Two words that can strike dread into any retailer's heart - "Coming Soon". When you drive by that empty storefront or construction site and see a competitor is coming to town it can fill you with dread. Retail (and in the words of Pat Benetar, also Love) is a battlefield. But you have a leg up......this is your turf and you can be prepared for the eventual battle and win the war.
First Rule of Battle - Time for Radical Honesty
This is a great opportunity to take a hard look at your business and identify any opportunities. Don't sugarcoat things. How is your customer base? Employees? Infrastructure? Branding? Merchandise assortment and pricing? If you don't take action now, these will be the first things your competitor will capitalize on.
Second Rule of Battle - Keep Your Friends Close & Your Enemies Closer
You need to learn as much as you can about your soon-to-be neighbor. Sign up for their mailing list, follow them on social media, check out their store. You need to be prepared for what is to come.
Third Rule of Battle - Think Ahead With Your Digital Strategy
In the month leading up to your competitors opening through the first three months, plan to up your digital game. Make sure all public information on major search engines in accurate. Invest in paid search and targeted Facebook ads. Take your social engagement up a notch. Ensure that all reviews on third party sites are responded to in a respectful way (especially if they are negative reviews!). Start up (or pump up) that email program. Maximize any customer list you have......your competitor is most likely starting from zero.
Fourth Rule of Battle - Find strategic community partners
Enter into relevant community partnerships and negotiate category exclusivity as a non-negotiable element. Great examples are local schools, sports leagues, networking organizations and the Chamber of Commerce. Then share these great partnerships with your customers, either through you social networks or in store communication
Fifth Rule of Battle - Shower Your Top Customers with Love & