Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

Know Thy Enemy Gleaning knowledge from your competitors

By Jacquelyn Lynn

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Entrepreneur magazine, December 1999

Do you see your competitors simply as your worst rivals? Did you know they may actually be your best source for ideas?

Part of starting a business includes studying the competition--if they're doing something that's working, look for a way to do the same thing, or better, in your own business.

That's what Amy Ratekin, 30, did when she started Little Elf, an event decor, balloon sculpture and gift basket service in West Des Moines, Iowa, in 1996. She studied not just local businesses that offered similar products and services, but also balloon and gift basket companies in other states. "I wanted to learn from the best," she says. "By discovering what other businesses in the industry do, finding out what works in other parts of the country and even other parts of the world, and using those ideas in my business, I've become very successful."

For example, Ratekin copied inventory management and production techniques from retailers and adapted them to her homebased business. And, after determining that other balloon and basket services arranged their items on shelves with a combined purpose of storage and display in mind, Ratekin solved her inventory storage issue the same way. Her facility uses a shelving system that allows all items to be easily seen and reached, letting her rotate stock efficiently.

Next, she visited two local balloon companies and examined the custom-built workstations they used to assemble their baskets and bouquets, then reproduced the design in her own shop, having her husband complete the construction at a substantially lower cost.

Studying competitors that were faltering also taught her what not to do. "I learned I needed to stay on the cutting edge of the balloon industry," she says. She attends seminars and conventions, reads trade publications, and networks to avoid stagnancy.

And Ratekin's examination of businesses outside her area showed her that local stores had been lax in educating the public. Ratekin realized she could gain an edge simply by showing people the many creative ways they could use her service. "People don't know what's available," she says. "By teaching them, you increase your business."

Contact Sources

Little Elf, (515) 225-3439

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Business Models

How to Become an AI-Centric Business (and Why It's Crucial for Long-Term Success)

Learn the essential steps to integrate AI at the core of your operations and stay competitive in an ever-evolving landscape.

Business News

'Creators Left So Much Money on the Table': Kickstarter's CEO Reveals the Story Behind the Company's Biggest Changes in 15 Years

In an interview with Entrepreneur, Kickstarter CEO Everette Taylor explains the decision-making behind the changes, how he approaches leading Kickstarter, and his advice for future CEOs.


Is Consumer Services a Good Career Path for 2024? Here's the Verdict

Consumer services is a broad field with a variety of benefits and drawbacks. Here's what you should consider before choosing it as a career path.