GLENDALE, Ariz. — I believe that competition is healthy because it keeps business owners and managers on their toes to do a good job for their customers. Laundromats are wide open to the public, and competitors copy each other all the time. This helps advance the industry to new levels. It’s just that you want to limit how deeply they can see into your operation, while you can do a little of your own copying.
Wouldn’t you like to know if a competitor has implemented a great idea you’re not aware of, an idea that could be slowly milking your mat of customers? Wouldn’t you like to know if any competitors are using your hard-earned ideas? Wouldn’t you like to see a flaw in their operation that you could exploit? I know I would.
There’s an old saying: “If you’re not going forward, you’re going backward, so always move forward.” This especially applies in business.
So, from time to time, it’s important to know what your competitors are doing. You can hear some things from customers but I think it’s best to personally see what your competitors are doing. This applies not only to nearby competitors but any other mat you may come across.
In Part 1 of this column, I offered tips for learning the most about competitors, compared online research to onsite visits, and more. Let me conclude:
There are several ways that a competitor can compete unfairly including:
- Placing their flyers on your customers’ cars in your parking lot.
- Placing their cards or flyers on your mat’s bulletin board.
- Coming into your mat to hand out their business cards or their laundry cards pre-loaded with a free wash.
- Positioning a person holding their sign in front of your mat.
I remember reading about a mat owner who complained that his competitor would copy the license plate numbers from cars in his parking lot. Turns out the competitor had a connection with the Motor Vehicle Department in his state that would give out the names and addresses of those cars’ owners. The competitor would then send those customers mailings with discount coupons usable in his mat!
This is clearly an invasion of privacy, and I suspect could even be illegal in some states. My strategy has always been to fight fire with fire.
First, call the offending competitor right away to ask them to stop. Say that it’s an unfair business practice that will trigger you to fight back and then nobody wins. If that doesn’t help, ask your lawyer to send a demand letter to cease and desist. If the competitor doesn’t stop, you need to sting him back. Legally, of course.
There is a big, multi-chain jeweler located near my home. When I drive past them, I usually see a guy from their competitor with a sign attempting to steer people to the other store. I don’t know if that actually works. Maybe it does, but that’s really hitting below the belt. I would never patronize a store that does things like that, so these practices can backfire.
I believe what competitors really want is to grill your employees. Some will try to hire them away from you. It’s another reason to treat your help well.
THROWING THEM ‘OFF THE SCENT’
I can recall a time when we had a great commercial softener with a fragrance that customers really loved. Naturally, our competitors wanted to know what it was. So I had to put a sign next to our telephones warning employees not to give out any information about the business, as well as any personal information.
At first, I would remove the labels from the barrels so nobody could identify what we bought. Later on, I got smarter and started labeling the barrels myself with a cheap brand of detergent and softener, just to throw competitors “off the scent.”
Much of this column can be seen as negative toward competitors and competition, so I want to share a positive tale before I close.
When I raised my first mat from the dead in 1976, there was a competitor nearby who immediately began to offer a “buy one wash, get the second one free” promotion. He owned five mats at the time. That hurt, but we broke even anyway after about three months.
Years later, he sold that store and somehow we became friendly to the point where he was repairing and replacing the tub bearings in my mats. One day, he confided, “Paul, when you first opened up, we freaked out, so we did the buy one/get one. Guess what? We ended up doing better with that promo!”
Remember, a sense of competition will keep you on your toes and give you more incentive to serve your customers to the best of your ability.
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].