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The Importance of Learning from the Competition

Uncovering why you want to start a business or what kind of business you want to start can be as easy as finding something you enjoy and not wanting that to end.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.

Urban Kayaks

Uncovering what kind of business you want to start can be as easy as finding something you enjoy and not wanting that to end. That, of course, is where the "easy" part ends, but it's the story of how James Morro started Urban Kayaks in Chicago. It's his and his partner Aaron's dedication to operations, communication, and creating the best experience possible that has allowed them to thrive in a very competitive marketplace.

In 2011, Urban Kayaks opened, and that first day, they sold over 8,000 kayak rides. For those of you not familiar with Chicago, the city is built around a river, and in recent years, the Chicago Riverwalk itself has been developed to add a walking path as well as restaurants, shops, and activities—kayaking being one of the most popular. 10 years ago, when they were initially analyzing the competitive landscape, James and Aaron knew they would have to elevate the experience to stand out from their competitors.

If you're in the experience business and looking to enter an already crowded market—especially one that is primed to become even more crowded—it's important to identify the unique elements that you'll bring to the table, the ones that will improve upon the experience that already exists.

A big part of that for James' team is the customer service from start to finish. It's their job to make sure people have a great time, and they take it very seriously. "It's not just the tour guide who delivers the tour who is responsible for whether or not someone has a good time. The process starts with the person who answered the first email or phone call. It's also about the person who helped them put their life jacket on, the person who told them where the restrooms were."

Michelle S., this week's Yelp reviewer, shares her experience and notes not only how fun it was but how responsive and helpful James and his team were. We've said it before, and we'll say it again, reliable communication will always set you up for success.

When Urban Kayaks first opened, it wasn't necessarily easy for guests to find the meeting location (and it wasn't yet on Google Maps). Because of this, they had to be sure that they never missed a phone call so they could help direct their guests to the starting location. That mindset has never eased up, and they make it a priority to always answer phones and emails to ensure the experience on the consumer end is as seamless and enjoyable as possible.

Here are some other top takeaways from the episode:

  • It's not just about your own reviews—check out reviews of the competition too. While James and his partner take their reviews very seriously, something they did early on was check out the negative reviews of their competitors so they could learn what not to do. It's a great way to improve your business and see what consumers are looking for in their experience.

  • Good training leads to efficiency and growth. When you start a business from the ground up, it's likely that you've worn many hats and done many of the jobs that make your business run. Use that knowledge to train future employees. You've been in their shoes and you know how the job should be done (and maybe how it could be done even better than you did it yourself). By spending energy and time on training, you'll help your business grow much more efficiently.

  • Have a good time. Especially if you're in an experience business, you know that people are coming to you when they want to have a good time. It's your job to make sure they get the experience they want and if you're having fun, you're much more likely to help them have fun as well. As James puts it, "Your job is what these folks are paying to do for fun. If we're not having a good time, if we're not out there smiling, friendly, enjoying what we're doing, we're doing the wrong thing."

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from James and Michelle, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

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