Dealing with competition: lessons from Guitar shop on Entrepreneurship

No one likes competition. Competition does not only bring you down but always keeps your business on tenterhooks. Competition becomes more when there are plenty of competitors vying for the same target market. It gets more difficult if it is easy to replicate goods and services that you sell. But unfortunately competition is real.

I learned something about decimating the competition from a guitar shop owner. It starts with the fact, that I play Guitar. Oh yes, I am a big fan of Guitar based music ( Rock and Roll kinds ;) ). I love the fact that guitar is a source of unlimited happiness for millions around the world. There have been great rock bands and they have sometimes led to a profound change in lives of people.

I am big fan of Pink Floyd. I have listened to their songs approximately 1 million times :). I love their construction of songs and the way they convey their ideas through them. It is one of the greatest examples of storytelling.

Okay back to guitar. Yes, I love playing guitar ( though not much professionally) . I play it mostly in my room. I was part of the band of one of the companies I used to work for. I still feel that there is tremendous scope for improvement in my playing skills.

My Yamaha Guitar

 

I though till recently have not been able to give it as much time as I could. One day in the most strange ways an accident happened. I dropped my guitar. To overcome the feeling of guilt, I would say, it slipped from my hands. It flipped and fell on the upside , where tuning keys are located.

One of the tuning keys broke right and now the guitar string could not be tuned at all. Even though I have a spare guitar, this is my favorite guitar and I needed to repair that fast.

There are plenty of guitar shops in my city, but I suspect that most of them are worried only about selling and not servicing. They feel that the moment they sell a guitar or any other instrument, their responsibility is over. If you ever take guitar to them for repair, they often make strange faces :).

So my first instinct is to go to a large guitar shop. The shop I usually go to is located a bit far a

way. The shop that I am talking about is a new large shop. I was of the opinion that since this was a big shop, they would be good at servicing things as well or at least they would have parts available.

To my surprise the shop employees were not willing to help me that much. They showed little interest because I was not buying a big ticket item from them. All I wanted was a tuning key spare. They took a long time to answer my question and it turned out to be negative. I guess their line of thinking w

ent, why would someone need a repair of any music instrument. They can always buy a new guitar.

Then I wanted a new guitar stand for one of my guitar. It was strange that they did not have any.

Frustrated with their behavior and a little scared that I would not get the part anywhere, I decided to drive to my trusted small shop . It was a little far away that is why I avoided going to that place first . This ship has been in existence from last twenty years

Tuning Keys

 

or so.

If you ever enter this shop, you would find it difficult to even walk around. It is full of musical instruments and there is not an inch of space. It is a very small ( 15ft by 15ft) by all standards. I know the owner from last ten years. More important, he knows me. Even if I meet him one year later, he instantly will recognize me. I am sure of that. So I showed him the broken tuning key. He looked at it intently, asked me a few questions and went in a hole inside his shop( it looked like a hole). He came back with two tuning keys , one of which was exact match for my guitar.

Happy with this result, I asked him if he had a guitar stand. He came back with two guitar stands. I liked one of it and also pur

chased two sets of guitar strings as well.

The fun part is that I have never seen smile vanish from his face whenever I met him. There are plenty of guitar shops that have come up in the same locality but his business keeps humming.

It makes me wonder what lessons we can take from his style of business. He has these threats working against him.

  • He is located in a prime locality which means he has a high cost of running his business
  • He is surrounded by many competitors, some small and some large
  • He is commodity business because all the other shops have same guitars that he has got

Nevertheless the shop becomes more and more successful day by day and he is not worried about any threat.

Here are some of the things I feel that a small business threatened by new and strong competitors can learn from this guitar shop owner.

  1. Know your customer

    As I told before, he probably knows what I come for. He even tells me “long time no see” if I don’t go his shop. He recommends me the products that I want. He does his job in a sincere manner. He never differentiates between customers ( you would see that on big shops)

  2. Always greet them with a smile and build relationships

    If I meet him five years down the line, I am sure he will still recognize me ( or at least pretend to ;). We are all humans and we need to connect and be recognized. By recognizing me every time and greeting me with a smile, I feel that he has won me and many others forever. We don’t probably want to look at other shop even if they offer us great gifts. That is the power of relationship building.

  3. Keep a stock of all things important and get stocks if you don’t have them now

    When the tuning key got damaged, I knew that he would be the one to have the replacement. I was right. He had three varities of them. Once I told him the guitar brand, he came out with the perfect tuning key.If he does not have stuff, he tells you to check back later and often you would find the stuff with him in a visit or two.

    Hence it is very important to keep the right stock and make sure that customer does not leave without getting what he is asking about.

  4. Know your stuff

    I would say he knows his stuff. He takes all kinds of job and he does them well. The important point is not to make a mistake with the job that customer has done. If you indeed made a mistake, apologize and correct it. You are going to get a long term customer by doign that.

  5. Be very careful of the demand

    He never keeps fancy products. If you ask him about a USB interface device for guitar , he would not have one. He only keeps the products that are fast moving. That way he can reduce the inventory costs and keep them to a minimum.

  6. Keep your office crude or simple at best : Do not overspend

    His shop is a very small place ( as I told you earlier), rather crude. He probably would not have a MBA degree but he knows how to keep it relevant to his target market( people looking for cheap guitar mostly students). By keeping the design cost down, he is able to increase profitability of his shop.

What other strategies would you recommend to a small business competing with large business ?

What is your take on article?

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Your comments and replies

  • In most cases, small shops find it very difficult to compete with the big players. More often than not, big players can sell theirs for a lesser cost with better terms, as they can store more inventory. If they can compete with the price, the better. The best thing a small shop can do is to personalize their service. This is usually what the big stores are lacking.

