Did you know that in the early days of hamburger restaurants springing up all over the world, Burger King would never venture into a virgin market. Their strategy was to allow McDonalds to go in first, create the appetite for that type of product and then Burger King would come along on the back of the pioneering work done by McDonalds. Some might think of this as Cheating somehow, but it can be a valid business strategy and seems to have worked well for Burger King with sales of over £1Billion worldwide. However, it means that you will never be seen as the market leader – McDonalds clearly has that place.
It is similar within the speciality food sector. One company comes up with a great idea, and is quickly followed by several others. Take artisan crisps, for example. Or chips as Burts called them. Yes, Kettle Chips were around prior to that but Burts were the first to see the opportunity within the specialty food market. One day, Burts went up for sale. Several potential suitors went to visit. There was one sale and a few other companies started up making crisps (chips) when they saw how good the profit margins were. One of these was Tyrell’s Crisps and they haven’t done too badly, have they?
As I say, there is nothing wrong with “copying” as a valid business strategy, but personally I know I would much rather be one of the pioneers rather than a copier. It may not result in a more successful business. Tyrells turnover is far larger than Burts, but I know where I would rather be – having fun and trying new things is much more fun than constantly watching what your competitors are doing. It is sometimes easy to be obsessed with competitors which means that your team can stop focussing on their own goals. We have recently bought some software which allows us to see which companies are viewing our web-site and which pages they are looking at. Slightly big brother, but the plan is that we see potential customers and follow them up. However, it has been fascinating to see how many other wholesalers are spending ages on our web-site to the point of obsession, one might say! And then one produced a Christmas catalogue with a virtually identical cover – that is when a “copying” strategy starts to make them look a little silly!
Long live the pioneers!