If football-themed movies have taught me anything, it’s that underdogs can come out on top most of the time. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a bunch of rag-tag kids going up against a group of hardened veterans – a lot of the time the little guy comes out on top.
Being from Philadelphia, however, means that I am certainly grounded in the fact that, while things may work out that way on the big screen, reality is a very, very different thing. It’s much more frequent for the big guy to walk all over the little guy without breaking a sweat. Much is the case when it comes to dealing with ‘big-box’ stores, and the kind of price service they give to customers.
I’ve had people ask me how they deal with this type of play. When the Cheap-o-Mart down road can sell a pair of glasses for so little, what does an independent optical shop do? Does it make sense to take a play out of their book, and to get in the cheapest frames you can find? This kind of approach can be dangerous, as you have to remember that you’re never going to be able to match the purchasing power and economies of scale that a big chain is going to be able to do. You don’t win against the big guys by using their playbook. You need to focus on the types of things that you’re good at, and the things that your patients aren’t going to get elsewhere. Specifically, service and quality.
Part of being successful in these situations is that you have to realize that you don’t score on every play. Sometimes you have to admit that you aren’t going to get to the end zone, and kick the ball away. Consequently, you aren’t going to sell eyewear to every customer that comes in, since you don’t want to end up sacrificing the quality that you offer, whether that quality is in terms of ‘cheap products’ (frames, lenses, contacts) or in terms of compromised service.
Part of making your team successful against the larger guys is realizing that you aren’t in it alone. You need partners that are going to help you out. That can take that form of a lot of things, such as an optical lab, frame vendor, marketing company, or whatever else. All of theses things play a part in making your business successful, so you need to make sure that you can rely on them. You also want to make sure you know who’s side they’re on. The last thing you want to do is have your optical lab owned by the same company that owns your main competition.
The only way that you’re really going to win is by making sure you aren’t fueling your competition when you succeed. That means having independently owned business partners is going to be one of your major plays of the game.
– John Madden