You Are Wrong About Your Competitors

They aren’t who you think they are.

People often ask about our competition, and specifically about individual stores. I’ve never thought about individual stores as our competition, even though we often have some crossover that is less than beneficial in immediate terms and occasionally compete for brands. Our competition is other neighborhoods or shopping centers. Individual stores appealing to the same audience are only serving to increase the magnetism of the neighborhoods where our’s reside.

In fact, when our numbers are down the most encouraging news I can get is that stores I share customers or similar brands with are seeing the opposite. If something is prohibiting traffic and everyone is doing poorly, then there is always something one can do to hustle business but it’s at least less about the individual performance. However, if those other businesses are seeing normal or even increased numbers then I can narrow down the problem to something within my four walls. The conclusion that if other people are making this situation work then I can too is pretty empowering.

I’m thinking about this in particular today because I am booking a trip to New York I am frustrated about. You see, for the past 13 years, we’ve made a bi-annual trip to Las Vegas for the fashion industry’s biggest trade show, Magic. While it’s referred to as Magic, there are actually a large number of shows happening concurrently, not all organized by the same company. While some of these no longer happen in Vegas we have typically shopped at: Magic, Project, Pool, Capsule, Liberty and ENK. But there is also Off Price, Accessories, MRKT, Agenda, some golf show, a lingerie show, Magic is actually several shows in and of itself, Platform and I am sure others I am missing.

I love New York and I hate Vegas, so why I am frustrated? We occasionally do the show in New York and Chicago as well but absolutely nothing compares to the efficiency of shopping Vegas. For the duration of our existence almost every brand from the entire spectrum of the industry was there. If planned well, in three (albeit grueling) days we could do about 90% of our seasonal buys. On years we can’t travel to other shows, if we have to we can basically knock out the year in two trips. Neither the New York or Chicago shows do men’s and women’s at the same time so that, at a minimum, doubles our travel needs. For New York in particular almost no one actually does the shows. Instead they opt for what they call the “better experience” of just going to their showroom. Which means we now have to see a few brands at a venue, and then Uber all over the city from showroom to showroom. In Vegas I can easily write 10-15 brands in a day vs. maybe 5 in New York.

Why is this relevant to my example of my own neighborhood? If you aren’t in this industry Magic is basically the most mass market of the shows, followed by Project that is pretty mass market but has some niche brands with little sub-shows to cater to those. Liberty and Capsule were the more boutique focused shows that we would do the bulk of our buy at and everything is is peppered somewhere within that spectrum. Liberty and Capsule are not owned by the people who organize the main shows and that is where things get interesting.

UBM fashion that owns the main shows has been making it increasingly difficult for shows they do not own to exist or access the crowd that in their eyes is in Vegas for them. From making it difficult to travel between venues, to date changes to banning people from their shows if it’s discovered that they have a booth at one of the others, the message is clear that they do not want the other, and objectively cooler and more relevant, shows to be there. Unfortunately they have dramatically misunderstood the symbiotic relationship they shared.

So far I’ve gotten three emails from reps who last minute pulled out of Vegas. The entire Capsule show stopped being there. Liberty was forced downtown away from the other venues last time and the traffic suffered immensely. So as the overlap that was only there for the main shows stopped making it’s way over, and more of the cool kid shops that, despite it’s efficiency are too proud to shop in Vegas when instagramming themselves in New York is an option, stopped coming, the margins for the smaller shows stopped making sense for them and their vendors.

Any of us that have enjoyed mentor relationships understand that, if they are good, the benefits extend in both directions. The older and more established half is able to give wisdom, support and direction and the younger half is often able to provide relevance often reinvigorating the older half and in extreme cases showing them their importance for staying in the game a little longer. UBM is like a would be mentor that could have stayed relevant, enjoying the natural progression of small show independent brands to mass market.

They could have nurtured those relationships and acknowledged that, while they aren’t paying for their booths today, once they get that Nordstrom or Saks account at one of the small shows, some of them will move over to try and scale at the bigger shows. Instead they are actively cutting off their own pipeline. My prediction is that they will actually see a few banner years. I don’t think it’s going to take too many more brands pulling out to kill the cool shows altogether. They are consolidating all of the UBM shows into the convention center which will be a huge cost savings. Some not insignificant number of the cool show brands will likely move over for a short time as the travel habits of buyers shift more to New York. And then with no natural incubator in which to nurture new and relevant brands, it will lose relevancy all together.

Some other version of Capsule and Liberty (should I be correct and it leaves Vegas) will undoubtably open in their absence. My advice to UBM would be to take stock of the situation and try and see the mutual benefit there or better yet extend a hand to Liberty and actively work to get Capsule back.

Consider what is best for your customers when it comes to the way you interact with your competition. Ultimately your customers are going to do what is best for them, so what is best for them is best for you. It’s much better for you if they are buying 60% of your products or services from you and 40% from your neighbor than 0% from you and 100% from someone the town over that made things more convenient for them. How could helping who you perceive as your competition help your customers and you in return? Is your ego keeping you from making choices that would ultimately benefit you and your business because you don’t want to help someone you are competing with? Would you not rather your business grow by 50% even if that means your neighbors business grows by 60%?

Today, try and analyze your business and think about how you might move others from the competitor to the symbiotic column. Think about how forming alliances with those businesses could help you both flourish and kill off your real competition, your ego.

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