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Episode 96 – Beat The Competition: Evaluating The Competitor

May 15, 2019

This Episode

Mark Stephenson & Marc Vila

You Will Learn

  • How to evaluate your competitors.
  • How to compare yourself with competitors.

Resources & Links

Episode 96 – Beat The Competition: Evaluating The Competitor

Show Notes

Another store has opened up or YOU are the new store. Business is slow and you really feel its because of that competition. Their prices are too low, or they seem to draw in all the big accounts. Whatever it is, you suspect it’s them and they are holding you back from success.

Here is the catch.. how do you really know? What evidence do you have?

In this episode we are going to take a dive into your competition to figure out a few things:

1. Are they actually taking business from you?
2. Are you competing in the same market, for the same customers?
3. Are they targeting your business / customers?
4. A step by step guide to answering the above and more.

Step 1 – Identification
This step is crucial. You may have an idea who your competition is, but its important to dig deep and find out all of your potential competitors. The shop down the street with the big sign might feel like your biggest competition, when in fact they don’t deal within your niche. So its important to dig deep.

  • Online – Google, Bing, FB, Instagram, Linked in – These are the big 5 to start searching for competition.
  • What keywords do your customers find YOU with? For example if you search Custom T-Shirts Your City – who shows up?
  • Ask your customers- Talk to local business owners that do buy from you.. and those that don’t but own custom apparel.
  • Hit the streets – Go to places where you customers go and look for signs of competition. Ball games, local businesses, events. Ask THEM where they got their gear.

Step 2 – Look at their marketing / branding
Check out their Facebook account, ads they run, website, store location. This is going to help you determine what customers they attract and how they get the business.
Use this to build a profile for each competitor. Write it down!

  • What is their brand personality?
  • Do they spend a lot in ads?
  • Do they appear to have a sales team?
  • What type of customer do they attract? (corporate, sports, schools, etc.)

Step 3 – Shop them
Become their customer or shop with them acting like you will be. Check out their pricing and their process and answer the following:

  • What is their price for: 1 offs, 10 shirts, 100 shirts, hats, etc.
  • Do they charge for set up, digitizing, art , etc.
  • Do they require a deposit?
  • What is their delivery time?
  • What shirts do they use?
  • What technology do they use? (DTG, embroidery, screen, etc)
  • Look at their online reviews.

Step 4 – Compare and Contrast
Create a spreadsheet and start with you. Take all of your research and compile it into something easy to read and evaluate.

What you will do with this data is:

  • Determine who toughest competitors will be.
  • Determine where you shine.
  • See room in the market for new technology or niches.
  • Find out if someone even competes with you at all.
  • Help you figure out the next steps.

In the next episode we are going to discuss if you need to work on any rebranding, restructuring or reinvesting. Now that you know about your competition you know a few things:

1. Is the competition real or is it you aren’t doing well enough drumming up business in your nice.
2. Are you competing way to close in a tough market and need to make changes.
3. If you were to make changes… what might they be?

Transcript

Welcome to the Custom Apparel Startups podcast, your best source for information, news, tips and tricks to get you off the ground running, and earn success with your custom apparel decorating business. So, get ready to soak up some knowledge!

Now, here are your hosts, Mark and Marc!

Mark S: Hey, everyone! Welcome to episode 96 – we’re sure, we checked – of the Custom Apparel Startups podcast. My name is Mark Stephenson, from ColDesi.

Marc V: And this is Marc Vila, from Colman and Company. Today is the competition cage fight!

Mark S: Competition cage fight! I don’t know that we’ll keep that title, but I just really liked that idea.

Marc V: I think my idea was – what did I call it again? It was, here we go: Beat the Competition, Evaluating Your Competitor. That’s really what this episode is about. We should be doing a few episodes on this competition cage fight, or beating the competition.

Mark S: We have commitment issues. We’d like to do three episodes about this. But we may get to two, it may go to four. We don’t know.

Marc V: Yeah. I’ve written four ideas down, that I liked. You liked at least one of them.

Mark S: At least one. That’s why we’re doing it.

Marc V: So, let’s go ahead and talk about this, and what it is. Maybe give us an intro.

Mark S: I just want to say that we hear about competition a lot, from our customers inside the Facebook group and everything. We hear two different stories, which is kind of why we want to do this.

We heard a story this past week, from one of our Facebook group members, that they’ve got a decent-sized shop, but there are all these home users that are buying Cricuts and small machines, and it’s taking their business. So, he can’t compete.

But if you look back far enough, you’ll find a small person, a small business complaining that there’s a screen printer that moved into town, and they can no longer compete with the big business.

Marc V: And there’s everything in between that, too. You have a storefront, and then there’s some people who have commercial equipment in industrial complexes, or out of their garages. Or you’re working out of your garage, and all of a sudden a storefront opens.

And you’re trying to figure out, is this competition detrimental to your business? They’re taking money away from you, in a way. It’s capitalism. It’s how it works.

But the people who succeed and win, it’s because they don’t look at their competition the same way that everybody else does.

Mark S: Right.

Marc V: We’ve talked about it plenty of times, where like a Walgreen’s opens, and then a CVS opens right down the road. Or a McDonald’s -.

Mark S: Yeah. Burger King and McDonald’s.

Marc V: It’s counter-intuitive to what a lot of people would think, because they would say “Well, yeah. There’s another embroidery shop in town, now that I’m doing embroidery.”

