A competitor went out of business. What do you do first?

old style phone

What’s the first thing you do?

Crack open a cold one and party down? Nah. Save that for later.

How about putting up a sign that welcomes all of their customers and start working on an ad piece that does the same thing? Good idea, but not the first thing.

Raise your prices, since there’s less competition? Maybe, but not the first thing.

OK, so what IS the first thing?

Call the owner and ask if you can drop by to visit with them. Even though you’re a competitor, be a friend at a time when they need someone who understands what it means to make payroll.

Offer your condolences. Let them tell their story. Don’t be a buttinski and interrupt them. As my dad often told me, “Be a good listener”.

Offer to purchase any product stock they have. Whatever $ they get out of it will be appreciated. Don’t be a weasel. Be nice when you make an offer.

Ask them if they’d recommend any of their staff for your business. I mean, you do live in the same area, and they do probably have at least one person who knows the business well, can sell, can service, or something. It’s your way of helping that owner feel a little better about their failure. It’s also your way of getting a trained employee who likely knows the strengths and weaknesses of a product line that you might not know enough about.

But before you do all that, crack open the Yellow Pages, or look at your competitor’s last advertisement. You’re looking for a phone number.

Call the phone company and add a forwarding service for that business’ old phone numbers to your main number.

Sometimes they will make you wait a while. The old business’ phone service may not be disconnected yet. If you have to ask the old owner to sign a form to transfer the number to your account, suck it up and ask. Remember, they don’t really want their old customers to be left out in the cold. Getting their number will help their existing customers find a replacement service and you want to be sure their customers are taken care of, right?

As part of this process, ask the owner if they had any toll-free (800, 866, 888, etc) numbers. If they did, find out who their long distance company is and ask them for a RESPORG change form. Have them fax it to you. You’ll may need the old owner to sign it. Fax it to your long distance service and get the process going. You’re moving the failed business’ toll-free numbers to your account.

Don’t be cheap here. Point EVERY ONE of the old toll-free numbers at your current destination. It won’t cost much.

Why are we doing all of this? Because those phone numbers are on their products, their paperwork, their refrigerator magnets, ball caps, tshirts, their Yellow Page ad, every brochure and business card, and so on.

When that phone number gets called, you want it to ring YOUR phone. I suggest you have a phone script ready and train your people on it so they don’t stumble through the explanation when that guy’s customers call. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Pssst. When you buy a business, do the same thing. Every number. You don’t want to lose any of those calls.