Nobody I know in business likes their competition, and drycleaners are some of the most competitive business people I know.
Recently, I walked into a new local business taking the bold step to open shop on the tail end of a major international pandemic. In our local community, governments had shut some businesses for up to two years, and customers have been staying away in droves not daring to venture out. Yet, this little plucky shop decides to open, and worse, across the street from a huge, established, well-funded competitor. This plucky little business must have been doing something right as the large well-funded (okay, rich) competitor had been talking serious smack about this new business. Well, the larger competitor dissing their new little competitor simply raised my interest even more that I just had to go check out this new business with the massive testicular fortitude of this upstart for myself.
Walking in, I browsed around admitting the selection of inventory on offer. A young lady approached asking if she could help me find anything. Looking into her eyes, I noticed her mascara was rather smudged, her eyes red, like she had been crying. I just could not help myself and found myself asking her: “Perhaps she needed a little help herself?” Well, the dam burst!
She started crying and wiping her nose with a tissue, she said: “I heard my competitor is saying the most terrible things about me and my business and I don’t know what to do. I borrowed a bunch of money to open up this shop, I’m barely making enough sales to cover my expenses and I think my competitor spreading rumors is causing customers to stay away.”
Well, her lamenting reminded me of the fear I felt my first day of owning my first dry cleaning store. I too was deep in debt with money I’d borrowed from a banker dumb enough to back me with a loan on my signature. I remembered all too well my very first day, opening shop at 7 am expecting customers to be lined up at my door, only to end up sitting on a five gallon pail of solvent all day waiting for my first customer to walk in. I still shudder at how long a day can be when you don’t get your first customer until 5:30 in the afternoon.
So, I just could not stop myself for feeling for this young lady. I said, let’s have a cup of coffee and talk about this.
I explained that I too had been much just like her and shared my back story with her. She poured us a couple cups of coffee and our conversation became what I’m sharing with you today. I’m sharing this, because I think it was one of the best summations of competing with competitors, marketing your business, or business development plans I’ve ever made. Yeah, 40 some years later of me starting my first business and I’m still figuring things out….
Anyhow, here goes.
Never really worry about your competition. While it’s good to be aware of them, and watch them, and keep on top of what they do with respect to services they offer, how they deliver those services, how they market those services and be aware of what they say about you. Just don’t let them dictate YOUR actions.
Your business is your business and their business is their business. You control what goes on in your business and let them control what goes on in theirs. Customers will decide whom they want to favor with their sales, money, patronage and loyalty.
It’s absolutely the customer’s right to decide who they want to do business with. Let’s be clear, as soon as a customer picks up their order, pays their bill and walks out the door with their purchase (or even no purchase), the customer is absolutely a free agent that can go to any other business they choose. We don’t own our customers; they and their patronage are NOT our property. A customer’s business and loyalty are earned, it’s never given.
And, since customers are free agents, it’s our obligation to create a positive and favorable environment for customers in order that they WANT to return to us and do business again. And, that is one of the ultimate competitive advantages any business can have over their competition.
As I said, your business is your business and your competitor’s business are their business. If you up your business standards by improving customer service, improving the customer experience, improve the quality of your service, your competitor has little choice but to either raise his standards to match yours, or concede victory to you. All the money, borrowed or owned, will not be an advantage, just delay the inevitable as customers move over to the business that better serves them. It doesn’t take much of an investment financially to give better customer service, or provide a better finished product, so even a little small upstart can afford to ‘do better’ relative to a massive well-funded established competitor.
Understand, the battle for market share begins and ends with the customer. Whomever ends up with the most CUSTOMERS, wins because it’s the customers, their sales and cash flow and ongoing relationships leading to more sales that provides income, profitability and longevity to any business. So, look after the customer and their needs and you will more than look after your own.
Always give a customer a reason to return. Any business that relies on just one single sale to one customer is bound to fail. Repeat business of repeat sales from repeat customers is what it’s really all about. Look past the initial sale and focus on the second, third, fourth and YEARS worth of sales per customer. It’s repeat, profitable sales from many customers that build dynasties and generational businesses that stand the test of time.
Build a customer bank and build relationships. Get customer contact details such as name, address, phone number, email address and put it into a database. That contact information is worth more than gold because you can use it to keep in touch with customers and build long term relationships.
So few businesses do this one simple thing: ask for another order. Yet it’s one of the most effective ways of building a massive enterprise. Your best prospective customer is the one that just bought from you. All you must do is simply ask for another purchase.
And, it’s in asking where relationships start to grow. Think of this for a moment. How many businesses have you made a purchase from that have reached out to you and invited you to come back and buy again? It’s a very small amount, isn’t it? Why aren’t YOU being that rare business that reaches out and asks customers to return to do business again? Even if a customer doesn’t take you up on the offer, you certainly will earn points with your customer simply for reaching out and asking them. When they do have a need, or are ready to buy, they will remember you, because you remembered them.
It does not take a huge budget to communicate with customers. Technology and communication systems such as email and text messages, social media apps like messenger, Twitter and the like can help you build banks of customers that you can reach out to for free, pennies, or fractions of pennies. The cost is so low, its laughable, not to mention, technology is a great equalizer. Today, if David was facing off Goliath, I think he would be using a laptop and technology rather than a rock and a slingshot and winning! Which further compounds the question, why aren’t more businesses doing this? Why isn’t yours?
So, this shop keeper’s face brightened up. She looked about her store and realized she had a laptop, a point-of-sale system for recording sales, a cell phone, she had pretty much everything she needed at her fingertips to begin taking on her Goliath across the street. She saw the logic in creating a better customer experience and she certainly saw that her competitor as focused on the wrong areas of her business and if she started to look after customers better and build relationships, there was absolutely nothing her competitor could do to stop her, except up his own game to match hers. Size and money didn’t matter, it all came down to competing for the customer. And she was encouraged, renewed and eager to get competitive in ways she hadn’t thought of until now.
And, now you too know the secret to the ultimate competitive advantage. Go get them!