Mark S: “I’m going to lose all of my business. I’ll lose half of my business, just because there’s another.”

Marc V: But there’s a lot of different things about competition, and how competition actually increases business together. Which is why you often see like a lot of car dealers in the same area of town.

The fact that there is another business out there, doing something like what you do, is an opportunity to grow, too. So, let’s just talk about the first step in this, which is – the first thing, before you start worrying about your competition, is evaluating your competition.

Mark S: Right. What we’re talking about is, first of all, is this business an actual competitor? I mean, that’s really the thing, when you talked about this idea for the episode, that’s really the most important thing for me.

And we’ve talked about in another competition podcast – we’ll put some links in the show notes – is just because you see a sign, or you know somebody that goes into the t-shirt business, or there is another business that you know opens down the street, does not actually mean that they’re your competition.

They may be theoretically, but are you losing business to them? Is there a case of one time where somebody was going to buy something from you, but bought something from somebody else?

Marc V: And really, that one time where it did happen or you may have heard of it, but is it an actual trend of something that’s actually going to long-term affect your business? It’s something to really think about with that.

Plenty of times, if you know business owners, and I know we go to different events and we meet different people, and all the time, you’re talking with somebody, and they say “Oh, don’t you have to worry about such-and-such company?” “I don’t even compete with them.”

I’ve heard that so many times in my life.

Mark S: Absolutely.

Marc V: “How? You’re in the same business.” Well, your case might be “I only sell embroidery to schools and sports clubs, and that’s all I do. And that other embroidery shop, they don’t have any connections in that industry. They don’t do that. They don’t know the industry. They only sell to corporate stuff. I stay out of the corporate world. I don’t like to do that. I don’t even compete with that.”

Mark S: That’s a great example.

Marc V: “And this person is somebody who knows it.” So, let’s talk about some of these things.

In this episode, we’re going to cover; are they actually taking business from you? How to determine that.

Mark S: Actually taking business.

Marc V: Actually doing it, and in a trend. There’s always going to be the one thing. But is there a trend that they’re actually going to take business from you? Are you competing in the same market, for the same customers? Are they targeting your business specifically, and your customers?

Mark S: That one’s important.

Marc V: And then, just the step by step guide to answering those things. So, let’s get into the steps.

Mark S: I like that. Step one is identification. As you so aptly wrote in our notes, this step is crucial. I’m holding up my finger for emphasis, for those of you not watching the video.

You may have an idea who your competition is, but it’s important to dig deep and find out all of your potential competitors. So, there’s two situations.

What I always recommend is that you know who is competing for your customers and your market. Like, everyone. Even if you don’t have any problem with competition right now, that you’re aware of, what you should do is you should go through these steps too, and you should find out who else is competing. I’ll give you a couple of examples.

I know I’m in the Tampa Bay area. We sell Avance commercial embroidery machines nationally, and to a small extent, internationally. But I also know who my local competitors are. I know that there is a sewing center in Tampa and in St. Petersburg and in Largo, that sell the Brother prosumer embroidery machines. They sell $15,000 Viking machines.

There’s Joann’s Fabrics. I know all of those people. They are potential competitors, but they’re really not, because they’re not in my market. But you really do have to be aware of who is out there.

Marc V: Yeah, and understanding what they do, having a little bit of a finger on the pulse of what’s happening there. Are these local shops going to eventually carry a commercial style machine that does compete? If you know your market and you know what’s going on, then you’ll have these answers.

So, the steps to identifying, I think, are simple, but they’re worth writing out and saying.

Mark S: Google it! Google it. That’s really how it all starts, on the biggest, on the gross, on the macro look. What you’ve got to do is, how do people find your business? Are they Googling “custom t-shirts Tampa?” Is it “sportswear Omaha?”

How are people getting to find your business? Go to a search engine and Google, type in that search, and see who comes up.

Marc V: Yeah. I’d say you Google, and go onto Bing. Do it there, as well.

Mark S: Absolutely.

Marc V: Do it in two different places. Then, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, kind of the big five, is what we wrote down. Those are the five. You should go all there, and you should spend – don’t just pick one keyword. Don’t just search “embroidery store Tampa.”

Search a bunch of different things. “T-shirt shop, t-shirt store, screen printing store.”

Mark S: “Custom caps.”

Marc V: Search everything that’s in your realm, because your competition might focus on the fact that they’re a screen printer, but they also are a big embroidery shop, or they make custom transfers. That’s not necessarily what’s in their business name, but they get a lot of business. You don’t know this stuff yet, unless you start searching.

So, spend, in my opinion, like ten minutes apiece, trying this search. Five to ten minutes just searching, searching, writing down names, copy/pasting the URLs of their websites into a document on your computer, just creating the list. So, a good hour. Five places, ten minutes apiece, with a two-minute break in between each one.

Mark S: Two and a half.

Marc V: And that’s an hour’s worth of time.

Mark S: The reason that you’re going to do this is because, I mean this is what Marc Vila and I do regularly. We are keenly aware if there’s a new company doing what we do in the marketplace. I mean, nobody does exactly what we do, which will be the point of what we talk about later on.

But you’ve got to do this on a pretty regular basis, because you need to know who your competition is, so no one is sneaking up on you. So, you can make moves in advance, to kind of defend yourself, or align yourself with your competition.

Marc V: And you’ll still get some things that sneak up on you, but when you know and you practice this often, you’re more prepared.

