Cutthroat Competition

A friend and I recently were discussing his favorite subject — the economy. He works for a bank that was hours away from collapse a few years ago, but was purchased by another bank in the eleventh hour. I asked him how things are at work, and he said it’s a little uneasy, chaotic and generally messed up; but he’s thrilled to be employed.

“But we should have failed,” he told me. My friend then explained that recessions serve a purpose, which is to cleanse an economy of weak businesses that are, for a variety of reasons, unable to sustain themselves. He opposes the belief that certain companies are too big to fail, including his former employer.

Since then, thousands of businesses have failed in this country. Most of these were small companies, like yours, and if you agree with my banker friend, they needed to fail. Still, it has been sad to hear stories of good people closing their doors and losing their jobs. The result is less competition, which on the surface might sound appealing, but there’s also less demand. As a result, competition for the remaining scraps of business is fierce no matter where we live.

Traveling to trade shows around the country the first part of this year, I’ve met hundreds of designers and builders. I’ve enjoyed hearing stories of their survival and how they’ve adapted to the market. Some of you have shared stories about competing with, as you put it, bottom-dwelling, cutthroat, “Joe pickup-truck” business owners.

“It’s tough to survive against people like that,” one builder told me. “During times like these, clients seem to forget the phrase, ‘You get what you pay for,’” he said.

So I asked him, “How do you compete against them?”

He replied, “What can I do? I have to lower my numbers.”

It might be easy to criticize someone for lowering him or herself to a competitor’s level. It might also be easy to declare, “I would never lower my price.” Until you’ve faced cutthroat competition, you won’t know how you’ll react.

Maybe you’ve taken less margin to get a job. Is that so bad? No, it’s not. It’s simply part of doing business in a housing market that behaves much differently than it did a few years ago.

Lowering your price to survive is not bad if the quality of work remains high. We’ve all had to cut costs, but have you cut value? That’s the key question.

If you’d rather not compete against “Joe pickup truck,” remember who brought you here. Turn to your past clients — those who already know the value of investing in you — and ask them if there’s an opportunity to do business again. Referrals are the lifeblood of this business, so tap into it.

How are you dealing with tough competition? Send an e-mail to editor@rdbmagazine.com, or post your thoughts in our magazine’s group at LinkedIn.com.

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