As a fervent football fan—born, raised, and living in Boston—I have been spoiled by the unprecedented success of my beloved New England Patriots. In pursuit of our f fth championship and eighth Super Bowl appearance this millennium, I recently wondered, “Excluding the six states that comprise New England, why do football fans from the rest of the country enthusiastically root for the demise of my team?”
A local sports columnist recently nailed the answer: “Because nobody roots for Goliath.”
Bingo. David vs. Goliath…the biblical story recounting how a young, physically inferior shepherd rose from obscurity to defeat a mighty warrior.
I follow with a similar question, one I am regularly asked in my line of work: “How does my business (David) compete against the Paneras (Goliaths) of the world?”
For starters, unlike David, it is not necessary (or realistic) to slay the catering Goliaths in your marketplace. There is room for you both.
Should you keep an eye on your competition? Sure, but only to a point. Your primary goal is to build the best business you possibly can, rather than replicate what others are doing. If you see Panera Bread trucks delivering catering in your area, it’s a good sign. It means there’s business out there waiting to be captured. Three decades of experience have taught me that the road to success is straighter if you focus on what you do, and do it phenomenally.
It can’t be catering
Panera’s 2014 Report to Stockholders stated that its 1,880 locations grossed $2.13 billion, and catering sales f gures revealed double-digit growth for the last two years.
QSR magazine estimates that the big six of Chipotle, Panera, Noodles, Qdoba, Potbelly, and Panda Express combine for an estimated $13.2 billion annually in catering sales. Catering is in italics to illustrate a point. It wasn’t until 2013 that Chipotle (with revenue almost twice that of Panera’s) decided it was time to enter the catering market. After a substantial investment to launch the new division, it appears they stumbled—badly—out of the gate. Apparently someone forgot to check the def nition of catering, because what it currently offers is a pick up service.
Today, its website’s Catering FAQ page sheepishly states:
“We don’t offer delivery right now, but we’ve gotten the message loud and clear, and this is something we’re looking into for catering orders.” Oh, and all orders are COD. (Actually, CO P-U). Again, from their website:
- Q) “Can I set up a House Account, PO Number, or be invoiced for catering orders?”
- A) “Not yet. We’re working on getting a system in place though, stay tuned.” The lesson? Bigger does NOT automatically mean better. Goliath is far from perfect.
Leverage your independence
Let’s start by dispelling the myth that it is safer to do business with large chains because they have systems that ensure a better customer experience. In fact, to boost their bottom line, the Goliaths of the world will sometimes make impactful compromises in both their products and services. A board of directors, people who may have no clue as to what being on the front lines is all about, decide that their spreadsheets need to improve.
“Easy,” they conclude. “We’ll cut back our portion sizes a bit and trim the number of drivers making catering deliveries.”
These decisions may be pennywise but are often pound foolish. Entire customer bases may suffer the consequences. Over time, these consumers begin to look elsewhere.
As an independent operator, one of your definitive competitive advantages is the ability to feel and react to your own pulse. Because you are not constrained by the rigidity of large corporate environments, you can be more in tune with your customers’ needs. This lets you quickly address issues and fx problems. Inevitably, the value of individual clients will be greater for David than for Goliath. This cumulative impact, over time, can be substantial.
Root for the home team
The independent businesses in your area are rooting for you to succeed, as they refect well on the whole community. Consider this: You decide to landscape your front yard. Soon after, your nextdoor neighbor does the same, followed by the house across the street. Over time, the whole block follows suit. Eventually, the entire neighborhood is more attractive, demand increases, and the value of all homes spikes. A strong independent business community won’t drive Goliath away. In fact, it may attract their swagger to the area. Embrace this, because if daily foot traffc increases, your location becomes more desirable and valuable. Time magazine reports, “When consumers buy from local businesses, twice as much money stays in the community, which means those purchases are twice as effcient in terms of keeping the local economy alive.” Furthermore, an increasing number of businesses are embracing the buy local mantra, because “there is a profound economic impact on how those dollars affect the communities around the nation and the world.” That is powerful information. Remind your customers that you are a local business.
Missed menu opportunities
Panera describes its product line for catering as, “Baked goods, salads, sandwiches, soups, beverages.” This is actually a somewhat limited menu. It doesn’t offer hot entrées or hors d’oeuvres—both signifcant product lines for corporate catering. Chipotle offers fajitas and burritos for pick-up/catering. This is a very limited menu. They don’t offer breakfast, sandwiches, or a hot entrée variety.
Find a niche within your niche
Goliaths often spend their advertising dollars on mass markets, thereby paying less attention to the smaller niches. By using targeted marketing as a strategy, you can fll the needs of specifc industries that desire more menu variety and diversity, including dietary-specifc and allergy-sensitive items.
Connect with your clients
Ask questions. Why do they order catering from one of the chains? Suppose they respond, “I know they’ll always be here on time.” Try this dialogue:
“It sounds like on-time delivery is your number one priority?”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
“Great. How would you rate their food?”
“If a caterer was able to provide ontime delivery and food that you would rate as better than ‘fne,’ perhaps ‘really good’ or ‘great,’ would you consider ordering from them?”
“Perfect. We are that option.”
Bring your unique value to the marketplace
We tend to underestimate our value as independent operators. When you’re making a business transaction, who would you rather deal with—the owner or manager of a local establishment (David); or a disconnected, massive call center (Goliath)?
Your inclination may be, “We need to emulate their slick and shiny packaging or their bestselling menu item.” But you don’t. You don’t need to expend energy and resources in an attempt to mimic your competitor’s business model. Instead, focus on what you do better and what makes you unique. There’s a reason that customers and clients order from you every day. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t be in business. Embrace who you are and the brand you have created. David will be proud. P.S. Go Patriots!