Mark S: Agreed.

Marc V: The next place to find out is to actually just ask your customers. Talk to them. Say “Where did you used to buy, before you started working with me?”, if they’re a newer customer. “Do you know anybody else who buys custom apparel, that doesn’t buy from me? Where do they buy it from?”

Just talk to them, especially the ones that you’re close with. They’ll be happy to talk with you about this. “Oh, yeah. I used to use so-and-so. They’re really bad,” and whatever it might be.

Mark S: And take that next step, too. If you go to a salon or if you go to a school event, or if you go anywhere else in your regular daily life, and you see an embroidered polo or a printed t-shirt that’s obviously custom – you know, an apron in a hair salon – ask them where they got it done, and what they thought about it. You may be either identifying a potential opportunity, or a competitor.

Marc V: Yeah. It’s also because it might not be local. You might talk to that, “Oh, yeah. We order them from this online store, such-and-suchEmbroidery.com.” “Okay, let me write that down.” You figure it out, and then “How can my business locally do better than the online one?” There’s lots of things to do.

The next one is to hit the streets. Go to places where custom apparel exists, and see if you can scope out and find competition there. So, you go to ball games. You might see it at local businesses, local events. If you have those farmer’s markets and street markets and stuff like that, chances are you’ll see a custom apparel company there.

So, just go out and find out everyone who exists.

Mark S: Yeah. I was surprised. I went to an art fair just a few months ago, the Gasparilla Art Festival. I highly recommend it. There was a company there that was selling printed t-shirts with art on it. So, naturally I wanted to know “Hey! How did you guys make the t-shirt? What brand did you get? Where did you buy it? Let me find out more about my competition, because I don’t know them.”

So, who does know them, and how did they get that business, instead of me?

Marc V: Yeah, it’s great. This could be at the mall, too. I saw a t-shirt shop in the mall. They’ve got all types of funny designs, and they print on demand. That’s their business.

Mark S: Mostly bootlegs.

Marc V: I’m sure. But you’re going to go by that place, and you’ll look at it and you’ll say “This isn’t really my competition. I don’t sell that type of shirt. I don’t do walk-up funny shirt business.” But you can maybe just, you know, talk to them about it.

We’ll get into shopping them, in a little bit.

Mark S: I will say, though, don’t go to the salesperson at Abercrombie and Fitch. You know, Banana Republic, and ask them where they get their stuff done. That’s not what you’re looking for. Local businesses, fairs, markets, people that are [inaudible 12:36].

Marc V: If you do that, just stop listening to this podcast.

Mark S: Please do!

Marc V: Alright, you’ve built a list, at this point and time. Step one, identification. You’ve built a list. The bigger the city, if you’re in a big city, this list is going to be overwhelming, and you’re going to have to learn how to kind of chop it out. So, scratch off that mall guy.

Mark S: It could scare the crap out of you, but it’s okay.

Marc V: Imagine if you’re going to open up a restaurant, and then find out how many restaurants are in your city. There’s a lot of competition for everything.

Mark S: Or a gym or a hair salon, anything.

Marc V: Or a mattress store. By the way, how are there so many mattress stores? Who is going through all of these mattresses?

Mark S: I don’t know!

Marc V: You buy one every, how many? Ten years?

Mark S: Sure, or 25, if you’re me.

Marc V: And they’re everywhere! Anyway, so now, step two. You’ve got the list. Step two is you look into their marketing and their branding. This one is kind of just – it’s important, before step three. You’re kind of just checking them out, is really what I would refer to that as.

Look at their website. Go to their store location. Or if you happen to be near their store, maybe walk in. Go to their Facebook page. You’re taking a look at who their customers are, what’s the personality of their brand.

If everything that they focus on is for bikers, and you’re not in that industry at all, you’re going to really get a feel of like “Okay, this competition is probably not – we’re not going to cross each other.”

Mark S: I’ll give you a good example of that. I’m looking for an electrician, so I went onto Tampa Networking Group. I put out the call for people that could recommend an electrician, and a lot of people responded. So, what I did was, naturally I went to each link, a Facebook page or a website. I tried to find one that matched my need, and kind of fit me. You do that unconsciously, all the time.

So, one very professional, young-looking group, good website, good Facebook page, pictures of the kind of stuff that I need done. Another guy had a Latin Kings tattoo, and a lot of related gang and motorcycle paraphernalia on his site, and he was pitching to be an electrician.

If I’m in the electrician business and I see that, I know that he’s probably not after the market that I’m after. He’s got a specific niche. He’s got certain people that are looking for him. The same way, I looked at someone who, the personality of their business was Christian. I mean, they really emphasized “We’re a Christian business.” It’s in their logo. It’s the whole thing.

So, I know that if that’s me, too, I’m going to have an affinity for them. If it’s not, if that’s not a market that you identify with, then maybe they’re not really your competition.

Marc V: Yeah. It’s a really important thing to just understand what their brand is. Part of what we’re talking about through this whole conversation, is kind of deciding if they’re your competition, which that’s the last step.

So, as we give the examples, we’re going to focus on that at the end. But other things you can look at for them are, are they advertising? Are they spending a lot of money in advertising? Where are they advertising? Does it look like they have a big sales team, and you don’t? Everything that you can kind of know about them, because what you’re going to do at the end of all this is you’re going to compare them to you.

And then, what type of customer do they attract? Corporate?

Mark S: Right. Which is just the example that I gave.

