Dealing with competition in the small business world

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Competition in the small business world is an interesting thing. One may think that we hate competitors. That is not necessarily the truth.  Friendly competition is always welcome.  We actually like when someone chooses to take the leap and follow their dream.  It is a relief to know others understand the frustrations and perspectives we hold.  We wind up commiserating and becoming a family and when one of us does well, it usually means that more of us begin to pick up for the sheer fact that higher traffic equates to better exposure. And that means a higher sales potential for everyone.

My opinion changes, however, when the cards are stacked against us.  This happens when a large chain or national company comes in and has high volume purchasing power and advertising dollars that we simply cannot compete with.  Unfortunately, we are directly compared to the “big guys” without consideration of these fundamental differences.  I will give you the example of my business to illustrate my point.

Liquid Lunch cannot charge the same price for a “sammich” as Subway or Panera Bread.  Yet, we have been reviewed in the past with a direct comparison to these companies stating that although our food is superior, we cost too much and we take too long. There is no way for us to compete with this perspective.  They make deals with national distributors in order to purchase commodities at prices we would never be able to get. They also compromise on quality in favor of lower cost.  We take longer to make it because we are making it for you from scratch.  We created all of our own sauces and most of our dressings.  Our chicken is grilled only when you order it.  It does not sit in a warming tray, getting chewy and old.

These large companies have national promotional campaigns, market studies, analyses and focus groups to promote their brand.  They researched what color makes people hungry and paint their walls to match.  Marketing is a very powerful tool which can change the public’s perception even if it isn’t the truth.  We as individual owners have to combat that skewed perception on a daily basis. We have mainly relied on community word-of-mouth, individual customer service, and offering consistent quality products to grow our customer base.

We as a nation have been trained to care more about cheap and fast- not quality and well-made.  This statement is true not only within the foodservice business.  It is true in so many industries from furniture to electronics to appliances to clothing just to name a few.

Get to know the local business people around you.  Take the time to check out the corner appliance shop or local luncheonette.  I personally recommend eateries like Bar 140, Hunan Pan, Billy D’s and Focaccia’s.  These are members of Shelton’s small business food community whom I respect and enjoy a healthy competition with.  Let’s reconnect with our neighbors and discover something great!

If there is an aspect of small business life you would like to know more about, please contact me at [email protected]

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