Full Speed Ahead?

Does a crisis for your competitors mean a golden opportunity for you? Be careful: The answer isn't as simple as you think.

It's 7 a.m., and you're driving to your office when the radio news catches your attention. Big trouble has landed in one of your competitors' laps. Maybe its employees have gone on strike or perhaps a managerial bungle has angered throngs of its customers.

"What a pity," you say to yourself with a grin. "I guess that creates an opportunity for me now, doesn't it?" With an espresso shot of adrenaline, you press the clutch, shift into fifth gear and hit the gas--zipping to your office with newfound excitement.

But hold on there, Speed Racer, you first need to heed those "dangerous curves ahead" signs you're blowing by. Conversations with a number of entrepreneurs and business experts suggest you'd better beware: The road blocks that have shut down your competition's lane may not leave the road completely open for you.

"A crisis that strikes your competition could turn out to be fool's gold for you," warns Robert Andoh, director of the University of Georgia Business Outreach Services & Small Business Development Center in Norcross, Georgia. "In the end, it might not have the impact you were hoping for."

Lee Echols, president of The Echols Group, a media and issues management consulting firm in Atlanta, also advises caution. "A crisis situation [at one firm] sometimes presents an opportunity for another company," he says, "but there are a lot of considerations that a competitor should [contemplate] before trying to take advantage of the situation."

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This article was originally published in the April 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Full Speed Ahead?.

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