Evil, dirty, underhanded, devious, conniving, despicable, dishonest, cutthroat, backstabbing, snobbish, arrogant, lying and cheating. These are terms I have heard applied to competitors over the last 45 years. Without a doubt I have missed some. What emotions are evoked when you think about your competitors? Some entrepreneurs I know have pure hatred for the competition and others display a great deal of fear. Why do we associate such negativity to our competition?
The amateur psychologist in me believes it has something to do with our childhood (don’t all our issues?). On the playground we engaged in competitive duels involving kickball, dodge ball, four-square and other gladiator-like activities. Losers were vanquished with taunts and teasing. When we were older, competition for relationships with the opposite sex was intense. When a sought-after girl or boy chose someone else, we were crushed and dejected. Fast forward to today and it is no wonder that we often see our competition as the enemy.
But do we really benefit from viewing our competitors in this manner? Competition is actually a wonderful thing. Let’s look at several of the reasons why.
- Competition stimulates creativity and innovation. Every day we know that our competitors are working overtime to develop new products or services. To keep from being left behind we do the same. New discoveries are made from this process that may generate greater profits and capture a larger market share.
- Best practices emanate from a competitive environment. Let’s face it; we don’t have all the answers. So, observing how others do things and testing our approach accordingly can lead us to implement better systems and processes. Without competition what would be the incentive to improve?
- An inefficient market is the byproduct of competition. Some competitors are stronger, and some are weaker. If every competitor is equally strong how would anyone win? The concept of winners and losers is critical to a healthy yet inefficient market.
- Hand-in-hand with the inefficient market theory is the opportunity for differentiation. This is good for the consumer and it is outstanding for the entrepreneur. Why? Because we can create a level of variety that may appeal to more customers. It is not just about “better;” it’s also about “different.” If every boutique sold the same black dress, doesn’t it stand to reason that a boutique selling a purple skirt might win a few more customers than the black dress sellers?
- Competition helps to broaden the talent pool. It provides career paths for the workforce into which we as entrepreneurs can tap. We can create cultures where people want to work, giving them the chance to grow and advance their careers. And in the process, we get to attract the best and the brightest.
For years we have enjoyed good relationships with our competitors. We view them with respect and in some cases, admiration. Other terms come to mind as well: friendship, collaboration, empathy, and gratitude. Collaboration you ask? Yes, we have often referred customers to our competitors when we could not meet their needs and they have done the same for us. In 2008 a Maine portable restroom business owned by Jeff Bellino burned to the ground. Who came to the rescue? Bellino’s competitors! They provided portable restrooms, toilet tissue and chemicals so that he could keep going while he rebuilt his operation. Competition is at its healthiest when competitors have each other’s backs in a time of need.
When we embrace the notion of strong and healthy competition, we enhance our chances for success. There is no doubt that competition makes us better entrepreneurs in every respect.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.