Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sightseeing

Bob and I took a short journey across town to visit a competitor yesterday. This is one way of measuring our performance. This particular store didn’t even exist when Bud’s started so it’s great to now have a competitor by which to compare our organization.

Going in the front door, I joked with Bob about how long it would take until we saw one of our customers. We opened the door and we were greeted by one of our customers walking out. We saw another customer sitting on a couch messing with his blackberry. Bob and I sat down on opposite sides next to him.

“This is a shakedown,” I said. He looked up shocked like he was a child who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and then laughed.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. And then he explained how he was just at our store like he needed to justify what was going on. We are going to invite him to a future focus group to learn more about our business.

When this particular store opened, we worried about its impact on our sales. Would the new store cause our slice of the pie to become smaller? Over time, we discovered that the pie wasn’t limited by size. The entry of competitors into the market actually caused the pie to grow. We have seen growth in our sales as well as in the number of individuals and businesses that want to donate to us. Having more home improvement thrift store players in our community builds the marketplace as a whole for this particular industry. Customers shop at both stores. If they can’t find an item at one they try the other. But even so, we like to lovingly compete against them like two brothers in a close-knit family.

One of the great dangers of running any successful business is complacency. There is a tendency to get stale over the course of time. In some ways, Bob and I feel a bit stale at Bud’s right now. Our visit helped us to see our strengths and our weaknesses in light of this particular competitor. We walked away with some ideas and some other questions to ponder.

Now, it’s time to debate whether we should try to overcome the areas where we are weak? Or should we double down, and focus on our particular strengths? That is the one common and ever so essential question for any business. How wide is the particular focus for your individual business? You can’t be everything for everybody. With limited resources, one must choose. But if you become too focused sometimes you put yourself in danger of losing what makes you strong. These are good questions to ponder for any startup or for a business about to enter its 15th year, like Bud’s Warehouse.

No comments: