Forget your competitors - they are a distraction

Conventional wisdom is that we should keep tabs on our competitors to check that we are remaining competitive, but in reality this can be a dangerous strategy.  The temptation of course is to copy what seem to be your competitors good ideas - isn't that being agile? 

Actually it is quite dangerous unless you have the insight to understand why they are doing what they are - in which case of course you do not need to copy them.  Let me give an example….

I remember well walking past the Rob Roy Dairy.  The first snow of the season lay on the ground yet the newly opened icecream parlour was full of queueing customers - wearing shorts of all things.  Had they discovered a killer new flavour? No. Were they giving the stuff away for free?  No.  Was there a new craze among the young?  No not that either.  Now a perceptive competitor might have been tempted to build their own ice cream parlour to cash in on the bonanza, but they would most likely have failed.  Rob Roy knew their customers.  They were located in the scarfie part of town - 30,000 students like nothing better than an ice cream sundae after their takeaway and even more so when the weather is foul.  Ice cream cheers them up.

Tempting as it might have been for a competitor to copy, unless they happened to be in the right location it would not have gone well for them. Plus there were other factors that are not so easy to copy either.  So how did Rob Roy Dairy know?

We had done a retail engagement survey along that street a bit earlier in the year.  We were quite shocked by just how many shops had staff that hid behind the counter rather than talking to their customers - how could they hope to help their customers to buy if they did not engage with them?  How much share of their customers wallets were they leaving for competitors that actually took the trouble to talk to customers? Of the 25 premises I "mystery shopped" only in 2 did I actually buy something.  Rob Roy was one.  The staff were so pleasant that going in improved my mood and far from being pushy sales types, they took a genuine interest in what I might want.  Hardly surprising then that they saw opportunities where others did not.

It does not cost much to engage with your customers, but it sure pays dividends

Banner image © Mark Neild 2013  Dolphin in Bay of islands New Zealand taken shortly before we went swimming with them.