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I read your book

Developing your strategy against the competition

George C. Scott did a superb job of playing General George Patton in the movie “Patton”. There is a scene in which Patton is standing on a bluff looking down at the remains of a sizable portion of a regiment led by Rommel, the German military expert. According to the movie this is the first defeat that Rommel. Patton stands on the bluff and with a large grin, states, “Rommel, you son of a gun, I read your book!”

This part of the movie was not true. It was a German name Clausweiz that had written a book in 1837 on how to lead an infantry with certain tactics. It was the book that impressed Hitler and prompted him to enlist Rommel. General Rommel believed the book to be the sound basis for a war strategy. It was the same book that Patton read as he devised his strategy for defeating Rommel.

Running a pet store can be a lot like this movie. You can be like Rommel and have everything going your way. That is until the competition comes into town and after seeing what you are doing, creates a strategy that takes away a sizable portion of your business. Your business can also be a lot like Patton. You are the smart merchant that sees what the competition does and then finds a way to get more from the customer.

In either scenario, the advantage goes to the one that knows what the competition is doing. As busy as you are with everything there is to running the store, why would you want to distract yourself with the competition?

By watching what your competition is doing, you can learn several things. If the competition is a chain store, they undoubtedly utilize plan-o-grams provided by their vendors and home office. While the competition is not going to give the plan-o-grams to you, by walking through their store you can see how they maximize the presentation of each item. You can also see the brands they are stocking so that you can decide if you now want to switch to a non-competing brand.

This is also a great opportunity to see what the competition is charging on the most popular items – the products that your customers are most likely to know what the price should be. This is an opportunity to do something about the situation where customers tell you they like to shop in a locally owned business, even if it means paying a few dollars more for the same item than at the chain store. 

Perhaps for many of you, the retail scene has been fairly constant for the past couple of years. Do you remember when the local grocery store decided to increase their selection of pet supplies? How about when the nearby chain store drug store started stocking pet supplies? Even the corner convenience stores are stocking pet supplies.

You think these stores don’t sell a lot of product? What if you were to add their dollar volume to your store? From this writer’s experience as a retailer, any dollar that is spent in another store is a dollar that is not going in your register. And I have never met a retailer that wanted to see dollars go to any competitor.

After the grocery store and convenience store, there was the hardware store and the mass merchant. All of these businesses are wooing people to spend their dollars with them as compared to spending their dollars with you. This is your competition.

What else do you want to know about your competition? What are their hours? Do they attract more women than men? How is their sales floor designed? What are they putting on their end caps? How is their point of sale arranged? What do they use for impulse items and add-on sale items?

If your competition is already in place in your trade area, there is never a time that is too late to learn what the competition is doing. We all know that the customer is a finicky group of people. A store that has lost customers can gain them back with a new positioning of their product mix, marketing and branding efforts.

For competition that is not yet in your trade area, be advised that they are coming. Don’t limit your thinking to thinking that the competition will always be a “brick and mortar” business. There are mail order catalogs, the Internet, and concepts that few of us have even dreamed of. The business format of selecting your groceries on your computer and having them delivered to your door is something that has for the most part, come and gone. It will however, return in a different format. Even the chain stores and mass merchants you compete against continue to reinvent themselves in an effort to gain market share.

When that next shift in the pet industry comes to your community, will you know about it before it happens? Will you be able to make the necessary changes in your business? Will you be able to say as General Patton said, “I read your book!”

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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