BY SALVATORE ISOLA
The Queens Chamber of Commerce hosted an event to help members analyze their competitors and gain an edge.
“The biggest thing is there’s really no right answer,” said Stuart Harker, vice president of TD Bank’s Commercial Lending Group, who led the workshop on July 25.
But Harker said all businesses first need to understand their competition, specifically their offerings.
“Competitive intelligence” involves collecting information about the marketplace and industry-wide needs, and then satisfying the market better than competing businesses.
In analyzing a competitor, Harker said it is best to figure out the products and services they offer, the target audience, marketing message, how they position their brand, and what they offer the customer.
Most important, however, is finding their competitive advantage. Realizing what their edge is will allow businesses to better know how to service their customers and gain a bigger share of the marketplace.
This can be done by visiting a competitor’s website, requesting their marketing materials, entering their stores, and talking with their sales agents.
“Depending on the business you’re in, a lot of that information can be gained in different ways,” Harker said.
Strategies a business can take to better position themselves over their competitors include marketing differently to target audiences, increasing hours of operation or delivery to meet demand, or focusing on a niche market.
Self-reflection is important, too. A SWOT Analysis is an internal analyzation of a company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Having all four pieces of the puzzle will allow businesses to develop strategies to tackle competition.
Regarding strengths, a business must evaluate itself from a customer’s perspective. Whereas weaknesses should be viewed from a competitor’s view.
“Always play to your strengths,” Harker said. “Maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.”
Opportunity allows businesses to grow, and they may exist now or in the future. A change in technology, policy, or customer lifestyle can be beneficial to a business.
Examples of threats include economic downturns, market shifts, and the ease of new competitors emerging. If there is a low cost to entry, new businesses can increase the availability of an existing product or service.
“You can’t prevent risk, just mitigate it,” Harker said. “You accept the fact that threats and risk are always going to exist, but the only thing you can do is plan for it.”
Sometimes strengths can turn to threats. For example, some businesses start with just enough insurance to get them off the ground, but as they grow they might have the same policy as a $10 million business as they did when they were a $1 million business.
If anything tragic happened, insufficient coverage could potentially shut them down. Harker said following Hurricane Sandy many businesses realized they were underinsured, but only after it was too late.
“How often as a business owner have you reviewed your insurance policy?” Harker asked. “It may not have to be the storm of the century, but fires and other unexpected events could put the future in jeopardy.”
A thorough SWOT Analysis can take considerable time to construct, but the more thorough it is the better a business will be at gaining an edge.
For businesses looking for resources to help them grow, TD Bank offers free online options at tdbank.com/smallbusiness.
“So few things in life are free, but this is one of the good things,” Harker said.