Who is your competition? It’s a question we have to answer in proposals and business plans to ensure we don’t miss the mark, to ensure that what we are planning to offer is, first and foremost, needed, wanted, and will succeed in some quantifiable way.
Who is your competition? If you think it is the local independent Optometric practices in your immediate area you may be missing the mark.
Years ago, when I wrote the business plan for my coffee shop, I completed a competitive analysis. It consisted of one line…“The closest Starbucks is 30 minutes away.” That, I believed, would eliminate any doubt the coffee shop would be successful, and it did. I got the funding I needed, and less than 3 months after I opened, another coffee shop moved in down the street. It wasn’t a Starbucks, but it didn’t matter. The small town also had 2 gas stations selling coffee, dozens of restaurants, a large café attached to the ski resort not three blocks away, and a little thing called Keurig that I never took into account. I had grossly miscalculated my competition.
What was I going to do?! Well, when “competition” popped up down the street from me, I walked in, introduced myself, and placed a wholesale order for 72 pastries. I continued to do that every week for 3 years. And in turn, they purchased their beans from me, allowing me to increase the discounts I received from my vendors. Instead of hiring another staff member to work in the kitchen, I ordered sandwiches from the local deli. I sent my customers to the diner for ice cream. And in turn, they both sent anyone looking for a cappuccino or a latte to me because it saved them the aggravation of turning on their espresso machine and they knew my coffee was better.
The enemy, it turned out, wasn’t each other. In a small resort town, we were all in competition with seasonal bankruptcy. It was more important for us to identify each other’s strengths and use them to elevate the satisfaction of our customers as a whole, then it was for any one of us to be all things to everyone. We were independent. Together.
It also turns out that independent coffee houses actually perform better when they are next to a Starbucks. Taylor Clark, in the exact article I read in 2009 when I was seeking funding, calls it the Starbucks reverse jinx. “They'll do all of your marketing for you, and your sales will soar. Each new Starbucks store created a local buzz, drawing new converts to the latte-drinking fold. When the lines at Starbucks grew beyond the point of reason, these converts started venturing out—and, Look! There was another coffeehouse right next door! Anyone who complains about having a Starbucks put in next to you is crazy. You want to welcome the manager, give them flowers. It should be the best news that any local coffeehouse ever had."
The real enemy in the landscape of $99 package deals, online PDs, and subscription contact lens companies selling over Instagram, is the devaluing of our services. If that is true, and I think that it is, then it serves no one to devalue what your local OD is doing for their patients.
Do you have an edger? Take in your neighbor’s jobs to help them shorten their turnaround time. Does a local OD have a large pediatric practice? Is it worth it for you to hold onto the same 24 units of kid’s frames for several years or can you send pediatric patients down the street to buy their frames? Both trying to move old inventory? How about a joint sale with agreed upon pricing and a shared marketing effort?
If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, work with your neighbors to grow the independent Optometric space so that everyone can thrive. Send them flowers, send them patients, and by all means, meet them for coffee.
Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising Management from FIT and studied branding abroad at the University of Westminster. Her most recent positions include Merchandise Manager for Cohen’s Fashion Optical and Northeast Regional Trainer for Solstice Sunglasses. Susan started her own business in 2009 and sold it in 2016 to return to Connecticut and begin working for IDOC, helping other small business owners find succeed on their own terms. For questions or comments about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.