How to Compete With the Goliaths: Some Tips on Beating the Big Competitors

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So you’re a relatively small Central Oregon entrepreneur.  Are you afraid of the threat of a “big guy” in your industry coming to town?  Well, the giants have been coming, and  will likely pick up in this area once the recession is really gone.  Does that mean that your much smaller business doesn’t have a ghost of a chance to continue and grow?  Not if you are proactive, positive, and innovative.

Begin by making a list of the “pluses” on the side of the behemoth.  Start by listing the reasons why the average Central Oregon customer might prefer the big guy and all he has to offer.  When you’ve run out of material, start another list of unique services, perks, or other attractions you can still do more effectively.  If you’re thorough and realistic, you probably will come up with a longer list than you expected.

Your next step is to make a new list that contains actions that you haven’t yet taken, but that you could take to counter the new competition.  This can include ideas that you’ve been toying with over the months and years, but somehow never got around to implementing.  Now you’re on your way to loading your sling and going after Goliath.  He’s already starting to look less threatening.

Here are some general tips that should help.  Some of them have probably already occurred to you:
1.  Do some market research.   Update whatever market research you have already done.  Make sure that you know the profile of who your customer really is.  Is your target market the same one as your big competitor’s, or can you beat him simply by focusing on a distinctly different market segment?  What stage of the life cycle is your business in?  How can your history become an asset?  Updated market research can answer these and many other questions.
2.  Take a close look at the entire marketing strategy of the giant.  For example, how do the convenience, presentation, and customer service areas compete with your operation?  Can you find a weakness in any of the “four p’s” of product, pricing, distribution (place), and promotion?  If you examine your competitor carefully enough, you’ll be likely to spot at least a few areas that can be better served by the “little guy.”  Because the competitor is so huge, this information will be relatively easy to obtain.
3.  Inject the personal touch.  One of your greatest assets is the smallness of your operation—often thought of as your chief disadvantage.  If your business already works on bonding with customers, turn up the volume.  You can always do it better.  Focus especially on the areas that the big guy can’t touch.  An example would be really knowing and caring about your customer’s individual needs.  That goes far beyond just pronouncing the customers’ names when they come in.
4.  Develop ways of pushing through the “advertising clutter” of the big guy.  You should re-examine your own promotional mix and look for creative ways to counter the “big guy blitz,” again, using the personal touch whenever possible.  After all, you potentially know more about your customers than anyone else does.  Also, you know this area and thus have a sense of what works and what doesn’t work here.
5.  Find out the “areas of pain” that customers feel when dealing with your larger competitor.  Now, how can you eliminate that pain using your operation?  For example, let’s say that customers complain the big guy is “hard to get ahold of.”  Make sure that your business is unusually accessible and available for customer help.
6.  Use today’s technology.  Your giant adversary is likely very up to date with Web availability and with such things as computerized inventory control.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that being technologically backward will give you the edge just because it’s more “people friendly.”  People-friendliness must have efficiency behind it, or it won’t work.

By the way, if your Goliath has already come to town, it’s not too late to try some of these strategies.  Unlike David in the old story, you’re probably not going to kill your Goliath—that is, you won’t drive the huge competitor out of the area.  However, don’t let him frighten you.  Remember that there are many advantages to being small, efficient, and personal. 

 
Lowell H. Lamberton is a Professor of Business at Central Oregon Community College.  You can contact him at llamberton@cocc.edu or by phone at 541-383-7714.

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