It had to be my most favorite conversation with a customer ever. It was sometime in the fall of 1994, one year after Toys R Us had opened in our city.
“Phil, I have to tell you this. I went to Toys R Us last Christmas.”
Yeah, they were the new store in town. A lot of people went to check them out.
“But let me tell you what happened. I think you’ll get a kick out of this. I went in and looked around. They didn’t have quite as much stuff as you do. And I couldn’t find anyone to help me on the floor. So I took my cart up front and told the gal at the register I wanted to put it all on layaway. She said, ‘We don’t have layaway.’ So I said, that’s okay, I’ll just get it gift-wrapped. ‘We don’t do gift-wrapping.’ Well then what the hell am I in here for?
“If that’s your competition, you’re gonna be just fine.”
I was reminded of that story a few days ago. A new pizza place opened in town, a pizza and tap house. I only knew because I drove by it. I haven’t heard anything about it good or bad. No buzz. No excitement.
Part of their problem is that another pizza joint opened up a full-service restaurant and bar serving pizza a few years ago. That restaurant is amazing, featuring indoor-but-can-become-outdoor-in-a-New-York-minute seating, classy stonework and decor, fireplaces, big screen TVs, and a killer menu (I had to go for lunch once just to order the cheeseburger that was getting all the raves because at dinner time I always get the pizza.)
This first restaurant raised the bar incredibly high. Anyone coming after them has to do something they didn’t do to get any buzz or excitement.
That’s the power of being first to raise the bar. If you raise it high enough, no one else is going to get any buzz just for copying you. Back in 1993 being “new” was enough. In 2018, being “new” only counts if you actually do something no one else is doing.
At the same time, here is your warning. If you haven’t raised the bar, you’ve left the door wide open for someone else to come in and clean your clock, eat your lunch, steal your chickens, or whatever metaphor you want to use for getting kicked to the curb.
Wanna play a fun game with your staff? Ask them this question …
If you were going to start a new store to compete with my current store, what would you do differently to have a competitive advantage?
Ask it of your staff. Ask it at the next networking event you attend. Ask it of your friends and family. Then listen to the answers. Any idea that isn’t simply cutting prices or offering more discounts and deals is a potential open door for a competitor to waltz right through.
Don’t wait for someone else to raise that bar. Be first. And raise it so damned high no one else would even think of trying to compete in your space.
PS My second favorite conversation with a customer happened back in 1980. I was only 14 years old. I still get choked up thinking about it. I even turned it into a radio ad that propelled our 2005 Christmas season to record heights. I’ll tell you about it later if you’d like.