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Selling products that last a lifetime

By Liz Hochstedler

Lifetime warranties put spotlight on workmanship

It’s not often that products come with lifetime guarantees. Most motorcycles come with one- or two-year warranties; many cars and trucks max out at 100,000-mile warranties, and many products come with little or no guarantee for the future.

But a few companies are willing to offer lifetime warranties to instill confidence in their buyers and show they support the quality of their products.

“It makes a statement in our product and the confidence that we have in our product,” Progressive Suspension president David Shirley said. “It’s an important selling feature that we are going to stand behind the product for the life of it.”

Progressive Suspension offers lifetime warranties on its fork springs, fork spring kits and 430 and 440 series shocks. Each product was launched with a limited lifetime warranty to guarantee the product was produced at the highest quality.

“We certainly use it in our marketing. It adds value to our product, and it makes a statement about the confidence we have in our product. That’s especially important with suspension products because there is a public perception that it’s a wear product,” Shirley said.

The selling position is also why JIMS USA in the 1990s added a lifetime warranty for the tools it manufactures. Quality tool companies that compete with JIMS were offering guarantees, and JIMS wanted to compete in that space.

“It was pretty easy for us because we went through a return log, and we have basically no returns on tools, so it was basically a no-brainer,” said Paul Platts, director of product and business development for JIMS.

A group of managers at JIMS decided that since the tools aren’t returned often, a lifetime warranty would be an asset for marketing the tools.

The Seat Screw Tool from JIMS is just one of its tools that has a lifetime warranty.

“There was really no risk involved, and it’s been a good product ever since,” Platts said.

Along with giving customers confidence in buying a guaranteed product, lifetime warranties also assure dealers that customers won’t return unsatisfied with their purchased item.

“The dealer has more confidence in selling the product because they know that company will stand behind it, so they won’t have to see the warranty come back,” Shirley said.

And customers might consider spending more if a warranty is involved. For example, Progressive Suspension’s 430 and 440 series shocks are covered by the warranty, but the lower-priced 412 series shocks are not. And the JIMS warranty helps the company compete with lower-priced products from China, which usually don’t have warranties, Platts said.

“There has to be a reason why an end consumer is going to buy a JIMS product,” he explained.

Deciphering which products qualify for a warranty is important for any company. JIMS provides lifetime warranties only for its tools because engines and transmissions eventually fail. However, JIMS transmissions do come with a six-year, 60,000-mile warranty. JIMS also guarantees only the tools it manufactures in-house, as those are the tools in which the company can back the quality with confidence.

“If you look through our catalog, 99 percent of the tools are covered by the JIMS lifetime warranty,” Platts reported.

Progressive Suspension warranties the products with which it has the most control over the supply chain or the specifications. Also, higher price-point items are specified especially for lifetime warranties to provide more value.

“Because we design all of our products, we can design in elements that will allow us to make that claim, so if we can spec to the point where we are confident the product will last a lifetime, we will give it a lifetime warranty,” Shirley said.

Progressive Suspension has fully invested into its lifetime warranty program. The company employs more quality assurance inspectors, so a guarantee can be made, and more customer service representatives, so claims can be handled.

“It certainly costs us money because we’ll design better components, source better components, and we do an extensive amount of testing. If we have a part that’s going to go into a lifetime warranty product, it needs to be quality, so we spend a considerable amount of time durability testing, lab testing, road testing, which certainly costs money,” Shirley explained.

Progressive Suspension offers a lifetime warranty on its 430 and 440 series shocks.

Claims on forks that come back are in the single-digit percentile, and shocks come back slightly more frequently — after many years of wear on the road. When an item needs to be replaced, the customer must contact the dealer or Progressive Suspension directly. As long as the customer has the original purchase receipt and can describe the issue, a return authorization number is given and an inspection is completed. If the repairs fit within the warranty, they’re fixed. Other repairs are charged to the customer.

Progressive Suspension’s warranty is limited to manufacturer defectives, materials and workmanship. Misuse, issues due to aftermarket additions and crash damage do not qualify.

“It’s limited to the product being used in the normal conditions,” Shirley said.

JIMS has few restrictions, and the company has even replaced tools that appear to have been abused, as long as the user isn’t taking advantage of the system. Because the return rate is less than half of one percent, no extra staffing was needed in any department after the warranties were added. JIMS sells tens of thousands of tools, so Platts said even if one tool from each line was returned each week, the company would still hardly notice. “It was just flat out ‘Tools are going to be guaranteed for life from here on out,’” he said.

JIMS has no plans to shutter its warranty program. Since the decision was made to add the guarantee, management has never doubted the decision.

Progressive Suspension finds the investment it has made worth the returns and plans to continue offering lifetime warranties on forks and higher-priced shocks.

“It really makes a statement about the company, and that’s worth it right there,” Shirley said. “The company stands behind the product, and one of the easiest ways to stand behind the product is to send a message to a customer that you stand behind your product.”

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