Groundhog Day with Ooompa Loompas

Recently, I had a series of “Groundhog Day” experiences with multiple vendors in the same market, in the same market area, while seeking the same product that all of them sell.

Of course, they’re competitors, though some of them may be owned by the same people or corporation. I didn’t look that hard, but I doubt that’s the case.

What I found most interesting about this situation is that they were identical in almost every possible way. If you switched the logo, phone number, business name and address between each of them, you’d find it difficult to figure out which was which. Nothing about any of them appeared to stand out from the others.

Long-time readers might assume that I would find this appalling. They’d be right.

So that there is no doubt about how I feel about this situation, let me make it clear: Being exactly like every other business in your market is a dangerous concoction of idiotic, risky, lazy and so on.

Yes, there are situations that require that some things are pretty much identical from business to business. Regulatory requirements are a good example. Even though regulations might control some behavior in your market, they do not require you to become yet another Oompa Loompa.

You get the idea that I find it not only appalling but not too smart. Let’s talk about why.

Why being a clone is bad

Oompa Loompas are identical. While they presumably do good work, they produce the same results as every other Oompa Loompa. Why would someone choose your Oompa Loompa business over the identical one down the street?

If you’re all the same, what usually tips them in your favor is price.

Yet if everyone is doing things the same way, their overhead is going to be pretty consistent from business to business. With the exception of negotiation skills with vendors and the profit margin you choose when setting prices, what’s left to alter? Not much.

Of course, there will be pressure to price similarly, since there’s no difference between business A and business B. Welcome to the vicious circle.

Why not being a clone is good

When you’re not one of the Oompa Loompas, there’s always pressure to conform. Perhaps unspoken, perhaps not.

Pressure looks and sounds like: Work like us. Have a sign like us. Wear the same type of uniforms we wear. Offer the same delivery we offer. Don’t deliver, because we don’t. Provide the same level of service we provide. Don’t provide what we don’t provide. Advertise like we do. Sell like we do. Price like we do.

In industries where this is really rampant, it sounds like this: Get our industry certification because it says you do everything exactly like we do – and don’t change a thing after the fact because we’ll yank your Clone Stamp of Approval (CSoA).

While the CSoA badge is attractive and shiny while remaining artistically conservative enough that the CSoA committee somehow agreed long enough to sign off on it, you should think about how being a clone makes you feel and how it resonates with the reason you have a business in the first place.

Consider why you risked everything to start your business.

  • Was it because you had a better idea?
  • Was it because you wanted to serve people in a better way?
  • Was it because you thought so differently about the market?
  • Was it because you felt the clientele in that market were under served?
  • Or….Was it so you could march in lock step with all the other clones?

I seriously doubt the last one was anyone’s choice. Most business owners aren’t built that way, so how does this situation happen?

How it happens

Earlier, I mentioned “idiotic, risky, lazy”, describing behavior, not people. These behaviors can be active or passive. My experience and suspicion says there’s a mix of active and passive lazy going on here, perhaps mixed with a touch of fear.

At some point, I hope you decide that it’s riskier to be a clone than it is to stop being one. At that point, all that’s left is to overcome the fear of leaving Cloneville.

Moving out of Cloneville

How do you get out of Cloneville?

Think about what’s important to your clientele. What makes things easier, faster, smoother and more productive for them? Fix one thing at a time. Repeat.