Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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I read your book

Competing with the competition requires
knowing 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 Rommel's first defeat. Patton stands on the bluff and with a large grin states, "Rommel, you son of a gun, I read your book!"

Rommel had written a book in 1937 on how to lead an infantry with certain tactics. It was the book that impressed Hitler and prompted him to enlist Rommel. It was the same book that Patton read as he devised his strategy for defeating Rommel.

Running a small business 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 who 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 who 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, it undoubtedly utilizes plan-o-grams provided by its vendors and home office. While the competition is not going to give the plan-o-grams to you, by walking through its store, you can see how the presentation of each item is maximized. You can also see the brands being stocked 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 whose prices your customers are most likely to know. 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 its selection of the same products you sell? How about when the nearby chain store drug store started stocking these items? Perhaps even the corner convenience stores are stocking items that you sell.

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 who wanted to see dollars go to any competitor.

After the grocery store and convenience store, there was the mass merchant. All of these businesses are wooing people to spend their dollars with them rather than 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, it is never too late to learn what the competition is doing. We all know that customers are 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 buying habits of consumers 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!"

Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site:

Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179