Compete or Collaborate

The 1980s brought us The Goonies, Purple Rain, Duck Hunt, and Kelly Bundy. It truly was the best of times. Unless you were a short-sighted executive for a global soft drink company, then apparently all that Aqua Net and late-night Club MTV viewing really wigged out your brain! 

For decades, Coca-Cola was the biggest brand on the market; even Santa Claus drank it. Pepsi struggled to keep up until they introduced the Pepsi Challenge—a blind taste test in their commercials that revealed more people preferred the taste of Pepsi when branding was taken out of the equation. Coca-Cola panicked, quickly changing their iconic formula and launching New Coke in 1985. Complete 80s anarchy took over, and for several years, the masses revolted until Coke admitted their mistake and brought back the original. 

Today, both companies’ iconic drinks are massively declining in sales as a result of them having spent all their time and resources battling each other instead of innovating their product line as consumers became more health conscious and new competitors hit the market. Both companies engaged in Gordon Gekko management: “Greed … is good.” Until it’s not. 

I prefer the advice from tennis great Rod Laver who said, “The time your game is most vulnerable is when you are ahead. Never let up.” Those of us who are Cleveland Browns fans remember a time in the 1980s when Laver’s words rang true. Cleveland was winning late in the fourth quarter when they engaged in prevent defense, allowing John Elway and the Denver Broncos to complete The Drive and win the AFC Championship. But never giving up—regardless of whether you’re ahead or behind—is not advice that applies only to sports. It also applies to business.

There are many ways successful restoration companies can learn and become even better. But one way that often gets overlooked is engaging in and learning by healthy competition. Your competitors, at least the successful ones, can be a great source of information and an opportunity for growth through partnership.

Most successful businesspeople love competition. I do too. As a child in sports or a young professional starting out, we are taught to do our best in hopes of winning. Healthy competition encourages people to work harder. Think Bird versus Magic or Watson versus Nicklaus. Unhealthy competition encourages self-destruction. Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan and Mike Tyson versus sanity come to mind. The difference is that Bird, Magic, Watson, and Nicklaus each studied their opponent so they could create the best version of themselves while Tonya became jealous and Tyson unfocused.

Many hold a steadfast belief that customers should buy from us because we outperform everyone else in customer service. After all, one time an adjuster told us a horror story about the company he worked with down the street, so they must be terrible! We all have had bad jobs and things we could have done better, just as we all have shiny examples of award-worthy excellence. In these days of online reviews, every company must strive for exemplary customer service if they want to play in the restoration sandbox. The truth is, both you and your meaningful competitors offer great service, so where is the real differentiator? Every day spent focused solely on beating your competitors instead of learning from them is a day lost.

What should you know about your competitors? Here’s a good place to start:


  • How and what they market.
  • How they enhance customer loyalty.
  • What customers perceive as their greatest strengths and weaknesses.
  • How they are innovating.
  • Who they market to and what their differentiators are.
  • How you can collaborate with them.

This last one is big. A strong competitor can also be a valuable partner. The obvious example is if you are a smaller company and can find a larger one to partner with on jobs where you need help, you instantly increase your manpower and operational capacity. If you are a medium-sized company, you can partner with a similar- or smaller-sized competitor to gain the resources needed to challenge the national brands. 

Katie Smith, owner and CEO of PHC Restoration in Lillington, North Carolina, says, “It’s collaboration, not competition, that makes all of us stronger when we learn from each other. It also improves the customer’s experience and elevates the industry.” She goes on to say, “We can’t be everything to everybody. The key is to have those relationships in place before the need arises. At PHC, we let others tour our facility, help them with things like improving job costing, or meet them on site to guide them through their large loss—whatever they need. There’s a genuine happiness I feel when I see my friends doing big things and when we get to work together to serve a client, that’s even better!.”

Every day a new competitor is opening in your market, and they usually start out small. The barrier of entry into the restoration industry is very low—a truck and the ability to rent from Home Depot is pretty much all that’s needed. (About the only job with a barrier to entry that’s lower is consulting, where all you need is a stack of business cards and an extremely healthy ego.) Realize that new companies are not your competition. They can’t handle the size or complexity of jobs you can. But they can still be a resource and, in a few years, a partner if you build the relationship now. 

Jaclyn Carpenter, owner and CEO of Ideal, Inc. in San Francisco, recalls a lunch she had years ago with a more-experienced competitor. He mentioned having been completely focused for years on a much larger, mutual competitor. He became fully engrossed in being upset by the competitor’s success—so much so that it took his time and focus away from learning and implementing what his competitor was so successful at in his business. He finally realized how much his misplaced focus had limited his company’s growth. Hearing this forged Jaclyn’s mindset to stay focused solely on her own business, keeping proverbial blinders on. Today she partners with similar- or smaller-sized companies, ensuring it’s a win-win for everyone. “We need help for big projects, so we hire local restoration companies to work on our projects for us or with us. They learn and gain hands-on experience with complex projects, and they use their own equipment while we are able to still meet our clients’ needs. It’s about building win-win, long-term partnerships, so the relationship and equity of the favor is more important than the nickel or dime.” Before entering into a partnership, she does have a firm and honest conversation with the other company. “We have a strict rule: no poaching employees or clients. I tell them up front not to violate that trust.”

You know who your good competitors are, the ones you should be partnering with and learning from. Your kids probably go to the same school or play Little League together. They are not bad people trying to steal your secrets. They are just trying to make a living and serve their community, the same as you. 

Building partnerships with a competitor allows for healthy competition, as you certainly don’t want to be the weak link. Healthy competition encourages everyone to work harder, innovate services, and eliminate complacency. It also makes you more self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.

Jeff Jones

Jeff JonesJeff Jones is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Jeff has a wide range of experience in professional sales and marketing involving all levels of decision makers. Through VMA, Jeff works with companies to find the right mix of programs and services to help them develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit or call (800) 360-3513.

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