You’re cruising along. Your YTD looks pretty strong on the reports. Your overhead is under control and staff is tenured. Your quality is on point and market share is loyal.
A competitor begins an upfit in the space you originally wanted across the street or a few blocks or miles away. The “coming soon” signs out front begin to generate excitement. You hear people talking about it at the gas station and the produce aisle. Then, someone walks up to you at the Chamber of Commerce meeting and says, “Hey did you see that ____ is opening a location?” 45 days out, their social media begins announcing the grand opening. Family and friends night is advertised on radio and in the local paper. Coupons have gone out and they look pretty dang good. I could go on, but I won’t.
Does this mean war? Should you rally the troops and hire a blacksmith to reinforce your armor and swords? Nope. Instead, I am going to open the playbook for those of you who currently find yourself in this position because I want to encourage you and help you win. Now, let me be clear, this doesn’t mean they lose; this may mean that they win, too. (In the absence of market saturation, of course.) So, without further ado, let me open the playbook on how to compete with bravery and courage.
What does this mean? I don’t mean document the ways you think they are inferior. I mean ALL the homework that doesn’t infringe on their proprietary information. What are they doing right? In many cases, it is more important to know what they are doing RIGHT than to know what YOU THINK they are doing wrong. Study them. You may think you know everything about them. You may. This will be a short assignment if you do. Extract every good thing from the homework you can. Then, acknowledge the things you don’t agree with. Don’t stay there. Know these, then move on. In my book, “Dirt Road Doctorate”, I point out that knowing who your allies are is infinitely more important and valuable than knowing who your enemies are. In the presence of genuine allies, enemies don’t hold any power. What you will most often find is that they seek a specific section of market share that you do not. While you may have a market share in common, you may also have unique attractions for different market shares. Take note of this, especially because you will use it in the next step.
I can hear some of you saying right now, “No way Gary. I WILL NOT welcome my competition to town”. Ok, ok. Calm down. I don’t mean hold a party in their honor, LoL, I simply mean, greet them. Welcome them to the community. By now, you have studied them (or you should have before this step) and know their strengths and weaknesses. Introduce yourself and your business. If they are interested in long-term success, and are poised for it, they have studied you as well. Something in their studies told them it was a good call to come to your neck of the woods. Let me say this: if they didn’t do the studies and vindicated their move with rock solid analytics and studies, then you probably don’t have anything to worry about anyway. I will talk about how to compete with the assumptive newcomer in a different blog. For now, be brave enough to welcome them. You could start a war. Who wins a war? NO ONE! Even when there is a surrender, there are extremely costly losses on both sides that take years to recover from.
Now I have really done it. I have insinuated that two competitors can actually work together to maximize their unique offering to a geographic market; but, it’s true! Remember, I said study what they do well - then study what they do differently. This is where you can collaborate with a seeming competitor. They are not typically a cookie-cutter of your offering. They may be very similar, but not exact. If they are an exact replication with different branding, then you and I should have a different conversation; however, this is not usually the case. (Typically, there are some similarities but not identical matches.) A collaboration is possible when the strengths and weaknesses are assimilated to create a greater strength and a lesser weakness. I will give you an example. Let’s say your pizza uses Roma tomatoes for sauce and they use Better-Boy. These two tomatoes are unique in their properties, taste, and acidity. They present a different flavor profile for the sauce. Next, you specialize in deep-dish while they specialize in hand-tossed crusts. Your toppings are locally-sourced while their offerings come from a wholesaler. A collaboration for “Deep-Dish Friday” and “Hand-Tossed Sunday” means that both win. Share coupons. Competitors will not always be willing to do this; but those who are, will be poised for longevity and will remove any danger of marketplace complacency.
Finally, unless you are in a position of market saturation, there is no scarcity. Scarcity of market share, that is. I have seen competitors come together to form community and regional associations which serve the whole market. It is possible. I can’t say this enough. There is only one you. Only you have your message. Your recipes. Your atmosphere. If you don’t have a message, a special recipe, or an engagement atmosphere, then the problem isn’t your competitors. You MUST recognize that your very first ally, is you. Your are your own first ally in your personal story, your recipes, your unique value proposition, your brand’s history, your customer engagement. No one has this but you. You have an established market share because of these allies. Know them! Then, build on them. When your customer base sees that you are not afraid of competition, it will resound with them. You will most likely not ever have every pizza eater’s buying decision, every night; but, you will have those who are committed to you. Build on that. And remember, no one wins in war. So be your own first ally, extend your hand to others and win in your market.
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