One of the best parts of my day is when I get to talk to other eCommerce store owners to share stories and compare war wounds. Today I got a call from someone who heard me speak on a panel at a DMA show several years ago and liked my “story.” Back then he had one store, was new to eCommerce but had the passion and vision I like to see in entrepreneurs.
We chatted for a while about how things have changed in the online space over the years and grumbled about how much money we give Google and UPS every month. He told me how successful his stores were and how they were generating several million dollars in sales and shared his excitement in finally paying off his mortgage and buying his wife a Mercedes. He made it a point to tell me he still drives what he called an “old beater.”
When the reciprocal back patting was complete, I asked what prompted his call. He told me that while things were going well for him and his business, a new competitor popped up and is making it very hard for him to compete. All of a sudden I felt as if I was talking to a completely different person. All the excitement he had for his business a few minutes ago was gone. I knew I had some motivating to do.
Now let’s get this straight, I think motivational speakers are nothing more than modern-day snake oil salesmen hawking a paperback instead of a worthless elixir. Posters that tell me to have a great day turn my stomach and phrases that liken life to lemons are an abuse of wordsmithing.
Rather than sound like a Sunday morning preacher, I gave him a dose of the Sanfilippo he expected to talk to when he dialed me up. I went on a rant about how it isn’t easy to compete online today and how fierce the competition is, but you don’t back down or make drastic changes to your business out of fear. I reminded him of why he got into eCommerce to begin with and how passionate he was just a few minutes ago.
Nothing he was down in the mouth about is unique to him or any other eCommerce store owner. These are the challenges we face every single day as we go about running our businesses. Competition only makes us stronger and keeps us on our toes. I find it challenging to have a new competitor show up knowing that one of us is going to win, and it’s gonna be me.
I love to tell the story of how I went head to head with pets.com in the late 90’s. Here is this newcomer to the pet industry buying ads on the Super Bowl, shipping all orders for free regardless or value or weight, and selling product below cost in order to build their base. I thought the end was near a couple of times, but set my sights on making sure I was the winner.
I battled their insane pricing and promotions for several years. I had an insider tell me that our catalogs were shown at a marketing meeting and we were as much as a target to them as they were to me. I never backed down, never lowered pricing, and just sat back. Then it happened.
I was just coming back from lunch on November 6, 2000 when my phone rang. It was that insider who told me that all the ads, all the promotions, all the sales just couldn’t do it for pets.com and they closed up shop. When I hung up, I called Julie Wainwright the CEO and wished her well and asked if I could buy their inventory. Eventually I emptied their Indiana warehouse of all ferret and small animal products at pennies-on-the-dollar and had it trucked in to our warehouse in Pennsylvania.
By the time our call ended, I felt that I rekindled the spark in a successful entrepreneur who just needed a good, swift kick in the ass to get him back on the right track. He mind started racing again. The ideas were flowing off his tongue and he was on his way to being on top of his game again. He thanked me for my time and for being the only person he spoke to who was frank, honest and didn’t care about dropping the f-bomb during conversation. I told him to call me back and let me know how things were going – and not to wait another couple of years to pick up the phone.