  • An interesting read :) Good Customer Relations always wins the competition. I’ll always prefer going to a shop where I feel most comfortable. From the consumer point of view competition is good in many ways. It gives us the option to choose the best among many. And it also makes shopkeepers realize the true value of a customer…

    • Hi Namit,
      Thanks buddy for your comments. Glad that you liked the blog post. Good customer relationship is an important part of any business relationship. Sadly we dont see much of it these days. However , if we do find it , we are addicted to it :) . That’s right isn’t it ?

      Its great to have you here. Keep coming back :)
      Ashvini

  • Learned something new about you today! I didn’t know you play guitar. That’s great my talented friend! :D

    I think the big shops lack that human touch. That’s what differentiate the shop owner from others. He sees clients as human beings. They are unique because of that, not because they have a big ticket item. :)

    Great post, Ashvini. :) Keep up the good work my friend.

    • Dear Mouh,

      I don’t share everything on Facebook Hahhha ;). Thanks for your appreciation bro .

      I often have felt deep disappointment with bigger companies and shop. Customer to them is just a number in their system unlike small counterparts where he or she is to be worshiped and satisfied . All small business can survive by being customer friendly and agile.

      Thanks for your comments bro :) and have a great day.

  • Pink Floyd…now we are talking brother.

    I also wanted to play guitar and dreamed of playing in a Rock band. Fooled around with a guitar, even took paid lessons…but I guess guitar was not really for me (O:

    Great insights here on various strategies. Building relations is a must. No doubt about it my friend. Personal assistance to individual clients is a huge one Ash. Not all large companies are not able to pay individual attention to their clients since it requires more investment. For small businesses, they can easily integrate this along with other customer service stuffs…well you know what I mean (O:

    • Hi Adam,

      Great to see you again bro :)

      I love rock and cannot survive without it.

      I think playing and guitar and running a business are similar. You work day and nights for no results and suddenly you start getting it. With time, you can play lead like never before. I take guitar lessons from http://guitarmasterclass.net . A good site. Try playing your guitar again with inspiration and I think you would do it.

      As for big corporations , they employ account managers. What are they? Customer reps with management degrees ;). They invest millions of $ into CRM systems. Sure they can know about customers more but it is all about intent not lack of tools.
      Keep coming back. I appreciate your comments a lot :)

  • Competition is no joke, but it keeps you on your toes and always a step ahead or behind; either way, you need to know who they are and how they differ from you. The trait this shop owner had over the bigger shop is: Multiple Touch Points (ah…sounds familiar! ha ha!). He completely understood that even though his shop isn’t bigger, has more of the expensive pieces, he does have the items people really want. The more fancy pieces may never get sold, and he would end up having stock with no requests. He understands that people love to be acknowledged when they come into his place of business. Remembering their name isn’t a trait most people have, but if you focus on the experiences you had with them; ie…conversations or something they purchased before it helps.

    I worked for a small company years ago where we only spoke to customers via the phone, and it was so easy to recognize their voice on cue. People love it when you remember their name and a small piece of who they are, no matter how insignificant. It’s like walking into a store and the employees don’t acknowledge you. Now if the store is packed (holiday shopping), it can be quite difficult to say hello to each and every person if there is 100 people in a small store, but if there isn’t a sole there and they don’t speak, some people find it rude and usually walk out not purchasing anything.

    If you have a small business either online or a retail shop, business owners should always strive to put a personal spin on how they interact with their customers. I have a friend who’s parents own a deli in the mid-west and they have had the same dedicated customers for the last 30 years. Sustainability is something they clearly understood and the fact that they are still in business is evident. Some people may feel being too personal is wrong ( I am not saying tell them your life’s story), but getting to know who your customers are isn’t a bad thing either.

    • Hiiiiiiiiii Sonia,

      Trust you to write a complimentary blog(your comment ) on my every blog ;). Your practical experience is what makes my posts real life, experienced by real person in real situations.
      I have been to stores where sales rep attach like a fly to cake and it is difficult to tell them to leave you alone. Maybe they want to help but they do not know when they have got close too much. It is perfectly fine. However what is not fine is the fact that if I go into a shop, stretch my neck like a crane and still no sales rep arrive. It is most irritating and I walk off.

      I have seen that and I probably like that people recognize you even after you went to the place months after a time. It often happens to me in a few pubs here. My wife and I never fail to get a seat even if we come after many seats. Sometimes they stop others and they give the seat to us( nice to be like a VIP isn’t it ). No doubt I keep visiting them forever. They are the people who teach me how to do business.

      Great to see you back and great to read your real life experience. Keep coming back and sharing them.

  • Ashvini, I think the greatest trait that the small shop owner showed to you was that he CARED. He genuinely wanted to help you get your guitar back into shape, and he was prepared to do whatever it took.

    Big businesses run the risk that, ever since they became big, they lose the qualities that made them big in the first place. These qualities include passion, care, honesty, and commitment. If these are lost, they become stuck in their ways, a sitting target for new, ‘awesome’ business to come along and take their custom ;-)

    • Hi Stu,

      Welcome back !!

      Big business never care, wealthy and arrogant as they are. Once they reach a peak they forget the ladder on which they climbed. I love the small business who are so personal yet so efficient.
      Its great to have you here always.

  • Interesting one Ashvini. Yes, I agree competition is everywhere. Even we are facing the same threat at present. Though we are still into a very specialized market. Anyways, you have come up with some very useful points. I can relate your guitar shop to a very small computer hardware shop here. Everything you have said above resembles with the computer shop here…same smiling attitude, customer knowledge, etc… Such things can really make a difference…!

    • Hi Aswani,
      Thank you for putting another example in support of my argument. I have seen that all these big shops rarely care for their customers. In the end their mistakes become the survival points for smaller shops.

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