Nick Friedman is President and Co-Founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk & College Hunks Moving, the largest and fastest growing U.S.-based junk removal and moving franchise opportunity. He started the business in college with his best friend in a beat up cargo van, and now has over 50 franchises and 500 employees nationwide.
The goal of any competitive entrepreneur is to be seen as an industry leader and own the lion's share of their market. The real challenge for many businesses is that there is often an 800-pound gorilla that is already several steps ahead of you.
In 2005, my best friend and I quit our corporate jobs to start a junk removal company called "College Hunks Hauling Junk." Our vision was to become a national brand with franchises in every city. Our challenge? There was already a company based out of Canada with over 200 franchises in the industry.
But over the past 10 years we've thrived anyway. We survived an economic downturn and have successfully closed the market share gap with our Canadian counterparts, despite being about a fourth of the size.
As a result, I've learned a lot about what it takes to successfully gain brand awareness and market share in an industry that already has a large player, much of which can be boiled down to three key focus areas that I observed from successful second-to-market brands in other large industries.
1. Try Harder
"We Try Harder" was actually the iconic slogan of the second-largest rental car company Avis for 50 years. The slogan was meant to elevate the brand's status while taking on the industry leader, Hertz. By embracing this tagline and creating a culture of working harder for the customers, Avis was able to gain significant marketshare and brand awareness, and is now viewed as an industry leader alongside Hertz.
Entrepreneurial companies often have to scratch and claw their way to success in any industry, and this especially holds true when you are not the industry leader. There is already brand awareness for the big player, they already have a loyal client base and they have a much larger marketing budget to work with.
But by painting a challenging but exciting picture of what you're facing as far as competition, you'll be able to attract hardworking and dedicated employees which will in turn foster client loyalty and ultimately help catapult your business towards the top. In our case, we have successfully tapped into our employees' patriotism with the fact that our largest U.S. competitor is actually headquartered in Canada. This helps motivate and inspire our team to close the gap in the interest of helping our country's overall economy.
2. Don't Play Follow the Leader
In the popular Disney movie "Cool Runnings," the underdog Jamaican bobsledders initially try their best to be just like the reigning champion team. However, they quickly realize that trying to be something they're not was preventing them from reaching their full potential.
As a second-to-market business, there is a natural tendency to look up to the bigger competitors and try to be just like them. But you cannot have longevity as a major player in the industry if you are simply a copycat company. While it's important to know what the competition does and how they do it, you should still look to inject your own creativity and innovation into the industry. Your unique innovation doesn't need to be a major seismic shift, either. For example, Burger King sought to differentiate from McDonalds by offering flame-broiled burgers, while Wendy's sought to differentiate themselves by offering square patties.
We differentiated our brand by offering clients a different type of employee, i.e. "College HUNKS" which stands for "Honest, Uniformed, Nice, Knowledgeable, Service." We also decided to offer clients a more diverse menu of services by providing moving in addition to junk hauling.
3. Make Friends With Your Competition
Even coaches and players in the fiercest of sports rivalries will shake hands before and after the game. Reminding ourselves that it's not that serious and that we only live once is a key lesson to remember in business, especially when you are second to market.
If you view your competition as industry colleagues rather than antagonists, you may be able to learn from them and eventually grow unencumbered. While Pepsi may have taken on Coke by dedicating marketing dollars, chances are your budget is a little tighter, so it is important to play nice and remain on good terms with the champion you hope to one day dethrone. Who knows--someday, you might be able to buy out the competition, or yourself become an acquisition target. The likelihood of a merger is much more realistic if the two parties are on positive terms.
Overall, remember that no matter how big your industry or how big you want your business to become, there is almost always room for multiple players. Even if you are the second-to-market company chasing down number one, it won't be long before number three, four and five are hot on your tail as well. The key is to continually outwork and out-innovate the competition, and maintain positive relationships in your industry to keep all doors open in the future.