Competition has been a recurring theme in my conversations with small business this week. Specifically what to do when the competition appears to be doing everything to drive business away from you and to them.It brought back some challenging memories of my days as a tour boat operator in Bar Harbor. Competition was fierce and for the most part all the operators played nice and supported one another. But one season was particularly challenging as I dealt with another operator who was not thrilled that my business was doing well and he felt threatened. The situation was made even more challenging due to the fact that we shared a ticket office no bigger than your bathroom! It’s a long story as to “why” we were in the same office and it worked well until that year -when if I was not in the office to talk with folks interested in my boat trip he would do everything to talk the customer out of taking my trip and into taking his. A tough situation in a very short season where every customer matters! He was clearly not thinking long term but rather – I’ll do anything it takes to fill our boat at the expense of others.
So what was I to do? I was obviously upset by this but rather than confronting him I took the high road. I knew him well enough to know that confronting him would only make matters worse and there was no way I wanted to spend the season in a constant state of discomfort and stress. I came to the conclusion that there was no way I could control his behavior but I could control mine and my business. So, I kicked my marketing into high gear and made sure I or a member of my crew was always at the ticket office even on rainy days when we weren’t operating so we could be certain we and not he were there to tell customers about our trip.
His behavior did result in stealing some customers away from me. But, it also backfired as many customers told me they were completely turned off by his blatant attempt at “talking us down” which resulted in customers wanting to do business with me because we “played nice” and they knew that would mean a pleasant experience for them.
The lesson here is that you can’t control what your competition does – you can only control what you do. Worrying and stressing about them will only serve to make your life miserable and distract you from conducting your business to your best ability. So let them do it – let them try to take your customers while you take the high road. When your competitors try to take you down a notch – view it as a compliment that you are clearly doing something right and just keep on doing it! At the end of the day your customers will see through attempts to take business away from you and they will be loyal to you. Businesses that operate that way often have a short lifespan anyway and that was true in my case. His business eventually fizzled while my business sizzled!