Stiff Competition

Competition gets a lot of credit … and at least as much blame. In business, it’s the ultimate double-edged sword.

Here in the U.S., we revere competition as part of our “market economy.” In fact, we love it so much that we outlaw the absence of it. Our antitrust legislation is in place to help ensure that there is competition and fair trade in the marketplace. We abhor monopolies and do what we can to ensure they don’t develop.

Someone — I can’t recall who — said, “I love my competitor because he brings out the best in me.”

And, of course, that’s true. Whether you’re an athlete or a retail store, without a rival to push us along, it would be very easy to relax, to rest on our laurels — real or perceived — and to stop getting better and doing better. We look at competition as a positive in most cases because we think it can drive all parties to greater heights.

If you’re in your car or truck a lot and mostly buy your gas at an isolated station in the middle of nowhere, you’d probably rejoice at the thought of a competitor setting up shop across the street. It would likely drive gas prices down, improve customer service and generally keep both parties on their toes.

But if another tackle shop opened across the street from yours, you’d have a different perspective. You’d think about the “bad” edge of that competition sword — that every dollar spent with your rival was a dollar that coulda, woulda, shoulda been spent in your store.

And there’s truth to that, too.

I talk to a lot of tackle shop owners, ask a lot of questions and learn a lot from the experience. I usually ask about their competition. The answers I get often perplex me.

“They say a big box is coming to town in the next year or two. We’re concerned about that.”

“A guy who used to shop here all the time is getting ready to open up near the lake. I feel like I’m getting stabbed in the back by my own customer!”

“Well, for right now, we’re safe. There were rumors about another shop coming in, but that hasn’t happened.”

When I hear comments like that, two things go through my mind.

First, if you have a competitor coming in — or thinking about coming in — that’s good on a very important level. It means that someone thinks there’s profit to be made in your market, and they’re willing to invest time, energy and money to make it happen.

Second, it tells me that you may not be doing all you can to serve your audience. After all, if someone is thinking of competing with you, shouldn’t you be trying to slam that door in their face by serving your market so well that no one can take your spot as king of the local tackle emporiums?

Even if it’s one of the big box giants, doesn’t their building in your backyard mean you coulda, shoulda done more to fill the gap they’re planning to exploit?

You better believe it does. And there are lots of ways you could exploit that potential competition. If your rival plans to add kayaks to the sales mix, why aren’t you bringing in kayaks first? If he thinks there’s room for more apparel, why don’t you add more apparel before he can open his doors? And if he’s building a store twice the size of yours, what can you do to expand and beat him to the punch with more selection?

Everywhere you see the shadow of competition, there is also the opportunity for growth and greater profit. Don’t take my word for it. Look at the actions of the people who are moving to take a bite out of your business.

And if the wolves are at your door, maybe you invited them.