When I consult with independent restaurateurs a common concern many of them voice is:
“We just can’t compete with so-and-so across town”
Those so-and-sos referred to can be the larger national chains, the popular or trendy new restaurant, or an established location that has secured a strong and loyal clientele. These are the measure by which my clients have set a benchmark for their success, or failure.
They worry about how their pricing strategy is laid out (“they kill us on price”), or their food quality (“we can’t make everything from scratch like they do”) or their location (“they’ve got tons of traffic and ample parking”). Their worries are what paralyze them from being their best and truly standing out as their own brand.
My simple answer to every business owner is:
Don’t worry about the competition. You only need to compete against yourself.
This puzzles people until I explain it to them further.
There is a saying in the food industry “You are only as good as your last meal.” It doesn’t matter how good your product or service was last year, last week, or even yesterday. What matters is how you provide and execute today, period. Your only customers that matter are today’s customers, and your only focus should be on doing better today than you did yesterday.
Your only competition is to become better than you were the prior day. This is true whether you are in the restaurant, manufacturing, technology or other industry. To beat your yesterday self is to improve and further create a distinguishing brand of your own without regard for what your (perceived) competition is doing.
We marvel at the accomplishments of Olympic athletes in their individual events, whether gymnastics or track and field. But did you know that their concern is not how so-and-so from another country is running the 100M dash or performing on the vault? They focus on those things that only they can control – their dismount, start off the gun, sticking their landing, or the release point of their javelin. If they concerned themselves with others they would not work towards those minor details that could mean the difference between a medal or not.
And so you should focus on those things in your business that only you control. Service. Product quality. Shipping time-frames. Customer service calls. And in case you are thinking a little too small, think of how your daily commitment to improve can disrupt your industry through better customer experience, business model, or innovation that no one else thought of.
Mind you, ignoring what your competitors do in the marketplace is at your own peril. In order for you to improve and succeed, you need to be a student of your industry, trends, and competition to better differentiate yourself as a sought after brand. But to worry about how you match up against them is to take the focus away from your own opportunities.
Instead, you should do everything in your power to make them worry about you. Your best marketing is the execution of your brand and how you interact with your customers each and every day.
The most successful brands in any industry look inward to have continuous improvement programs, secret shoppers, ongoing and remedial training, and other internal initiatives that laser-focus their efforts on better service, product quality, and execution on a daily basis. Whether it’s making widgets, steaks, or selling t-shirts or SaaS products, looking at yourself as your main competition will spur your organization on to outpace those other companies that don’t work as hard internally to improve. And that in itself turns the tables of who is chasing who in your industry.
I’ve known a few smaller independent restaurants that actually drove larger chains out of the area because they created a unique ambiance and customer experience that couldn’t be matched by large scale standards and marketing dollars. If they can do that to a daunting corporate player, you can do the same.
Determine today to compete against yourself. Leave the competition in your rear-view mirror.