Marc V: Yeah, the example. Are they attracting an urban crowd? Are they attracting “Se habla Espanol,” and all their ads are in Spanish? Okay, they’re going after the Hispanic market. Everything is about cheer and bling.

Mark S: We know who their customer is.

Marc V: They’re going after cheerleaders and spirit wear. You do corporate wear. You’re going to start to realize that the competition, they do what you do, but not what you do.

Mark S: I do want to break out the “Are they spending a lot in ads?” Because I think that’s a really interesting conversation to have. What you should do on the first part, as you’re looking up those keywords and looking for your competition in the search engines, you should notice if they show up at the top of the page, and there’s the little Google ad button next to them. Then, you know they’re in a position to afford to spend that money, and they’re actually advertising for those same keywords that you might be, or that they are actually going after your customers.

Marc V: Yeah.

Mark S: Right? So, if you get the Pennysaver style flyer for your neighborhood, you look through it and see if they advertise there. If you go to their Facebook page, if you look on the left-hand side, there’s an actual “Info and Ads” link now, that will show you any ads that they’re running. Those are ways that you can actually kind of see, are they just kind of organically growing and getting the word out, or are they spending money to get customers?

Marc V: This is where you’re going to start to realize where the competition is or not. If you focus on – there’s a shop down the street here. They do spirit wear for a couple high schools and middle schools in the area. That’s basically what they mostly do. If you were looking to do that similar business down the road, and you search, and you see their ads.

Mark S: They’re everywhere.

Marc V: You see a sign somewhere for them, and you’re like “Gosh, they actually do exactly what I do,” then you’re going to start to get a realization of who the real competition is. The whole exercise is that each step of the way, you’re starting this list of 50 shops in your town, and you’re kind of crossing some off, or ranking them on how really strong of competition they are.

Mark S: I like that. So, then the next step is to shop that competition. Really, you want to make sure that you do the steps before that, first, absolutely. Because first, you’ve got to know if they’re really competition. Right? So, you’ve got to make sure that you’re not wasting your time and wasting their time, by taking up their time, finding out what they do.

Marc V: Yeah, especially for example, the place in the mall that I mentioned. If they sell funny t-shirts to people walking through, impulse buying a $25 t-shirt, and you do custom t-shirts for events, I guess you could call them and ask if they do that. They’re going to say yes, but there’s no sign up for that. They don’t advertise for that.

All they’re trying to do is get people to walk over, look at a shirt, and buy it immediately.

Mark S: Maybe there’s some kind of a category for, they might – like when I brought up the sewing center close by, that sells prosumer machines. Sure, one day someone is going to decide to buy a home embroidery machine, instead of an Avance. That’s going to happen. I’m not going to do anything about that, really.

It’s going to happen once in a while. They’re not really my competition.

Marc V: Yeah. The guy in the mall that I saw, somebody is going to go up there one day and say “Hey, I’ve got an event for a family reunion. Can you make me 20 shirts?” He’s going to get that business, but you can clearly see that the gentleman running that booth was not trying to do that at all.

If it happens, it’s by accident. Yeah, you’re going to find that that happens. Don’t be tricked, thinking “I’m losing all this business. This is my competition,” because accidentally, they might run into your same customer.

Mark S: And that goes way back up to the top. Are they actual competitors? Are they actually taking your market share, stealing your customers?

Marc V: So now, it’s time to shop them.

Mark S: Yes! I love to do this.

Marc V: You identified all of your possible competition. Then, you looked at their marketing, their branding, and you’ve really starred and highlighted the ones that you really feel are the biggest possible competition. I would maybe even – I didn’t write this down in our notes – but I would maybe even do like a one, two, three ranking.

Mark S: Okay, I like that.

Marc V: One is highest possible competition. Two is they might or might not be. “I’m going to have to shop them.” And three is doubtful. Depending on how big the list is, maybe you don’t bother to shop any of the threes, or only the ones. That’s going to depend on the size of your town.

So, how do you shop them? Tell us about that.

Mark S: What I do when I’m shopping my competition in a variety of different businesses is, the first thing I’ll do is I will fill out a form on the website. Well, I take it back.

Marc V: The first thing you do is put on a fake mustache and a hat.

Mark S: I put on my Marc Vila mask. No, really what I do is I’ll go to their website, and I’ll see how much of the same thing they do, that we do. If I go someplace and whatever it is, if it’s woodworking or boats or embroidery machines or DTG printers, go to the website.

Do they have prices? Yes or no. Does it look like they’re talking to my same customers? Yes or no. Do they have a chat on it? Is their phone number really easy to find?

That’s the first thing, is I kind of scope out their online presence, and see if there’s some shopping information I can get from that.

Marc V: What you’re describing there are the key things that you focus on, when you’re creating, say, the Avance website. You’re kind of comparing that directly.

Mark S: Yes. Shhh! You’re giving it away to our competition!

Marc V: That’s what you’re going to do, when you’re looking at the competition. So, your first step is you’re reading their flyer that you found. You are reading their website. You’re reading their Facebook page. You’re trying to get the message, the initial shopping experience for a customer, that everyone does.

You look in the window, before you walk in the store.

Mark S: Good one.

Marc V: You check out what kind of restaurant it is. Seafood? “I love seafood. I’m going there,” or “I’m going to pass.” You’re doing that initial step.

From there, you really should try to get some prices. Try to get a feeling for what the shopping experience is like.

