Competition Makes you Stronger

By Mark Blackney

I knew as soon as our member walked into my office and sat down that something was wrong. Her year old company was doing quite well. It’s a consulting firm that puts on workshops and small events. Her problem was her competitor who is outright copying her concept even hosting comparable workshops and events with similar names on the same days as hers.

She talked about changing the dates and names of her events and workshops or even throwing in the towel. That’s how worried she was. Fortunately she quickly realized that was negative thinking and even talked about how poorly her competitor must be doing to blatantly copy her ideas – the old imitation is the sincerest form of flattery thing.

Then she got it. “I have to make my events and workshops better than theirs!” And off she went. Last I heard her company is still growing and we haven’t heard a lot from her competitor.

The definition of competition is the act or process of trying to get or win something that others are also trying to get or win – a rivalry for supremacy. May the best man win.  Sounds pretty simple when actually it’s the impetus that drives excellence.  A threat from her competitor made our chamber member step up her game and have a better business.

Too often business owners fall into the trap of “If I build it they will come”. They are overwhelmed with confidence that they have the best product or service that will literally sell itself.  Their grand opening usually attracts good crowds and they’re lulled into thinking that it’s easy to run a company. All they have to do is show up every day. Then reality hits as sales slow down. Rarely do they see the problem as their complacency. Instead it’s the new competitor or people just not understanding how important their merchandise is. They need a kick in the butt.

If they wake up, that kick will come from a competitor. And the greatest “ogre” of competition in the country is Walmart. For 10 years while our new Walmart Superstore was in the works, we received complaints that it would drive out the “Mom and Pops” in Clovis. First of all, there are very few Mom and Pops left anywhere. People yelled that it would ruin Old Town then didn’t listen when we replied that Walmart doesn’t sell antiques and that it would bring new customers to Old Town.

Walmart has impacted the area three years after being built. True, some businesses have closed but we’re now experiencing a commercial boom with new businesses opening, some replacing the closed ones. Other businesses have had to re-imagine their procedures be it better customer service or marketing. In Fresno, two older grocery stores closed when the new Walmart occupied the vacant Mervyn’s building, but those grocery store buildings have been leased to new companies.
When writing about start-ups, Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot writes, “Competition is good. A healthy rivalry challenges you to work smarter with the resources you have. To do so, leverage your team’s unique talents and build a business competitors wouldn’t dare challenge. Even if other companies in your industry attempt to undercut your prices and steal your customers, think positively about ways they can help your company grow.”

Forbes Magazine reports that competition can influence companies in 5 ways.

Complacency – You’re forced to shake it off
Innovation – A crowded field makes you distinguish yourself
Customer Service – The key to coming out on top
Core Audience – Competition makes you focus on your target group so you can better provide for your customers
Educate – learn from your competitor then do it better

In a broader sense, competition in society, especially when training our youth, has become a contentious issue between those who believe in competition versus those who believe it creates too much stress on the youngsters. Rather than use competition to form a strong, resilient young adult, too often society and parents protect their children from failure by blaming others or having them give up when they don’t succeed. How sad.

James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers created a kerfuffle this week when he announced that he had his two young sons return their participation trophies. He believes that you only get a trophy when you work hard enough to win. How refreshing. So far in the battle among parents commenting on his efforts, the majority approve his actions. They as adults see the softening of our kids as we don’t stress competition as the best way to improve and succeed. Instead, they get rewarded for just trying.

The passing of Floyd “Doc” Buchanan has brought up the concept of competition in our schools. Clovis Unified is known nationally for its excellence in academics, sports and the arts. When Doc created the district in the 60’s he believed in training the students’ body, mind and spirit by providing top rated teachers, facilities and support.

He also believed in competition. The Fresno Bee editorial wrote that Doc felt that life was a contest and the sooner young people realized that, the better off they would be.

He told CUSD teachers, “We believe competition is an ingredient of high standards and an important motivational tool. First we have to make sure that all of our students learn to compete against themselves; that’s the toughest competition of all.”

“Second, we want you to encourage our students to compete in specialty areas to help them build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, because that’s the way they get jobs and that’s the way they have to perform in life.”

“Third, we want you to teach our students to work in groups and to compete in groups because we think that students who can’t work in groups are going to have trouble in tomorrow’s world.”

Clovis Unified is recognized for its high standards of excellence based on its emphasis on competition.  It has a “customer base” of people who appreciate good education and it produces a good product, successful students.

America has always been considered the top in excellence – that beacon on the hill that others strive to emulate. The American spirit of competition has earned us that honor. Let’s hope we continue to look at competition as our roadmap to success. It seems to be slipping over the years but we must have confidence that we’ll find our footing once again and stay on top.

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