Friend Copied Me By Opening A Competing Business!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about copy of business: I still love what I do and have sincerely tried to focus on that alone. But, I continue to obsess about the situation.

My best friend of many years, now former best friend, has gone into retail business selling identical merchandise as mine. As friends do so often, I shared the growing pains of the business and over the years she saw eventually saw me prosper. My husband who is a good judge of character never quite warmed up to her and felt she was using me due to a series of incidents over the years. He gave her the nickname “Two Faced Tamara”.

Next thing I knew, she was in business as my direct competition! Evidently she had studied my business and emulated it as best she could. Many of my customers have even commented. They are baffled by her start-up that is so like mine. NOW, she is carrying many of the same brands I carry. After I got over the initial shock of betrayal and disbelief, I tried to console myself, since it happens to all businesses.

It is my problem and I have to somehow move forward and get over it or treat it as a challenge.  However, I still carry so much resentment that it has manifested into physical fatigue, etc. I still love what I do and have sincerely tried to focus on that alone. But, I continue to obsess about the situation, such as wondering if she is sending spies into my shop to copy me. How can I overcome this situation?

Signed, Not flattered

Dear Not flattered:

Your question is not about workplace communication, but it does involve the fears and frustrations of dealing with others, feeling betrayed and working to overcome what seems like a professional set-back. I hope I can share some thoughts that you will find helpful.It sounds as though there are two aspects of the situation that bother you, and they are both very understandable: Your are worrying about the effects of the competing business on your own business and you are hurt over how a friend seemed to use and abuse your friendship. You don’t say if your friend gave you any warning at all about what she intended. Nor do you say if you talked to her about it or questioned why she was seeming to copy your shop. I suppose that is a moot point now, but it might have provided you with some answers or brought you some peace about it.Whatever her motivation or thought processes about it, she obviously thinks there is a market for the kind of products you sell and thinks she can market them in a way that will attract enough business to make a profit. If she had to get a loan to start, someone else must have also thought she had a viable chance.However, as you know all too well, there is a big difference between owning a business and making a profit. She may not be as successful as she hopes and you may soon not have any competition.However, until then, the people who are interested in the items the two of you sell will certainly be making comparisons! They will be deciding which store should get their business for the things you both sell. They’ll decide which store is the most fun or the most attractive and especially which one seems to offer the most value.

Usually customers win when businesses compete, but the stores win as well, because satisfied customers tell others.You may find it helpful to put your obsessive energy into such things as comparing your two businesses from the perspective of customers and using that information in your marketing or merchandising.You’re concerned that your competitor might have a spy coming in your store. She probably does! But, there are other ways for her to gain competitive intelligence. For example, a steady customer of yours might converse innocently with her about your store and she could use the information. She probably reviews your ads, your website if you have one, your social media comments, if you use that in your marketing, and anything else that will help her compete.

Consider sending someone out yourself. Have someone purchase something at her business then report back to you about the elements of the business that are important to you to know about and important to them as a customer. That’s not spying–and it benefits your competitor if even a small purchase is made, so you’re not harming her in any way. Similarly, consider having a third party compare your advertising, website, phone answering, sign visibility and other issues.

As you likely have found out, the efforts made to compete often are things that have been needed to be done anyway. I hate to make such a Polyanna statement as this,but you may one day look back and think this was not such a bad thing after all. You may improve your business AND you will have rid your life of someone who was not good for you.You know that you can’t continue to worry and stew over this. For one thing, if it wasn’t your ex-friend opening up a competing business it might have been someone else.

You have a business to run and businesses rarely are without competition of some kind. At least you know the personal strengths and weaknesses of your competition! Another reason for not feeling so badly about it all the time is that it puts a negative element in your life that you don’t need or want. I think you will probably feel the bad feelings for quite a while and you may never completely stop feeling hurt or angry about what your friend did. But something else will take the place of this issue and if you work at it, that something else will be something very positive.

You have had to have strength to get your business going and to make it successful. Use that strength now to continue your success. If you are a member of an organization that networks or that shares professional anecdotes, make this a story that focuses on the progression you made from shock and worry to acceptance and action leading to victory.Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.