TDmonthly Magazine!
June 2012 | Vol. XI - No. 6


Retailing Tips: 5 Keys to Unlocking Your Competition

Look for the positives in the competition to turn your business around

When I do a business makeover, I invite the owner to visit the competition with me. It can be a little like trying to get a child to want to go to the dentist to get a cavity filled…

The stress. The doubting. The excuses.

But why? What is there to be afraid of?

During one makeover in California, by the time my client and I reached the competitor’s parking lot four minutes later, the owner was convinced they would “know” them.

Almost dragging him from the car, we entered a sub-par showroom. Contrary to what he assumed, the products they carried only partially competed with his. After a few minutes a woman yelled at our backs from behind the counter, “Let me know if you need anything.” We turned to look at her.

She was dressed in a too-short leopard print skirt with a halter-top. She was in her mid-40s. She was chewing something. This was the place you would have expected a professional appearance.

I whispered to him, “Let that go, we’re looking for positives here.”

By the time we got in the car, the owner turned to me and said, “Well, they’re not such a big deal.” That was an understatement!

Dismissing our encounter with the woman, who I later found out was the owner, my client said, “We could upgrade our display with something like that one on the right and it would drive sales.” Exactly! Such observations were the point of the visit.

Fear of the unknown is worse than the known. You want to compete? Go out today and shop a competitor, keeping an eye on these five key areas:

1. The store. Is it clean, neat, and clearly organized? What is one thing they are doing particularly well with fixtures, endcaps or displays?

2. The employees. Are they welcoming? Would you want to work with this person? What’s one reason why you might?

3. The service. What is one thing about your encounter you would want customers to feel when shopping in your store? If nothing, what would you do to bring these employees them up to speed?

4. The products. Is there something you should be carrying? Do they charge more for a similar item?

5. The experience.
Would you want to return to this store? Why? Don’t dwell on the rotten; find something to challenge the experience at your own store.

You might walk away with one positive note, or a list – but the attitude that’s required to find something good makes the experience much more valuable.

A mystery shop company can help you repeat this practice on your own store. I have one I’ve used thousands of times and work with exclusively. (If you’re in the US and interested, shoot me an email).

But your first step is to see what competitors are doing right. Trust me, you’ll see what they do wrong, but don’t get caught up in feeling superior; you’ll miss the information you need.

Bob PhibbsWriter's Bio: Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor®, a best-selling author and speaker who has helped thousands of independent businesses compete. His new book, The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business has received praise from both Inc. magazine and USA Today and can be found at your local bookstore or ordered at He and his work have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur magazine. Questions? Contact Bob at This article was reprinted with permission of the author, Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor®. Read more articles by this author


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