrificed quality. He said, "It took us nine months of experimentation and tinkering and so forth to get the product to meet our standards." Don had a "Name Our New Product" contest for the employees. The winning name turned out to be HQ-180 which of course stands for high quality and 180 grams in weight which is what the customers asked for.

Can't you just see all 37 employees watching the first HQ-180 being stamped onto their creation? I can and it gives me goose bumps. People love being challenged. Don said to his team, "can we do this?" Well, the answer was yes and the company is growing and the HQ-180 is keeping Record Technology on the top of the heap.

Long ago the pejorative comment was, "You're trying to keep up with the Jones." But then we began flying right by them, and people began thinking that they should keep up with the Buffets and Gates and nothing less would do.

Questions for this clip: 1 | 2 | 3

Think about it

When can you get  your customers together?
How can you get some unvarnished opinions from customers?

Clip from: Saris Cycling Group aka Graber

Madison, Wisconsin: Sara and Chris Fortune bought Graber Products in 1989 when it had 24 employees and $3.3 million in sales. When we taped this story there were up to 60 employees and with revenues over $10 million. They continue to grow, changed the name of the company to Saris Cycling Group, and are very committed to keeping their manufacturing in the USA.

Actually, manufacturing is on its way back to the USA!

That is not prophetic verse but the reality of our advancing technologies where highly educated workers can do it better, often faster, and sometimes cheaper than anywhere in the world.

This episode is a case in point: And, this story comes from the heartlands of America. These are the kind of people who love this country and all those basic freedoms to do the right thing in the face of adversity. They have done it right and now they ship their products around the world.

When Chris and Sara bought Graber Products, they bought a solid business with a good reputation, but the sales were flat. The employees were dedicated, but the company needed fresh energy to start growing again. To dump the stodgy image of the company that he bought, Chris found an Italian fashion designer who came up with improved form and function for his bike racks. Chris believed that the market was ready, willing and waiting for new ideas and he was right. Customers have flocked to the new products and employees love to come to work.

They are their industry leaders. They have kept manufacturing in America. And, their industry recognizes them for their generosity of spirit, moral courage, and ethical leadership. These people are quiet heroes,  new pioneers making the world a better place.

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Saris Cycling Group (once known as Graber Products)

Chris Fortune, CEO

Visit our web site:

Business Classification:
Manufacturing, Sports (Biking), wholesale

Year Founded:

Give Customers A Forum

CHRIS: Absolutely. Not that I didn't feel that there was great value or opportunity, but you have a board for a reason. You'd better listen to these people.

SARA: Chris goes out and visits the dealers. You know, here's the president of the company, he goes out to the dealer and talks to them. I bet he knows 90 percent of the people he's met anywhere in the industry. He remembers their names. He focuses on the people all the time. For example, this spring Chris brought in six of the top dealers for a two-day session at our family cottage in Door County.

They had good time to blend and build the relationships, which I think Chris is really strong at, but Chris also asked them to focus in on what the user is going to want. Chris asked them, `What are you missing in your product line that we can accomplish for you?' The dealers were asked to list the priorities of what we have and what they want to see. Their input was sought on where we should go. We use their input in product development. Their input guides us in making the product they want; the product they want to sell.

HATTIE: And out of these six people, only two of them at that time were your customers.

SARA: Yes, and the other four were accounts that we didn't have. Just within the last few months, that's how long it took, the four dealers who had not been selling our products said, `We'll take your product. We value what you're doing.' And that is relationship building. Chris is really outstanding at the relationship building in the industry.

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