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Zamboni
 

Zamboni


  Zamboni
smooth operator
by Robin D. Rusch
June 18, 2001

It may be a banal sight in Canada, the land where hockey was invented, but in America the Zamboni holds a rather cult-like status. The appearance of one lumbering on to the ice between periods draws cheers as loud as for the players themselves. There is something satisfying about the sight of the slow but efficient machine smoothing over the battered ice.

In fact everything about the Zamboni is slow. It took the inventor over six years to create the first functioning machine. Current production is

 
 

still done by hand assembly – one machine at a time. With about 50 people building up to 200 machines per year, production time can take as long as eight months. In action, a Zamboni reaches a top speed of 9-10 miles/hour (15k/h) which is just as well since there are no brakes.

There are other resurfacing brands but the one known virtually by all who’ve ever visited an ice rink is Zamboni. It’s so well known that the machine is very often referred to as a Zamboni regardless of the manufacturer.

There are only so many ice arenas worldwide and new ones aren’t built daily, so the competition among ice resurfacer manufacturers is fierce. Zamboni’s competition includes Olympia and LeClair. And if you’ve never heard of them, it’s because the Zamboni name is so strong. On the flip side, high name recognition can cause a name to lose its proprietary identity and become associated with the product not the brand (e.g., Kleenex, Band-Aid, Frisbee).

But Zamboni doesn’t just do ice. Its area of expertise could be described as manufacturer equipment to aid in the maintenance of sports venues. It manufacturers a Grasshopper for rolling up and laying down artificial turf, an Astro Zamboni for sucking up water on playing fields, and a Power Edger for trimming ice. All these machines were created by one man: Frank Zamboni Jr.

Born in 1901, Zamboni is the man behind the machine. As a young man in the ice rink business with his brother and cousin, Zamboni began to search for a way to more efficiently resurface the ice after the skaters had left. After several failed attempts to create an automatic surfacer, Zamboni invented the first Model A, which could do the work in 10 minutes that had previously taken three men over an hour and a half.

His extraordinarily inventive talents were combined with an entrepreneurial flair for business. Zamboni used to tell rink owners that "The principal product you have to sell is the ice itself." However the same could be said of his own business since the quality of the resurfaced ice is a major feature of Zamboni’s brand. But the Zamboni brand has other qualities that ensure its brand status as number one. Zamboni was first to market and has been first choice for the pros (skating champ Sonja Henie bought two and the National Hockey League has been using them for the last fifty years). Zamboni also instilled guidelines for internal brand management, urging employees to strive to improve the product line at all times, take pride in the products and the company, and insist on quality when the brand name adorns the machine.

And what’s exceptional about Zamboni is its longevity as a family-run brand. The company is currently under the chairmanship of Zamboni’s son Richard Frank, who has designated his son, Francis Joseph, to succeed him. Third generation family run companies are extremely fragile, but should the genius remain in the family, Francis’s two sons should be ready to go in another 20 years. Hopefully the Zamboni brand has a solid chunk of ice beneath it to ride out the cracks and nicks of the next fifty years.

 
     
  

Robin D. Rusch lives and works in New York City.

  
     
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