Article > Operations

There Goes the Neighborhood

By Dave Zeiger

What do you do when a new competitor moves into your area? You have two choices: Give up or fight for that marketshare you've worked so hard to capture.

They say Rome wasn't built in a day - and neither is any good parts store. As everyone who reads this magazine knows all too well, it takes long hours and plenty of hard work to build a successful auto parts business.

Seldom does a day go by without having to confront some type of obstacle or challenging event. It may come from a customer, a supplier, an employee or just the daily fires that need immediate attention. You just have to be prepared for the next event that attempts to disrupt your progress.

And of course, there's the competition, both the ones currently in your area, as well as those who have threatened to invade. One event that can lead to premature gray hair (or none at all in my case) is when one of these new competitors decides to move into your area.

Oh, it all begins innocently enough with just a rumor. You hear whisperings from reps or customers that National Big Box XYZ has bought up some real estate or has signed a lease. You're aware of who the competitor could be, and you might have even visited one of their locations in the past, which could be the reason for concern. It might be a big box retailer or a strong local chain. But regardless of who it is, you don't want to believe it, and you hope the rumor just goes away.

But it doesn't. After a short time, the rumor persists, only to become a reality. You confirm what you've been hearing by finding out that this new competitor's location, amazingly enough, is not far from your store. Your anxiety begins to build, as your customers start to notice another source from which to buy their auto parts. Even a few people will get under your skin and tell you how great the new place will be.

With the grand opening of the competitor's store quickly approaching (and as though you haven't had enough to worry about) you find out your counter people have been heavily solicited to join the competition. Now your concern shifts to not only losing business but to losing your employees as well! Of course, there could be a bright side if you end up losing the person you wanted to replace. That usually ends up only being wishful thinking; they're the one with whom you'll be working side by side since only your top employees decided to look for greener pastures and join the competition.

Finally the much-anticipated day arrives, and the competitor is open for business. You're depressed. Customer count is down, and sales are off. It's extremely frustrating; all of your years of hard work seem to be falling apart. What's next?

Well it's time to relax and re-group. Having a new competitor just makes it easy to pass the blame for not reaching your goals. Of course, there will be some setbacks. Look at competition as a good thing, as an opportunity. Not only will it draw more potential customers to an area, it also gives you and your competition a standard to be judged by. It's time to review your game plan and make changes that will get you noticed just like the competition.

Your relationships have already been built with your customers, so your competitor has to start from scratch. Listen to what your customers have to say, and accommodate them whenever possible. Create features unique to your store. Remember, all auto parts stores carry auto parts, so ask yourself what makes yours special? Take advantage of programs your supplier has to offer that will help your customers' businesses grow as well as your own.

One tool I strongly believe in is the telephone. Telephone etiquette should be a top priority. In many instances, this is the first point of contact potential customers have with your store and its personnel. How well the person answering the phone projects themselves will serve as an indication as to how the customer will be treated by your store. The strength (and professionalism) in their desire to draw that customer into the store is a powerful way for you to succeed.

And as for that counter person you're stuck with, giving them the attention they deserve might just help create the superstar employee you need to keep growing!

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