Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SOBuzz: A Competitor Who Stole My Ideas

Fantastic article by Therese Tucker (as told to Kathryn Hawkins) over at BNET:  "How I Beat a Competitor Who Stole My Ideas".

As dance studio owners, we have all been there.  You just put out a new ad (website, sign, brochure, etc) and two months--or maybe even two days--later you see a competitor using the same wording for their own business (class names, discounts, etc).  I've personally had a competitor copy and paste all of the wording from my website (which took me days to write) and pass it off as her own idea on her website.  How irritating!

What can we take away from this article for dance studio owners?

1.  Beating them in the market may be the best revenge (and cheapest).
"...I decided to focus all of that energy on outdoing our competitor instead. We vowed to differentiate ourselves by focusing closely on our clients’ needs. Innovation became very important."
Instead of spending money suing your copycat competitor, focus your time and money improving your own studio.  If they continue to steal your ideas, remember that they will not come across as genuine because they are missing one key ingredient in running your business... YOU!  You make your business unique - no one can steal that.

2.  Find your businesses strengths and explore them.
"Above all else, I’ve learned that it’s best to take the high road and commit all time and resources to being the best and — not worrying about what other companies are doing."
Find what makes you unique and continue to push your studio in that direction.  Do your customers enjoy adult classes?  Then develop your adult program.  Do you have a fantastic preschool teacher?  Then promote your preschool classes and make them the best in the area. 

3.  A written contract is important for all business relationships. 
"I can’t stress enough the importance of having all contracts, agreements and letters—whether with employees, partners or vendors—put in writing."
Do you have an employment contract with your teachers?  It is recommended that you write year-long contracts and renew them at the end of each season.  A contract can help clarify what you expect from your teachers and what they can expect from you.  You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want, but make sure you have a lawyer check it over.

And the best advice from this column:  "having a rival to compete with can improve the quality of everything your business does".  Embrace your rivals and use it as fuel to improve yourself, your business and how you do business.

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  1. Fear makes people do pretty rotten things and that includes retaliation for things like copycat copy. Of course when it happens you have every right to be frustrated and angry. But you have to know when the battles are really worth it. Everything said above is true. They are not and never will be you, and until they realize it, they'll fail. You on the other hand get to keep being you.

    I think there's a lot of fear in the air when new competitors enter the picture and it comes from lack of confidence in what each studio offers. It can be scary but I feel a lot of problems (like the copycatting so common in dance studios) might be alleviated if someone took the first step to welcome or reach out to the "competition." I'm not saying become best friends or share business secrets but it's harder to steal from someone who is not just a faceless rival. A simple warm welcome or even a willingness to recognize and point out their strengths as being different from your own, can go a long way in making allies or even fans of enemies.

    Great post!

  2. Great reply Nichelle - what you said about lacking confidence is so true. I think it would be a better place if everyone strived for a dance "community" rather than seeing others as "competition".

  3. Great ideas, ladies. That's just what we do: we do it better. "They" put limitations and restrictions on everything (extra fees, rigid cancellation policies, expiration dates, etc.) We just invite people to come and have a great time dancing.

  4. I recently discovered that another school in town had published a Google ad using the key words that comprise my own school's name. Previously, if you typed in a couple of basic words, including the name of our city and the word, "ballet," my school came up (my school's name is very simple and includes both of those key search terms). Now I am way down on the list, and the other school--whose actual name is in no way, shape, or form, similar to my own school's name--pops up at the top of the list. This is misleading for potential new enrollees. You can actually enter my school's name in Google's search engine, and now the other school appears, listed as my school (of course, their website link takes you to their website, not my own). To my way of thinking, that is out-and-out theft. My husband is a computer consultant and tells me there is very little I can do about it. After a few days of steaming, I finally made my peace with the situation and decided 1) they are obviously very threatened by me, and 2) my energy is best spent doing what I do best, and that is teaching correct classical ballet technique to young dancers. Nichelle: I like your idea of reaching out, but in this case, I did that preemptively and failed miserably. I attended a performance mounted by this school's young contemporary company, and then sent a hand-written congratulatory note to the director which went unanswered (not that it especially required a response). Now this. They must be really, really intimidated by the product I'm offering at the school. I trust that parents are smart enough to choose wisely. Having said that, once upon a time I routinely sent people to that competitor when I had inquiries for toddler classes, which I do not offer at my school. I see no reason now to continue that courtesy.

    I am still the new kid on the block in my medium-sized city, having founded my school in 2006. I am discovering that the business of operating a small ballet school unfortunately can be stinky. But I refuse to play.


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