Published on: April 20, 2010by Michael Sansolo
There are few words that should be more dreaded in business than complacency. For too many of us complacency makes us believe the status quo is the way things are going to be for a long time. Anytime you think you have the status quo figured out, the odds are the status quo is about to change. The only question is when.
For that reason, this is a story of two stores and a sudden competitive war that has broken out in my neighborhood. But it’s really a larger story of complacency.
Although I live in a heavily populated suburb, we had the oddity of only one supermarket in a radius of three to five miles--trips that can take 15-20 minutes given our traffic patterns. So our lone store, a relatively undistinguished Giant, had a virtual monopoly. Sadly, it showed.
The store was limited in size by the shopping center around it, but also seemed limited in creativity by the lack of competition. It wasn’t a terrible store—far from it in fact. But it also did nothing special. Store conditions, lighting, in-stock rates, quality of perishables…virtually everything about the store seemed perfectly average.
Then the status quo changed.
About two miles from my home a wooded hillside suddenly sprouted development. Townhouses, high-rises and offices sprung up and a small parcel was designated for retail. Suddenly Harris Teeter began building.
It was little surprise when Giant responded to the construction with a renovation of the long-neglected store. Colors and lighting were drastically improved. Self-scanning was added, which seemed to have special appeal to the high-tech types in my community. Produce, meat and seafood quality seemed to improve.
Two weeks ago, Harris Teeter opened and the world changed. The Harris Teeter parking lot was packed to capacity throughout the opening week. Valuable coupons arrived in the mail from both companies as the battle was joined. No doubt, we’re in for quite a period of retail wooing and there’s no telling who will win.
But in truth, the battle is already over and the status quo lost. A neighbor (knowing my interest in the food industry) breathlessly reported that on the day before Harris Teeter opened, the Giant was dolled up like never before. Samples were plentiful, balloons were distributed to small children and the presence of “suits” was palpable. My neighbor, a life-long resident of the area, couldn’t resist. She walked up to one of the suits and uttered the worst four words a customer can say: “Too little, too late.”
One day later she pronounced herself a loyal Harris Teeter customer.
It’s a terrible reminder that complacency is frequently the biggest competitor we all face. It’s complacency that let’s us cling to the status quo and fools us into thinking that the way things are is the way they will always be. It’s complacency that allows us to keep doing things the same way because no one is pushing us to be better. The business world is littered with the remains of once dominant companies who forgot to lead relentlessly when they had the chance.
Years ago, then-Supervalu Chairman Jeff Noddle gave a speech about the virtue of paranoia. A good businessperson, he said, never rests easy. Rather he or she always worries about the competitor yet to come. In the case of retailers that means over serving their markets, making any potential entrant think twice about even entering. The virtue of paranoia is something too many of us forget.
And it is something everyone should remember.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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