GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Take your competitor to lunch

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Welcome her to the neighborhood.

You are the fourth generation owner of a family-owned furniture store. Your great grandfather founded the business many years ago, and it has been part of your small city’s landscape ever since. The business is known for excellent quality, and service, and always making sure that the customer will not only keep coming back but will tell others about your store as well.

For the past few years, you have been hearing about the dreaded Big Box stores that are popping up all over the place. You’ve heard of other small family businesses being run into the ground, and forced to close their doors, because of the severe competitive challenges put upon them by these huge stores moving into their towns. It sounds like a nightmare!

Now one morning, as you drive to work, you go by the old baseball field where you used to play PAL baseball when you were a kid, and horrors! You see that someone has bought the lot and construction has started on a large building. When you slow down to see the sign on the temporary construction barriers, you see the name of one of those giant national furniture stores that will be coming to this very site and soon!

What do you do? Your heart is in your throat, and your stomach feels queasy. You are ready to quit right then and there, just plain throw in the towel. But no, you can’t do that. You think of everyone in your family who came before you, and worked so hard to make the business what it is today. So, what’s the plan? What can you do?

Well, according to Shep Hyken in his book: Amaze Every Customer Every Time, when the store opens you invite the manager to lunch, and welcome her to the neighborhood! You get to be friends with her. You talk to her, to find out what her store can do that your store cannot and vice versa.

According to Mr. Hyken, “Don’t demonize your competition. Learn what they do best. Knowing your competition can make you a better competitor…. Know your competition’s shortcomings and capitalize on them. Know your strengths and exploit them.”

It’s true that the big store can offer many more skews than you can. They have deeper buying pockets, so they can buy in huge quantities at better prices. And yes, they can take advantage of national marketing and name recognition. That’s all true and something you should take into consideration.

But here is what they can’t do. They cannot service a customer like you can. They do not, nor will they ever, have a close personal relationship with their customers. Where their customer service is weak, yours is strong. Where your customers’ loyalty is solid, theirs is very weak. While they sell products to a national audience, you can sell products to a regional customer base, a customer base that you have had almost one hundred years serving and learning about.

And you will always be an integral part of the community. When the kind ladies from the Methodist Church up the street drop in to see if you will contribute a gift certificate to be sold at their holiday fair’s silent auction, you can decide on the spot, while the big box store manager has to call corporate for permission.

If you think about it, you are in a great position to not only compete, but also thrive against that behemoth down the street. Just run a good business, with terrific customer service and you will have nothing to worry about. And, oh yes, take that big store manager to lunch and become friends and learn what she can do that you can’t and what you can do that she can’t and armed with that understand you’ll both end up sending customers to one another, and that’s a nice way to grow your business.

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