Pelland Blog

If You’re David, Don’t Be Afraid of Goliath

September 11th, 2008

I was recently part of a discussion in LinkedIn’s Guerrilla Marketing Tips for Small Businesses group to which I belong. The question involved how to compete in a David vs Goliath scenario where a large national chain opens a location in your local service area. In this instance, the discussion was started by the owner of a small computer repair company (let’s call it “HKR Computer Repair”) who had a big computer repair franchise (let’s call them “Nerds R Us”) open in his backyard. He expected to prevail in the long run but was afraid of the short-term impact upon his business. He wanted to know how to compensate for such a large presence and not lose cash flow. The following was my response:

You are likely to experience some short-term loss as a result of the money that they will spend to launch their new location. In the long run, nothing is easier than competing against Goliaths. You’ve already identified some of the weaknesses in the instance of “Nerds R Us”. In general, you should have a major competitive advantage against a big outfit with high overhead and a “one size fits all” business concept. You know your market. Do your customers want to communicate directly with the knowledgeable owner of a business or some kid who’s just finished 48 hours of training the week after he quit his job at Starbucks?

The vast majority of my company’s clients are successfully competing against the Wal-Marts of their industries. Sometimes it requires the redefinition of a business in order to better capitalize upon the Goliath’s weaknesses or market segments where the Goliath cannot possible compete. Although not one of my clients, I like to relate the success story of a family hardware store that has found its niche while most similar businesses simply roll over and die as soon as a Home Depot or Lowes rolls into town. South Fork Hardware has been in business in South Fork, Pennsylvania for 60 years, and they have transformed themselves into the tire chain specialists of North America. Home Depot or Wal-Mart can’t afford to sell tire chains. They couldn’t possibly maintain the inventory of all of the necessary variations and sizes in their thousands of retail locations. South Fork Hardware, on the other hand, through one centralized location, can supply any set of tire chains imaginable and ship the same day. Admittedly, there is not an enormous market for tire chains these days; however, when you own the market, the lion’s share of a specialized market can be extremely profitable. Do a Google search for “tire chains”, and you will see that (South Fork Hardware’s URL and new business persona) comes up at #1. Alternately, do a “type-in” of or , and you will see how they have come to “own” their market.

As a side note, I have purchased three sets of tire chains from South Fork Hardware over the last 10 years. Do you see how I am unintentionally promoting their business? Your customers will do the same. Particularly when people are dissatisfied with a product or service, they spread the word. It should be easy for you to weather what is certain to be a fast-moving storm. Your business should continue to thrive long after Nerds R Us has moved out of town (perhaps because they couldn’t face your competition).

Did you ever think that maybe they hadn’t performed the proper market research before opening their new location? They could be in for a big surprise when they discover that they have to try to compete against a well-established competitor, HKR Computer Repair!

This post was written by Peter Pelland