Lessons from the Links

Lessons from the Links

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Like others, I got reeled into watching the Masters Golf tournament earlier this month after hearing the news that Tiger Woods was coming back to the game.

At some point during the weekend, I thought back to a conversation I had with Barry Gunn, owner of Edmonds Appliance/Y Frank in Burnaby, B.C. With a perfectly straight face Barry said, “I manage my business the same way I play golf.” I knew that Barry was an avid, low-handicap golfer, but I was still puzzled by his metaphor.

He explained that unlike other sports, golf is a very singular exercise. Your competition really has no impact on your game. They don’t tackle you or block your shots. You can’t get ahead by intercepting your opponent’s ball. Pros like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods don’t change their swings based on who they’re paired with or who’s on top of the leader board.

On the links, golfers have to rely on their own skills to read the greens and avoid course hazards. Even on the same course, each round is different; course conditions and weather vary day to day.

In golf, you have to play to your own strengths and continually practice to improve your swing. You don’t have a team to help assist you in making points and you can’t count on bad calls from the officials to push your competition back.

And that was exactly Barry’s point. He runs his business his way, using his skills and the clubs in his bag. He doesn’t change his business strategy in response to what his competitors may be doing. Instead, his efforts go into improving his business. In doing that, he has become the one to beat.

In contrast, I remember sitting with a dealer for several hours in his “war room.” He had posted each of his competitors’ ads, circulars and brochures and was livid about their low-priced leaders. Since some advertised prices were lower than his cost, he was sure they were in engaging in bait-and-switch or some other kind of consumer fraud.

In the middle of his rant, his own advertising director stepped in to talk about advertising for their upcoming promotion. The dealer looked up for a second and said, “I don’t know. Just run what we ran last month.” He was spending more time and energy worrying about his competition than on his own company.

You don’t run your business in a vacuum. You do have to be aware of what others in your marketplace are doing. And you’re going to have to advertise your own low prices to get customers into your store. Sometimes, you’re going to have to lower your margin to take a sale away from someone else.

While it’s important to shop your competition regularly and to understand their merchandising, selling and pricing strategies, you need to respond your way. While imitation may be the highest form of flattery, independents, can’t afford to enter into a “me too” contest.

That’s where your game comes into play. What are your strengths? Where could you improve? Have you clearly defined your identity? Do you market your company as a product specialist? Are you delivering the kind of customer experience you think you are? Is your sales team well trained? Do they know how to ask questions to find out what the customer might really need?

Does your store mirror what customers see when they go to your website or are they disappointed to find an aging, poorly maintained building far from the retail center of your community? Is your showroom meticulously detailed and spotlessly clean? Are your products freshly tagged, showing your own low prices and current rebates?

Although it seems as if the big guys are trying to put locally owned companies out of business, the fact is they pay almost no attention to you. They focus on getting customers into their stores and meeting consumers’ expectations when they get there. They concentrate on growing sales and profits and delivering value to their shareholders.

So get out onto the practice range. Keep hitting balls until they fly straight and low. Work on the basics. Get the rust out of your swing. Practice staying away from water hazards and sand traps. If you want to beat your competitors, focus on your own game, not on theirs.

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