Mark S: If their pricing is on the website, that’s great. Write that down. But you’re still going to want to do two things. You’re going to want to fill out an online form, if there is one, so you see what it’s like to request information.

Marc V: How long did it take them to respond? What did they respond with?

Mark S: Right, because basically, let’s say that you are a screen print shop, mid-sized. And a big screen print shop is moving into your area. You go to their website, you fill out a form, and no one ever contacts you. Are they really the competition?

Then, you’re going to pick up the phone and go for that same experience.

Marc V: Yeah, and see what it’s like. If you call up, they answer in one ring, really friendly, “What’s your email address?” All of this stuff, they’re gathering the right information, then you can start “Okay, this company is good.”

And you also kind of compare the other way. They didn’t answer, it went to a voicemail. Actually, it went to a place that says “The voicemail is not set up.”

Mark S: Oh, yeah. That is awful!

Marc V: All of these things are things, but you want the whole experience, because you want to rank how good they are. Then, anything else you can gather.

I wrote down, do they charge for art? Do they charge a setup fee? Do they require a deposit? What’s their delivery time like? What kind of shirts do they use? What brand of shirts do they use? What’s the quality of the garment? What technology do they use; DTG, embroidery?

Look, do they have online reviews? What are their reviews like? You want to find all of this information out. Because for one, eventually you’re going to have to sell against them, if they are your competition.

And you can say, if somebody says “So-and-so is going to do it for two bucks cheaper,” “Yeah, I understand. I know that they do generally use a cheaper shirt than I do, and their delivery time is 14 days. Mine is seven. If that doesn’t matter to you, to save the $40 you’re going to save,” and you can start to have that conversation, because you know.

Mark S: Agreed. And if you’re a bigger company, and you feel like your competition is that Cricut owner that’s doing five t-shirts or ten t-shirts at a time, then you can get a shirt and say “Have you ever felt that vinyl? Do you like that feel? Because this is what I do. I do DTG or dye sublimation, or something else that feels better. Are they offering you full color? No, they don’t do that. I can do full color.”

Marc V: “I order from a wholesale warehouse. I’ve got 25 different colors in this one brand of shirt that I offer. I’ve got a dozen different colors in this other shirt. And when you want to come back later on, I can get that same exact shirt for you. I can deliver you the same quality every time, in a professional manner.”

“I understand that you know somebody who has a Cricut machine, but they can’t deliver the same type. They’re getting your shirt from Walmart, and then marking it up, and they’re making $4 on it,” type of a thing. “I don’t think it’s really what you want.”

Mark S: Right. You’re not going to be really negative, but what you’re doing here is when you shop them, you are going to design how you’re going to respond, either when their name comes up, or you’re going to change things in the way you message to your customers, to counteract their advantages.

Marc V: Yeah. If you find that their response time is slow; when they answer the phone, it’s not very friendly, and when you asked for a quote, you basically just got “Yeah, yeah. Four bucks apiece,” or something like that. Or you find out that they charge a $100 setup fee.

All of these things are things that you get to say ahead of time, because if you know somebody is going to call you and then them, or vice versa, you get to counteract the negative things. You say “They don’t answer the phone friendly. I’m going to write out some greetings, and have the best answer on the phone, when they call up. They charge a $100 setup fee. I’m going to make sure to say that I only charge a $30 setup fee.”

Mark S: Yeah, and this works both ways. I think what kind of spurred this idea that we got for the podcast is, we had the bigger shop that thought the small shops, the home users, were taking their business. So, it can go in both directions.

Marc V: Yeah. Both people think the same thing.

Mark S: If I have a cutter or I’ve got a DigitalHeatFX i550, and I’m using it in my house, I have advantages. I’ll do one shirt, profitably. I will, like “Stop by my house at 9:00 at night, and pick up your five shirts. That’s no problem.” Those are big advantages.

You have disadvantages, too. You may not always answer the phone, because it’s your personal cell phone. If you get sick or one of your kids gets sick, you can’t complete the order on time. You may not have the inventory of shirts.

So, if I’m a mid-sized guy, what I’m saying is “You know what? You can call me every day, all day, between the hours of 7:30 and 6:00. My people will answer the phone 100% of the time, because I’m here for you all the time, not just after school.”

Marc V: Yes, and “If you want black and white shirts in small to 2XL, I’ve got them in stock all the time, and I can offer same or next day delivery on that type of stuff,” or whatever it might be. You have to figure out what your advantages are. That’s the point of this exercise.

Also, you might look in the future, at things you might want to change about yourself. You realize “I do the same thing that that guy does or that lady does. I didn’t like that, that they did that. Why am I doing that?”

Mark S: Yeah, very true.

Marc V: You’re going to learn the industry. You’re going to learn your competition. It’s a really great educational experience for yourself.

Mark S: One thing I want to make sure that we cover, that you put in here, I would not have thought of this.

Marc V: Okay.

Mark S: Look at their online reviews. I mean, that is so powerful, because we use that all the time. How many positive shopper-approved ads does Colman and Company have?

Marc V: Oh, gosh. I haven’t looked in a bit, but I think we just got an award for breaking 3,000 five-star reviews.

Mark S: Yes, 3,000 five-star reviews. And I know ColDesi has got about 1,000 four- and five-star reviews. So, can you imagine that this is part of what we talk to you guys about? “I know that there are other people who do X, Y and Z. But have you read my 1,000 five-star reviews? Did you know that we shipped 4,500 packages last month, and we’ve got another 600 five-star reviews from those people that bought?”

