‘Scouting’ Your Retail Competition

by WOHe

I’m happy to declare that April is here again. It’s a month with
different meanings for different people. To me, it spells a new
beginning. No, not just to spring, but rather to a new baseball

Baseball, you see, is a favorite of mine and as a fun,
motivational device, I equate my work to it. I approach my business
as a game and, just like baseball, my goal is to win each day’s
competition. In that endeavor, there are many features and
strategies that can cross over from baseball to business. One of
the most valuable is scouting.

In baseball, the most successfully managed teams put a
tremendous amount of effort into scouting. They know which teams
they’ll play during the season, and they spend time and money
scouting the other teams’ strengths and weaknesses. When game time
arrives, the best teams already know the weaknesses of their
opponents that they need to exploit, and the strengths they need to
negate. Their advance scouting allows them to approach the game
with a well-developed plan that gives them the best chance to

As a kitchen and bath dealer, it’s imperative to do the same.
Open up your local phone book and go over the list of kitchen and
bath dealers in your market. In effect, they’re the “teams” that
you will “play” this season; at some point, you’ll compete with
each of those companies for at least one customer. To be successful
and win, you’ll need a good game plan.

Developing a plan
A good kitchen and bath game plan starts with scouting the
competition’s strengths and weakness in four primary areas:
products, services, pricing and people.

1. Products. When trying to win a customer, you need to know
what products your competition is bringing to the field. What are
the features and specifications of their lines? Research this well
and create a chart, listing product dimensions, materials, options,
hardware, door styles and finishes.

Once you have a complete scouting report on your competition’s
products, you can develop an educated game plan. If a prospect has
been to see one of your competitors, pull out the
“strengths-and-weaknesses” analysis you’ve developed and zero in on
the competition’s weaknesses. If their product has, for example, a
vinyl-wrapped drawer, pitch your dovetailed drawer. If they’re
looking at a door style with a veneered center panel, bring a solid
wood center panel to the plate. Avoid being negative about your
opponent’s product. Instead, show confidence in your product and
sell your strengths.

2. Services. Knowing the competition’s services is as important
as knowing their products. Do they offer free design services? Do
they do their own installations? Do they make their own
countertops? Gather your scouting reports and know what strengths
you need to sell as soon as you know who you’re competing

3. Pricing. When competing for a customer, knowing where your
products are priced in comparison to other products is essential.
An effective method to accomplish this is to keep spreadsheets
showing where your products price when compared to the competition.
Since prices are always changing, it’s difficult to keep the
information current, so you need to be diligent in your scouting.
Having reliable comparisons allows you to discover your pricing
strengths and weaknesses. If you discover that you have an
advantage in pricing for particular products, it’s to your benefit
to market this to your customer. If, on the other hand, you find
that you’re at a pricing disadvantage, you know that you need to
adjust your game plan. You could move the customer to a different
product or you could employ the product knowledge that you’ve
collected and use product differences that are in your favor as a
good offense.

4. People. In baseball, scouts are often looking for new players
to add to their team. As a kitchen and bath dealer you, too, need
to scout for new additions to your team. Scout well so that when
“free agents” become available, you sign the right ones.

How to ‘scout’
There are many ways to scout your competitors ranging from visiting
Web sites to visiting showrooms.

Web sites are one of the quickest and easiest ways to collect
product information. The majority of manufacturers present their
product specifications, features, door styles, finishes and related
information on their Web sites. All of these items can be easily
printed out and added to your scouting report.

Manufacturer’s reps are another great source for competitive
product information. Good reps do a great deal of scouting
themselves. Spec books, literature and other information are
collected by reps. Just like you, we have competitors that we
contend with daily, and it’s imperative for us to know how our
products, services, pricing and people compare to them. When
scouting your competition’s products, call your rep. He or she may
have already done the legwork for you.

Being a good listener when out in the field can also be a very
useful way to collect your data. People share information
liberally. When dealing with builders or contractors, let them
share information with you about your competitors. Weigh what you
hear, however. If you hear a recurring theme, you know that you’ve
probably collected valid information. You can harvest the same type
of information from customers who visit your showroom, and from
conversations at industry-related events.

Many of you are reading this column at the annual K/BIS. If this
is the case, you have an incredible opportunity to collect a
plethora of information. When you walk down the aisles, stop at
booths, collect literature, open doors and drawers, rub finishes
and take notes. Trade shows are a treasure trove of information.
Don’t waste your chance.

One last scouting method is visiting your competitor’s
showrooms. Spec books, literature and other data are important, but
nothing compares to actually seeing your “opponent” in action. Get
a feel for how they operate. See their products and services.
Remember, the successful companies in your town are already
scouting you.

When game time comes and you’re playing for the customer’s
business, have that scouting report ready. Have all of your
strengths in your lineup and play them to your advantage. Great
scouting and a well-developed game plan will allow you to field the
team with the best chance of winning.

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