Competition Marketing Strategy

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.

Blogging Competition Management Marketing Media Web 2.0

Competitors: How to easily keep an eye on them. Free.

When I was in the software business, I didn’t watch our competitors too much.

For one thing, I really didn’t consider them competitors. Sure, we lost a sale to them once in a while, but more often than not, it was due to (I kid you not) lies and deception, or a misplaced idea about what was important in the systems we do (yeah, call that a sales or marketing stumble – because better marketing should have eliminated those reasons). Sure, I recognized that they were in our market, but in many ways, they just didn’t get it.

We were the leaders in the market. I watched the competition to see what they had copied of ours, but only on one occasion do I recall that we felt the need to copy something someone else did (a visual sales tool – we were the last to do this).

As such, I focused on innovation, on interacting with customers to figure out what they needed etc. It worked for us. Everyone else was watching and copying us, and we simply kept innovating. It’s a tough position to be in, but it beats the heck out of being #2, where you’re always trying to catch up.

And of course, because the tool I use now didn’t exist.

Google Alerts.

Google Alerts lets you setup a permanent Google search of one or more of these areas: news, blogs, video, web sites (ie: search engine results) and Google Groups (Google’s NNTP newsgroups mirror).

For example, one of my clients owns a coffee shop (you may have picked up on that by now<g>), so I have a Google Alert that once a day does a search for new results on Starbucks. Blogs, news, web sites, etc.

I also have searches on my name (I strongly recommend you do this as well – but for your name<g>), the town where I live, social and political issues or personalities important to me, prospective clients, clients and a few other groups I won’t divulge.

I can either get these notifications as soon as Google finds them, or I can get them scheduled to appear once a day.

They come to my email.

Simple as pie, and extremely valuable. Not only is it easier to know what’s going on in my niche (and my clients’ niches), but it takes a lot less time and I see things that I might not ordinarily see.

Try it, I think you’ll find it quite useful.

Last but not least, don’t forget about what happened to Kryptonite, the bike lock people. In 2004, they ignored a blog about their locks being picked by a Bic pen. They knew about the blog post, but did nothing to address it.

After the story appeared in the New York Times – at which point they could no longer ignore it – Kryptonite found themselves replacing 380,000 locks worth over $10 million, and their attitude through the whole affair didn’t exactly endear them to their customers. Pay attention.

Another post on this subject –

Entrepreneurs Marketing

Are you smarter than a dry cleaners?

For some time now, the news has covered Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson’s $54MM ( 54 million dollar ) lawsuit against Custom Cleaners, a dry cleaning store in Washington DC.

Originally, the basis for Pearson’s lawsuit was about a pair of supposedly lost pants. Later the pants resurfaced, but the lawsuit was altered to be about Custom’s alleged violations of the District Of Columbia Consumer Protection Act. Among other things, Pearson’s contention was that the presence of a sign saying “Satisfaction Guaranteed” means you should be able to get anything you want.

Sadly, the owners of the store have removed the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign, as well as one saying “Same Day Service”, a gutless move in my book, even though they won the lawsuit. They should have an event to celebrate putting the signs back up.

But this post isn’t about a frivolous lawsuit, or the removal of the signs. It’s about the dry cleaning industry’s nationwide failure to take advantage of an obvious marketing opportunity by turning this weird story into a big win.

A win?

Dry cleaners all over the country have been thrust into the spotlight over this lawsuit, yet I’ve not seen a single marketing piece or press release taking advantage of it. It’s publicity that some businesses would be thrilled to get, but couldn’t afford – yet no one is taking advantage of the buzz from this goofy lawsuit.

Perhaps the industry and store owners are figuring they’ll just hide from it and wait for a verdict, or simply ignore it and hope it’ll go away. What they should be doing is using the buzz to bring attention to their store, their guarantee, and even making a little fun of the whole situation.

But they aren’t. How totally boring.

You need to let the locals know that their satisfaction is guaranteed, tell them what to expect and make sure they understand that you keep track of their clothes “as if they were a suit-happy judge”.

How many ways can you use the word “JudgeMENTAL”?  Ok, maybe that one isn’t a good idea:)

You need to make sure any paperwork hanging in motel closets is updated to reference your guarantee and note that you’ll ship clothes to their home or some other destination of their choice – on your dime – if something unfortunate happens, or a pair of pants loses its way back to the motel.

Issue a press release and a Q&A to the radio stations, letting them know you have a sense of humor about all this – it might get you a brief interview during the morning and/or evening drive time shows. Big audiences follow these shows.

Contact each of your clients via email and/or print newsletter – depending on what contact info you have (you’d better have some – if not, get it). Make sure they understand that you have a better guarantee. Have a lost-my-pants promotion or special event for those clients.

Update your signage both inside and outside. Update the paperwork you hand out to your clientèle. Let them know you’re aware of the lawsuit and your clients’ valuable clothing is safe, then elaborate on the steps you take to keep track of their clothing, what your guarantee covers, and why they should continue to use you.

Speak at the local service club meetings (Rotary, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, Lions, etc) about it. Even if you only get a chance to toss in a little funny comment during your self-introduction, it’ll get the point across.

In your ads, press releases and elsewhere, be sure to use testimonials from your existing clients and include comments from people who have never lost anything and from people whose clothes you lost yet you “made it right” and they still use your cleaners years later. These testimonials should be a core part of your existing marketing and “customer-facing” paperwork.

Have a special event at the store to make a bit of fun with the situation.

Do a mailing to the local judges and lawyers. Again, have some fun with it. Include a coupon for to have cleaning done on “a lawsuit and 2 pair of pants”, or have “Attorney/Judge Appreciation Week” where you pickup and deliver for free as a way of greasing the cogs of justice or similar silliness.

Designate the lawsuit’s decision day as “Dry Cleaners’ Judges Appreciation Day”, include it on your annual marketing calendar. In “honor” of the $54MM lawsuit, offer to dry clean pants for judges for 54 cents.

In other words, USE THE NEWS to bring attention to your business. Take advantage of the buzz from silly things going on in the world. Did you have a special on jumpsuits lately? “We clean prison jumpsuits – and regular ones too.” Paris is all over the news, why aren’t you?