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We're (Not) #1

Why playing second fiddle to an industry leader may be music to your ears

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This story appears in the January 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In a nation where only gold medal winners are revered and nobody remembers the teams that didn't win the World Series or the , it's heretical to proclaim a desire to come in second or third. When legendary football coach Vince Lombardi proclaimed, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing," he echoed a people groomed to believe "second place" is another term for "loser." But is that smart ?

Some entrepreneurs answer with an emphatic no. "Our core strategy is to be No. 2. We see it as a real competitive advantage, and we'll never sacrifice profitability just to get market share," proclaims Tom McDonnell, CEO and president of Jackson, Mississippi-based U-Save Auto Rental of America Inc., the country's No. 2 off-airport, neighborhood car-rental business. McDonnell, 37, readily concedes that his company, with about 25,000 cars and 500 locations nationwide, comes in well behind sector leader Enterprise Rent-A-Car: "They have 60 percent of the market; we're aiming to have 25 percent," he says. But, he stresses, "for us, being No. 2 is all positive. We absolutely believe it's a key strength."

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