Jim Niekamp is an interesting guy.
When I met him in the lobby of the Chicago Four Seasons Ritz Carlton, I was expecting someone much different than the smiling, gregarious 50-something who was milling around and seemed to know everyone. After all, I’d heard the legend plenty of times: he and his partners took three separate product lines from less than 10% market share to 95% market share in under 10 years. Such stunning and consistent success is rare indeed. Perhaps even unprecedented. So I was expecting an ego to match the legend. I was expecting, in short, a hard charger; a bull in a china closet. But what I got was just the opposite.
I was there for the two day business conference that he and his partners aptly named “95% Share Marketing.” The best way to describe the program without giving too much away is that it is an adventurous field trip for business people. Jim plays tour guide to some of Chicago’s most famous and exclusive sites as he teaches the common components that make a business gobble up market share and have fun in the process. (He holds the conference in other cities as well). As Jim puts it, he teaches businesses how to “make customers for life who will buy all your products or services and brag about you to everyone they know.”
But this isn’t your normal tour or business conference. Jim took us behind the scenes, past crowded lines, and into places that the public rarely sees. Each with a lesson; a point to carry home the program’s simple yet profound philosophy designed to dominate whatever market you happen
to be in. Whether Jim talks about owning ship, cutting the clutter to figure out what’s really important, or developing strategies to exceed the customer’s expectations, each point is followed by a real-life model.
And many of those models are surprising. For example, what do you suppose Chicago cab drivers, the manager of the Ritz Carlton, and a world-renowned bird scientist at the Field Museum have in common? Probably not much, other than each plays a part in the 95% market share program. The Ritz’s manager (who completed the program a few months ago), described how his Ritz became one of the best luxury hotels in the world with customer service that is the envy of the industry. A modern day Indiana Jones gave us a tour of the not- for-the-public section of the Field Muse- um of Natural History in a unique lesson on how to distinguish your business from the competition. And the cab drivers? Jim tells the story of how they became what he calls “sneezers” for Nordstrom’s department store. (A sneezer is someone who contagiously brags about your business to
everyone they know).
The cab story is particularly amusing. As Jim describes it, Nordstrom’s was late in joining the cluster of high-end boutiques at Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue. By the time it arrived on the scene the only suitable real estate was down the road from the other high-end shops, which could have put it at a competitive disadvantage. But Nordstrom’s figured out a way to overcome that disadvantage in a creative and wildly successful way. The store announced to every cab driver in the city that it was having a grand opening—only for cab drivers. It valet parked each cab, gave the drivers a red-carpet tour of the new space, and served gourmet corned beef sandwiches for lunch. As the cabbies were waiting for the valets to retrieve their cars, each was given an expensive ball cap with Nordstrom’s logo plastered on the back (for every future passenger to see).
Now if a tourist or busy executive in Chicago hops in a cab and asks for for a recommendation on where to get a tie or a pair of shoes, where do you suppose the cabby takes them?
But finding creative ways to overcome obstacles and get people to buy your products and brag about you to everyone they know was only a part of the program. In sum, the program was about building relationships with customers in ways that surpass their expectations and levels the competition. So it’s not so surprising that Jim Niekamp is such a nice guy. He dominated the market— not by being shrewd or tyrannical—but by being someone his customers liked and trusted. That simple but elusive principle is at the heart of 95% Market Share program. And, as Jim’s real-life examples make plainly obvious, it’s what separates the good from the outstanding.
So I wasn’t surprised to learn that several top companies quietly send each of their employees through the program. I met a few employees from one of those companies at lunch. They were the
last of the company’s fifty or so team members to finish and they explained that the principles that Jim and his partners teach had become an integral part of their company’s culture. I asked them what the result had been and they responded in near unison: they were blowing away the competition and dominating their field.
I wasn’t shocked. If you’ve got a business and are interested in taking it to the next level, check out the 95% Share Marketing Program. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, chances are you’ll brag about it to everyone you know and become a sneezer like me.