“I mean, you can buy from anybody you want to. Read my reviews.” That’s a great pitch.

Marc V: Especially if you know that your competition out there -.

Mark S: They don’t have the best reviews.

Marc V: There’s two things that happen, right? Either you see that they’ve got a 3.7 rating, and you’ve got a 5. And you’re like “Woo hoo!” Then, you get to say it all the time. Like “Look at my reviews! They’re great, compared to the other shops.”

Or you realize that you’ve got no reviews online, because you’ve never solicited any from your customers, and they didn’t do them on their own. And your competition has got 38 reviews, 4.8 stars. “Ouch! I need to get reviews!”

Mark S: Yeah, you need to get on the stick.

Marc V: Because you don’t want them to say that about you. “You’re going to go to that shop with no reviews? I’ve got 50, 4.8 stars!” So, it’s a great thing to learn these.

Now that you’ve shopped them, get as much information as you can. By the way, if you’re in a smaller community, you might want to ask a friend to do this for you.

Mark S: Yeah. There are some things – I’ll go through some things that will maintain your anonymity, when you’re shopping. You can set up a new email address temporarily, with another service. It’s free, and it will give you an objective view. You can use somebody else’s phone, or you can get an app on your phone, so you can have a conversation with somebody, without revealing your phone number.

Marc V: It’s basically the same stuff you do if you start selling drugs. You go to Walmart and you get a TracFone.

Mark S: You look for a pager.

Marc V: No, but those are all things to maintain anonymity. I’ll tell you what. I know that some people feel like when you’re shopping, that it’s like unethical, in a way. You feel like you’re spying, and things like that. But this is what all the big brands do. They all do it.

And then, brands that are big enough, do this internally to themselves. When you’re talking about like a large organization, like Best Buy or Hilton or Bank of America, they have folks in their organization that shop their organization, and their competition, all day.

Mark S: I’ve got a good one. I can’t remember who it was, but I was listening to a podcast called How I Built This, where they interview big entrepreneurs. One of the first employees of Target talked about the time where he was just opening up a brand new Target store, which was a big deal, if you’re Walmart, because there was no competition. Target’s a little higher end. They were trying to charge more money.

Sam Walton walked in the door. That’s the owner and founder of Walmart. He walked into Target, introduced himself, and asked if he could be shown around. And of course, they did it. But Sam Walton was shopping his competition personally! If it’s good enough for him, I think you guys can do it.

Marc V: Yeah, for sure. So, you just do it, and you be fair about it. You are probably going to have to fib a little bit on the phone, when you do this.

Mark S: No!

Marc V: You’re going to have to fib a little bit.

Mark S: Don’t do that!

Marc V: Say your prayers, if you need to ask for forgiveness.

Mark S: No, don’t do that!

Marc V: But yeah. You find your own way of shopping. But the best tool you’re going to have is to know as much as possible about your competition. And you can try whatever method is your preferred way, or ask somebody to do it.

Mark S: I’m on tons of my competitors’ email lists, and I use my business email address and my name. They just don’t bother to look. They just don’t bother.

I like all of that. I think it’s really important to do the things that we just talked about. Now, if you are up against competition right now, if you just lost a job, or somebody moved into the neighborhood, actually a good podcast to listen to would be the one we did with Mark Biletnikoff.

Marc V: Oh, yeah.

Mark S: He’s got a retail store in Erie. Over the past few years, at least five or six other t-shirt businesses have opened up very close to him, and it hasn’t impacted his business negatively.

Marc V: Because it’s different.

Mark S: It’s a different business.

Marc V: Speaking about shopping, we know you’re out there. Our competition listens to the podcast.

Mark S: They’re listening to this.

Marc V: They go to our Facebook, they copy exactly what we do. We’ve seen your stuff.

Mark S: They’re not listening to it, like this far in. They’re not this far in.

Marc V: That’s dedication, if they are.

Mark S: We mentioned embroidery machine manufacturers, for a reason.

Marc V: If you are, you’re dedicated. I appreciate you, and thank you.

So, next we have step four, which we call compare and contrast.

Mark S: Yeah. This is the good stuff.

Marc V: This is where you’ve kind of got this in your mind already. You’ve already got like “This one, I’m not worried about. This one, I’m really worried about. This one, I don’t know.”

Mark S: You’re doing a threat analysis.

Marc V: Yeah, you’ve got it. In step four – by the way, everything that we mentioned, assuming you haven’t already started doing this while you’re listening to the podcast – this is an important thing to mention. You’ve got to write all of this down.

Mark S: Yeah, please.

Marc V: You’ve got to take notes. I recommend taking organized notes, too, which is really a challenge. But if you’re doing it by hand or typing it up; name of business, website, pricing. Try to fill in the blanks. Then, when you do another one, you fill it out the same way, so you’ve got a really nice binder that you’ve put up for yourself, that you can use to compare and contrast.

Mark S: Would you use a binder?

Marc V: I don’t know. I mean, I wouldn’t, but there’s plenty of people who still use binders. Have you seen how many binders they sell at like Office Depot?

Mark S: I do. Have you seen how many binders we’re throwing away right now, because they’re binders?

Marc V: Linda, we’re not throwing them away. They’re going to the garage sale. You’re going to get us in trouble!

