Frequent your competition to positively impact your business

Wouldn’t it be good management and marketing to frequent your competitor’s offerings to understand the market and the differences?

A man examines a tomato at an open air market.
If this man owned a produce market, should he buy his groceries from his competitors? I argue he should. “Shopper” by Carl Mueller, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It was supposed to be a relaxing moment on the couch, with a hot cup of coffee and my local grocery store’s magazine, but it quickly turned into frustration.

As I read the owner’s (and marketer’s) write-ups about the freshest produce at their stores, the highest-quality ingredients stocked in their aisles, and their family atmosphere, which translates to amazing customer service, I thought, “Have they been to another grocery store lately?!?”

And then it struck me, they probably hadn’t.

The reality is, their produce is terrible and rots quickly. It’s also highly overpriced compared to the Trader Joe’s just across the street. And interactions with their staff have been memorably bad.

So how did this gap between marketing and reality happen?

Probably a mix of the following:

  1. When they do go their own store, they are treated differently because employees know them.
  2. They don’t frequent their competitors and incentivize/encourage their employees not to frequent their competitors.

And it makes sense, if this grocery store owner went to a competitor’s store, it’d probably turn into a local public relations nightmare for him and probably hurt his store’s brand.

But is that the way we should react? Wouldn’t it be good management and marketing to frequent your competitor’s offerings to understand the market and the differences? Shouldn’t we applaud employees like this American Airlines executive who flew United?

We can hire secret shoppers, but I would argue that employee everyday interactions with competitors is  the key to small changes that could greatly impact your product or service.

  • If Hyatt hotel employees stayed in other hotels, they may realize how slow their elevators are compared to other hotel chains and investigate why.
  • If an oil company employee went to another gas station to fill her tires with air, she may realize how much safer she feels if the air pump is in front of the store vs. the side of the store and advocate for the change at her company.
  • If a restaurant employee went to a competitor, they may generate new ideas for the restaurant they work at, such as a new way of managing reservations.
  • And if my local grocery chain employees went to Trader Joe’s, they might realize the customer service difference between them and their competitor and work to try to fix it.

So my challenge for you this week is to deeply consider not only your own shopping patterns, but how you may be incentivizing or encouraging your employees’ shopping patterns when it comes to your product or service. Perhaps the best way you can help your own business is by frequenting a competitor.

Remember what you love about your work

It’s 7 am and it’s time for me to get out of the pool, I’ve been swimming intensely for an hour, but before I go, I dive, twirl and spin my way down the lane and back, looking like a playful sea otter. I’m remembering that I love to swim.
Rewind to a day during high school when my summer swim coach walked out on the deck one day and told my teammates and I, “Just play, no workout today.” We stood there stunned, not knowing what to do. Eventually, we made up our own workout and did that, much to the chagrin of the coach.
I started competitive swimming at age four and continued for 13 years. My teammates were the same. A day without one swim workout, and often two, was a rarity for us. The games we did play in the pool weren’t really fun, they thinly-masked swimming drills, getting the rings from the bottom of the pool increased breath control, water polo increased explosive speed, etc.
A baby swimming underwater through a hoop
Nicole Finkbeiner at 23 months old, practicing a swimming drill. She would begin swimming competitively 2 years later, at age 4, and continue until age 17.
What that day with the coach showed me is that we’d not only lost the ability to have fun in the pool, we’d forgotten why we’d wanted to swim in the first place.  After that, I vowed not to forget again. And so I end each swim session with a moment of play, to keep me loving what I do, which in turn helps motivate me to do it well.
I believe work is the same. We need to remember why we got into the work we do in the first place (maybe not a particular job, but a field or subject area) and make a point to remind ourselves often why we love our work.