The Competition: Working side by side

I see a lot of store owners sweating their competitors. Mostly the ones who apparently operate without business sense or an infinite advertising budget. Or a trust fund. There’s lots of those, in every industry, but far more important is to recognize the good, healthy competitors you have and work with them.

Aren’t your competitors your enemy?
Of course not! In small business, my professional competitors are my colleagues. We are in the same boat. Our businesses may operate on very different models, and we may be very different people (perhaps even people who dislike each other personally), but we are the closest things to friends we are likely to have. Treating the competition with respect is the first step to being a professional. Recognizing which competitors are not likely to behave respectfully and ignoring them is the second.

Work with competitors

Working with competition is step one. If you’re opening a new store, and the other store in town runs Pokemon on Sunday, for the love of god, run Pokemon on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday or another time of day Sunday. Don’t run it Sunday. First off, you’re going to make a hostile competitor which will cost you and them money as you dive into a marketing battle for the same customer share. Second of all, you will likely strengthen both your stores by doubling your advertising reach. Imagine it from a customer point of view, if one store is marketing Guild Ball, it might be a big deal, or it might be that store bought a dud and wants to offload it. If all the stores in the city sell Guild Ball, it’s probably a winner, and maybe you’d better check it out.

But there are no days competition isn’t running Game X

Don’t sell Game X. Easy. No, I don’t care if you know Magic very well. If everyone else is already running Standard Magic seven days a week, you run draft.

What if all the good, easy-selling games already have stores supporting them?

Then, and this is important, don’t open a game store. It took me 5 years of experience to really understand the game industry,and another 2 to feel confidant in a business model that I knew cold. If your market is filled with stores already doing well, and all the big games are represented, your store is not necessary. If you open, you will become a toxic, bad competitor, feeding off the customer base and dividing them to the detriment of your business, and probably 1-2 other nearby stores.

None of the other stores in my area will work with me! Are they assholes?

Maybe, but if you’re the new store in town it’s far more likely that you are either 1) engaging in bad business practices they want no part of or 2) have not yet demonstrated that you’re business-minded enough to make good, predictable decisions. If you want to work with competition, you need to bring something to the table. Being a stable, business-minded owner with profits and longevity in the forefront of each action your store takes is step one. If you can’t manage that, or you’re making excuses, no competitor will want to be associated with you.

Won’t your competition learn to beat you?

First of all, if you’re doing any sort of marketing, your competition is already seeing your advertising and reading your newsletters. If you’re not doing marketing, well, you’re probably not going to be in business long so don’t sweat it. Second of all, I’m not proposing you lay out your sales numbers, your secret hookup on a game, or anything you wouldn’t tell the public. Picking up the phone or sending an email and saying “Hey, I’m looking at January 7th for our D&D Extravaganza, do you have anything similar planned for that date?” is just good planning.