Mark S: That’s true. So, you’re going to organize this, and write this stuff down. There are tons of software applications out there that will help you track business intelligence and online competition, and things like that. Please don’t use any of them, unless you are a really big company.

Then, if you do intend to use them, just reach out to me, and I’ll tell you which ones I might recommend.

Marc V: Sounds good. But for now, though, we’ve made a spreadsheet for you.

Mark S: Yeah! That’s the stuff, right there.

Marc V: So, you can go to CustomApparelStartups.com and go to this episode. Or the YouTube channel, link out to it somehow. And the spreadsheet, it’s a nice and simple kind of a chart that we’ve made, where you can fill in your competition’s name. And add in your own fields. It’s not a locked spreadsheet.

Mark S: I’m holding it up to the camera, with doodles. So, I’ll cover the doodles. It’s really useful. It’s got some great – you’re going to go through a scale of one to five, and you’re going to rank your competition, versus yourself.

Marc V: Yeah. The first one we put here is “low pricing.” So, “My business, I consider my pricing a –“ one to five, five being expensive, one being cheap. “I’m a three.”

Mark S: I do want to point out that you have to do this for your business, first. You’ve got to really understand where you fit on the scale.

Marc V: And we put like quality on there. Are they selling the cheapest shirt possible, or are they selling only really high-end shirts?

Mark S: Or are you?

Marc V: Or are you? Yeah, both for you. How is their customer service? What are their reviews like, online? How many days is their turn time? You have all of these, and we’ve got other things in there, too; what type of technology they use; embroidery, screen printing, DTG, digital transfers.

What type of businesses do they cater to? School, corporate, spirit? Adjust this to your own. Fill in your own blanks, add more columns to it. But when you create this, then you get to kind of look down, and you can start to circle and highlight.

Mark and I were just talking about this before. When I look at this kind of fake competition one numbers – if you pause this and you go to the website, you can open up the spreadsheet and see it with us, right now. Like competition one said “They don’t do embroidery, and they don’t do digital transfers.” And you do embroidery and transfers.

So, right then and there, you realize that yes, they are competition, say because you both do spirit wear. But they’re doing screen printing for all of the spirit wear, and you’re doing digital transfers and embroidery.

Mark S: Built-in advantages to both.

Marc V: Yeah, exactly. So, it is two different markets. There is going to be some rollover. “I just want 40 shirts, with a white logo on it.” There’s going to be some rollover on that, because both of you could do that job.

But that’s when you turn around and you say “Well, I know the competition down the road only screen prints, and this is a 40 shirt order. I can do it. So, how do I sell against them, without even knowing if my customer is shopping them?”

Mark S: I love that.

Marc V: “I’m going to go ahead and” say they want a black shirt with a white logo on it, I’m going to say “Why don’t we do blue, since that’s one of your school colors? And your jaguar is the mascot. Why don’t we put like a full color jaguar on it? And then, we’ll put the white letters. It’s going to be cool. And we don’t have to make the jaguar huge, because I know you said you wanted it classy.”

“Let’s make like a little logo on the left chest or on the arm.” Now, all of a sudden, when they go to the screen print shop, they’re probably not going to offer that full color add-on.

Mark S: No. They’re going to spend an hour trying to talk them into just one color.

Marc V: They’re going to say “Just do the white,” and they’re going to do it cheaper. But if you’ve got your customer sold on doing a higher quality, adding something else. If they’re excited about that, they’re probably going to be willing to spend the more money that you’re going to charge.

Mark S: I love that. And if you’re a screen printer, on the other side, what you can say is “Well, I can save you tons of money that you can get other spirit wear with. You can spend that money on caps. Or when you come back and you want 500 of these, I’m going to be the guy that does it.”

If you’re the small business with the DigitalHeatFX, with the transfer printer, somebody that comes in for 1,000, you’re going to be in the same situation. You’re not going to be the best person to fit that business.

Marc V: And you know that they don’t do embroidery, so immediately, you’ve got to start getting them excited about embroidery, because they don’t do embroidery. So, you can say “Oh, by the way, every ten shirts you buy, I’ll make a hat for you,” and things like that. You start getting them excited.

Mark S: I love that! Gym bags.

Marc V: Yeah. So, this spreadsheet, the reason why I like having it on a single sheet is because as you start to look at it, it kind of gets in your head. You’ve got the long information, you know, all the notes on your competition, that you’ve made. And then, you’ve got the spreadsheet, which is kind of like the cliff note version of it.

You can go ahead and, if you hire new employees, or you get somebody to work with you, you can bring out these tools.

Mark S: It’s also – I love this, by the way. But it’s also an opportunity for you to look at your business realistically. You’re not always going to be the high quality, high price person. You may need to make a decision.

If you go down this list, and there’s two other people that have high pricing, high quality, great customer service, great reviews, short turn time, and they both have embroidery and transfers, then you’re going to need to make a change in your business, to stand out. You’re going to have to get new technology. You’re going to have to find a lower cost way.

You’ve got to be somewhere they’re not. If you’re the same place as all of your competition, then you need to pick somewhere else to be.

Marc V: Yeah, and that’s actually what we put some notes on, as what we could do the next podcast just on.

Mark S: Yes, that’s what we’re going to do.

Marc V: In the next episode, we’re going to discuss rebranding, restructuring, reinvesting, or basically doing none of that. Staying the same, because you’re in the right area, and that’s where you’ve now made an educated decision on that.

