Let’s all get along: courting the competition

Published in The Nashville Business Journal

Business people often view competitors as the enemy. That means leaders have little or no contact with other leaders. Let’s turn that tradition on its head.

While certain competitive secrets must stay under wraps, there is a goldmine of noncompetitive communication that can lead to operational improvements, industry best practices and personal growth.

For example, our retail trade organization shared noncompetitive information including loss prevention, logistics and training that ultimately benefited us all. You might uncover mutual government regulatory challenges where collaboration helps both parties. You might learn about helpful resources and career-boosting contacts more quickly.

When I was on the road visiting Tractor Supply stores, I often called a leader of a farm store competitor for lunch and maybe a store walk-through or two. Regularly I received a warm response, which over time developed into many solid friendships. We never gave away competitive strategic plans, but we did share plenty of mutually beneficial ideas. We frequently found that we had similar challenges in developing people, managing inventory and dealing with certain problem suppliers. By sharing suggestions and solutions, we both won.

While occasionally I got the old “heave ho” on a “prospecting” trip to a competitors store, a majority of times store managers were more than gracious to talk about their stores. I could quickly glean things like product assortment, level of customer service and even small nuggets of wisdom about retail improvements that I could apply to Tractor Supply.

So rather than keeping secrets, start taking the initiative. Test the waters by inviting a peer from a competitor for coffee or lunch. You just might gain new knowledge – and possibly a new friendship. Make the first move. You have nothing to lose.

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