Competition, Business

Embracing Competition

Competition for any business owner is a necessary evil. In a perfect world there would be no competition, we’d all be unique. But the world isn’t perfect and it’s our competitors that keep us moving forward, force us to continuously innovate and give us something to benchmark against.

As I write there are beef and black pepper sausages sizzling in the grill, and six slices of thick cut back bacon sizzling beside them. I bought them yesterday from a long established butcher shop in my home town. It was the first time I’d ever been in to it in the 41 years I’ve been on this planet.

You see, I’d been taught from an early age that these guys were the “competition”. My Grandad ran another long standing butcher’s shop situated just a two minute walk away from this one. It was drummed into me that people who chose the competitors were “not our kind of customers” and therefore just a little bit, well, misinformed about their purchase.

Walking through the door was a big deal. I could literally hear my Grandad turning in his proverbial grave. And the comparison to my Grandad’s shop (which is now probably Scotland’s best known butcher, but that’s another story entirely) was immediately obvious.

I’d stepped back in time.

Here was a butcher shop that reminded me of the butcher shops of the early 1980s. Meat out on the table being chopped. Customers being served by the butchers. Simple shelving, good enough to hold the food it carried but nothing fancy or anything that could remotely be considered as “merchandising”.

They were queued out the door. This, in itself was fascinating. The reason the queue wasn’t moving quickly is that there was no separate cash office so the three butchers serving were slowed down by the fact they then had to wash their hands after handling money on every transaction. Put simply, because of the way they organise their shop, they serve considerably less people per hour than their competitors.

Based on the retail/purchasing experience alone, I would not be tempted to go back. Unless the product is absolutely brilliant. It’s a trade off, you see.

So let’s get on the with the fun part. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

My husband, understanding the importance of this competitive assessment situation, took extra time over the consumption of his sausage and bacon rolls this morning.

Here’s what we learned:

  • the sausages are double the size, but seem to have half of the seasoning. We like our beef and black pepper sausages to be peppery. These were beefy, but not peppery.
  • My husband really liked the sausages, I wasn’t as keen. The skin was a bit tough which made eating them on a roll to be a wee bit more challenging than that of their competitors.
  • The bacon was nice and salty. This was to my taste but not to my husband’s.
  • The dogs were less picky and liked both. Ten out of ten from them.

Here’s what we concluded:

  • if it was me doing the shopping, I probably wouldn’t go back. The quality of the product wasn’t tasty enough for me to balance out the slightly wonky and inefficient retail experience
  • If it was my husband doing the shopping, he’d probably nip in to get some sausages but would happily leave the bacon behind.

Why does this matter?

It doesn’t really matter where I buy my sausages from – I’m sure you don’t care at all. However what it has taught me is that unless you experience your competitor’s full service, beginning to end, you can’t really judge and compare their offering. There’s only so much you can really tell from their website, or looking at their shop or from hearing someone else’s view.

In this case, time has ultimately told the story. Today I see a small, local butcher’s shop who hasn’t really progressed from what they were in the 1980s when my Grandad was trading. His store, by comparison, produced what is now one of the country’s top butchers as an apprentice, was subsequently bought by said apprentice after my Grandad passed away and whose products (and no doubt several of my Grandad’s original recipes) are now on the shelves of the country’s biggest supermarkets.

And, by a country mile, my preferred butcher.