Because oftentimes, somebody who owns a business will make a rash decision, because they think something happened, and they end up doing something that hurts their business, when their business was going to be fine anyway.

If they would have understood, and made these notes and done this little spreadsheet, they would have realized “I don’t have to be scared of this business that’s opening up, because it’s not for me.”

It’s going to be great, because when you put this together, if you realize that – say just little ones, like we were talking about – on the pricing one, how everyone is low price. You get to be the only one that’s high quality, high price. That’s fantastic!

We’re always in these battles of “Why am I not the cheapest? Why am I not the fastest? Why am I not the best?” There’s going to be a category where you have an opportunity to excel.

Mark S: I’ll tell a quick story before we sign off, about prices. We were having a conversation just before the podcast, about dollar taco night. Right?

Marc V: Oh, yeah!

Mark S: The first thing that came to my mind is “I think I’d rather have a $5 taco.” It seems like for $5, I’m going to get a better taco, and not food poisoning. So, maybe it’s the same way for your customers. You may find that you can move up in price and quality, and they’re excited to pay more, because what they really wanted was a $25 custom shirt to give to somebody, or to order for their business.

They don’t want to wear a $10 shirt.

Marc V: They don’t want a cheap shirt.

Mark S: Yeah, they don’t want a cheap shirt. Regardless of what that $10 buys them, just the idea that you’re spending less money can cheapen the experience. So, it may be, after you go through this, that you realize “Thank goodness! I can charge an extra $5 for every shirt, because nobody else in my niche is doing that.”

Marc V: So, the counter that I had had to the dollar tacos is I said “Actually, that’s their special, to bring people in on a slow night, and it’s $8 for their premium guacamole, and their margaritas are really good, but expensive. They’re not cheap margaritas. They’re not the cheapest margarita in town, but they’re probably the best.”

So, you come in for dollar taco night, and you walk out with a $40 tab.

Mark S: So, maybe that’s your strategy.

Marc V: The other thing is maybe that’s what your competition is doing, which is part of why you shop them. Because we had a customer who had a sign up on his shop, and it said “$4 t-shirts.” I just said “How do you make any money, doing a $4 shirt? I know how much it costs to make a shirt.”

He said “Nobody leaves my shop, just buying the shirts.” That’s kind of like what the taco guy would say. “Nobody leaves here -.”

Mark S: “With just a taco.”

Marc V: “Yes, some come in here and get six tacos, and their tab is $6, and they tip a dollar, and leave. But most of the people are buying more.” I go to this restaurant, and I’ve looked around, because I’ve thought of this concept, “How do you make any money, selling dollar tacos?”

I look around, and people have got steaks, everyone’s got margaritas, they have the band playing, and people are dropping tips in there. So, they’re making money in a bunch of different ways. Is your competition doing that, too?

Mark S: That is a great point.

Marc V: So, if you see a competition that says “$4 shirts,” well, they’re doing that, but everything they’re doing is an upsell, or the $4 shirt is almost impossible to buy.

Mark S: Yeah, you can’t get there.

Marc V: Yeah, you can’t actually get it.

Mark S: Honestly, I was on the fence. But now, I’m excited for the rest of the episodes! I can’t wait!

Marc V: Good! So, let’s see. Here’s the last notes that we have here. In the next episode, we’re going to discuss if you need to work on rebranding, restructuring or reinvesting, now that you know about your competition.

Here’s a few things. Is the competition real? Or is it actually just a problem with you not drumming up enough business?

Mark S: 70% of the time.

Marc V: Because if you’re realizing that nobody competes against you, and you’re slow, “But nobody competes in my market,” then listen to some other episodes. Right?

Are you actually competing really close, in a tough market? If you are, then it’s time for you to make some changes. If everybody does exactly what you do, at exactly the same price, and offers the same level of service, then you don’t stand out, and you’re constantly going to be fighting. So, change something.

Then, if you are going to make changes, what should they be? That’s what the next episode is going to be about, when we cover this stuff.

Mark S: I can’t wait!

Marc V: And if we don’t actually do that, then that won’t be the next episode!

Mark S: It’s true! We probably will, though. There’s a 62% chance. But just in case we do do that, I would really love you to go to CustomApparelStartups.com or to go to the podcast app of your choice, and download this spreadsheet, so you can track your competitors.

Make these phone calls. Do some of this work, so you have a base for taking the next step.

Marc V: Yeah. It’s going to be something that is going to teach you a lot about your business. Even if you take all of that information, you’re just going to realize some really cool things you like, that your competition does, which we’ve seen. And you’re going to realize some things that they really suck at, and you’ll feel proud.

Like “I didn’t need to shop them, to do this good already, and none of them do it good.” So, part of it’s going to be an ego boost. Part of it is going to be a wakeup. And part of it’s just going to be some really good education that you’re going to be able to take for your business, for a long time.

Then, in the future, when you go to re-do this again, because you should kind of re-up on some of this frequently, you’ve got a good starting point.

Mark S: I like that a lot. So, do the work. This is a good episode for you to share. Everyone knows someone who just literally complained about their business last weekend. So, share this episode. Get them hooked, so they can listen to the other three, and maybe come out better on the other end.

Marc V: Awesome!

Mark S: Alright, guys. Thanks for listening! This has been Mark Stephenson, from ColDesi.

Marc V: And Marc Vila, from Colman and Company.

Mark S: You guys have a great competitive business!

Marc V: Thank you!

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