When Chris Zane learned at a trade show that some bicycle shops were offering five-year warranties on new bikes, he one-upped the competition by offering a lifetime service guarantee.

"I figured that for most people, five years is the life of the bike," says the president of $1.7-million Zane's Cycles, in Branford, Conn. "If they've had it for longer, they're probably not riding it that much." Zane draws comfort from numbers. He says that everyone uses the free service the first year they have the bike, but only 20% to 30% come back the second year. At that rate, his liability for lifetime free service would be minuscule.

"We wanted to make our existing customers apostles," says Zane, who also makes it a practice not to charge customers for parts costing less than a dollar. And when it's time for a new bike, Zane expects to get first shot at the sale.