Imagine if there was only one jean brand on the planet? One label, one cut, one wash… they would look great on some of us, and be quite unflattering on others.
The beauty of living in our free world is our right to choose. We are fortunate that we have the right to choose in our country – we can choose basic things like what we eat, where we live, who our friends are, and … what we buy. It is astonishing in this day and age that there are some people who still don’t have that right. If we are going to have choice, then there is going to be competition. That’s just the way it is. It’s time to embrace our freedom of choice and, as business owners – use competition to our advantage.
The wise learn many things from their enemies. – Aristophanes
I enjoyed an insightful chat with Julie Cole from Mabels Labels a few months back – where I asked her about competition. Mabels Labels is the original North American label company – a group of 4 women who were frustrated by the amount of stuff that left their houses, never to return. After lots of research and testing they created the perfect labels for the stuff kids lose. It is also a space where I watch competitors pop up almost daily.
Julie illustrated competition beautifully – it’s like an annoying little sister that won’t go away. Much like a little sister, it’s important to be aware of what she is doing, but to usually ignore her.
Competition is not only the basis of protection to the consumer, but is the incentive to progress. -Herbert Hoover
Here are 5 ways to stands apart from the competition.
1. Focus on your game.
If you don’t have a business plan yet, then today is the day. Do it now. Competition is one of the many places where your business plan is critical. Know exactly what your mission, vision and goals are for the year – that is where you stay focused. Don’t be distracted by what your competitors are doing – let them do something different – you need to know exactly what you want out of your company and how you are going to get there. If you want a piece of the market, you are going to have to stand apart – how you do so will depend on the strengths and style you bring to the game.
If you have a good idea, there will be copycats who try to rip off what you do. Your job is to remain innovative and forward thinking – let your competition follow up. Julie spoke about the fun of running a business for her- it’s the innovating, the creating and the interacting with customers. At Mabels, following another company is simply no fun so they strive to always be first to market.
I asked how Mabels remains innovative. Her answer? It all comes down to being thinkers. “We are thinkers, we hire thinkers, we watch trends, we do lots of reading, we listen to customer feedback, and we have a very engaged community.”
One of the ways Mabels Labels leads their competition is in the sense of community they have built both on and off line. The owners of the company have made themselves very accessible to their customers, and create personal relationships with their clients every day. Their engaging and personalized use of Twitter and Facebook make their customers feel valued, appreciated and heard. It is also a great platform for Mabels to monitor and listen to what their clients are talking about – the good, the bad and the ugly. All issues, positive or negative, are addressed immediately and on the spot. That builds brand loyalty, and who is your easiest sale? A current customer.
Mabels Labels also builds community through their exceptional customer service. When my son was born 6 months ago, Julie casually asked what his name was on my Facebook page. Guess what arrived in the mail a couple of days later?
A wrapped box of customized labels for my little guy, complete with beautiful packaging and a handwritten card. Wow. What an impact it had on me and my family. I was so touched. I told everyone who would listen about the gesture, I felt so touched, I felt like Mabels Labels was a friend. I felt a part of their community. And I still do. I could easily order my next round of labels from their competition. I may save a few bucks or get different bells and whistles – But I won’t. I have witnessed the value that this company brings to me and my family, I have experienced the quality of their products, I see them supporting our school through their fundraising initiatives… I am theirs. They will always be my label company.
4. Protect Yourself
Competition is inevitable, especially if you have a great idea. You need to protect yourself. One way is to ensure your copyright and trademark is up to date. Though costly and time consuming – these will save you considerable time and money in the long run.
5. Befriend Your Competition
Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Why not? Accept that others are going to work in the same space as you – and be confident that you are different from everyone else. Knowing that you are innovative, focused and growing your own business with passion and purpose to make a profit – make friends with others in your space. Acknowledge the elephant in the room and get to know each other. Business is often misconstrued as personal – it’s not. Remember how Julie describes competition as an annoying little sister? What did your younger sibling do when they wanted to be just like you? They copied you. There is truth to the notion that imitation is the best form of flattery.
Say hello to your competitors. Get to know them. Cooperate with them. Maybe even work together – who knows, maybe there is some synergies between your two businesses.
Bring on the competition!