Don’t Go into Battle Wearing a Blindfold

Reconnaissance is critical to retail combat

By Rich Lindblom

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the big-box store in your market area or regional powerhouse right down the street from you.  If you want to survive and thrive in today’s marketplace, you need to truly understand your competition. You need to know what they do well, as well as what they don’t. 

Let’s face it, today’s retail world is a literal battlefield of competition.  And if you are going into battle with someone, you need to know their strengths and their weaknesses.  Imagine a general leading his or her troops blindly into combat, not knowing a thing about the opponent they were about to face. Talk about a recipe for disaster! 

Well, the same could be said for your company.  You need to scout your opponent, your competition.  You need to find out as much as you can about them. Things like:

  • What do they sell?  How do they sell it?  How much do they charge for it? 
  • Do they warehouse on site?  How quickly can they deliver it?  Do they offer customer pickups?
  • Do they install it?  Who does their installations?  How much do they charge to install?
  • Do they provide service?  How much do they charge to service?
  • Do they sell extended warranties?  How long are their warranties?  What do they include?  How much do they charge for them?

Look, businesses that are big and successful are usually that way for a reason.  They didn’t just open their doors one day and have customers start flocking like lemmings.  The odds are pretty good that they are doing a whole lot of things right. And if they are selling more merchandise than you, then guess what? They are probably doing more things right than your company.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if you ask me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with figuring out exactly what it is your competition does better than you and stealing the concept, perhaps tweaking it to suit your business and maybe even improving upon it. 

But it goes far beyond that. I would also tell you that you need to figure out what it is that they don’t do well and capitalize on it.  In other words, find their weaknesses and exploit them.

  • If they don’t provide service after the sale, make sure you stress that to every single customer to differentiate your company from your competition. 
  • Maybe they don’t do difficult or even custom installations.  If that’s the case, then you should be shouting it from the rooftops that you can do those kinds of jobs.
  • Perhaps they don’t sell built-ins because they are more difficult and time consuming to sell.  If so, then maybe you need to become your town’s built-in specialists.
  • If no one in your market sells high-end or even premium product, maybe you should consider that category (assuming of course that your market demographics will support it).

The point is to find things they aren’t very good at or don’t do at all and capitalize on it.  I wrote a piece a while ago about finding a void and filling it, and this is another great example of that. 

The bottom line is that if you want to survive and thrive in today’s retail battlefield, you need to know your opponent inside and out.  Learn their strengths and weaknesses, and use them to your advantage. 

I have three goals in mind with my columns: To motivate, educate and entertain.  If I have achieved at least one of those, then I have done my job. Don’t be shy about letting me know if you agree. Write me at egvrich@gmail.com.