How to Make Your Competition Pay for Mistakes

I end all my columns with “A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.” And I mean it, too. If we can find ways to grow our individual corners of the fishing industry we all benefit, and where that means working together we should be looking for ways to do exactly that.

But it’s easy for me to say that sitting in my office, not behind the counter of a retail store. I’m aware of the fact that you’re out there in the trenches, slugging it out with Bob’s Tacklepalooza and Dave’s Creel-o-Values. Those guys never let up! It’s a sale here, a special offer there. You’re cordial with them, but there’s clearly no love lost.

That’s why I want you to look for ways to capitalize on their mistakes.

Everybody makes mistakes, it’s just that your competition should pay for theirs.

So how can you make that happen?

For starters, you need to be alert for them. How do you know if Larry’s Tackle Barn has screwed up if you don’t know what Larry’s been up to, what Larry is stocking — or not stocking — and what Larry’s prices are at the moment. By staying up to speed on your competition, you create the opportunity to pounce when a mistake has been made. (Pro tip: this goes for the digital realm, too. Set up a Google Alert on their business name. That will let you know when someone says something online about them. If you have a Facebook page, monitor theirs.)

If you look at their business activities, cringe and say, “I wouldn’t have done that,” it’s time to act.

If your competition is out of the hottest baits in the area and you still have plenty, a sign out front can send folks your way. If you got a special deal on a popular new reel and can offer it for $15 less than the store down the road, that’s worth a mention, too.

If Harry’s Hooks ‘n’ Such is clearly on the wrong side of the fence when it comes to an important fisheries management or political issue, we defend his right to be an idiot and to speak his mind, but freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. A sign in front of your store that says “We support your right to …” or “We support our fishery” may be in order.

Making competitors pay for their mistakes is all about line drawing. On one side of the line — the good side, the positive side, the clear-thinking side — are you and your shop. The competition is on the other side — in no man’s land.

I’m not talking about beating them up for being different, and I’m not talking about bullying them. I’m talking about drawing a line in the business sand and showing that you’re on the right side.

One mistake your competition may be making is in the hours they keep. Are they really customer-friendly or do they open late and close early? If you can do better, don’t just note it on a small sign in your window. Scream it from the mountaintop. Tell everyone who cares that you’re “Open longer hours — when you need tackle!”

What about brands? Do you carry more or better brands than the competition? Emphasize that. “Bigger, better selection” or “We have X” might help. Remember to look for places to draw lines and make distinctions. If you’re doing something demonstrably better than the other guy, tell the world.

How about location? Is yours better? Is it more convenient? Is it safer? There are ways to tell that story, too.

Just about everything we do in business has consequences. Some things work, others don’t. While you need to maintain a laser focus on the moves you’re making, don’t forget to keep an eye on the competition. They just might be leaving the door wide open for you.

And if they’re not making errors of commission, it means they’re making errors of omission by doing nothing. If they’re resting on their laurels — real or imagined — jump on that. Do stuff!

  • Sponsor a tournament series or big fish contest.
  • Host the local fishing club meetings.
  • Get involved with the area fisheries management office.

If your competition is too lazy to do these things, you don’t want to make the same mistake.

Your competition may be bigger than you, better located than you and better connected than you, but they’re not perfect. When they make a mistake, it’s your job to make it cost them.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.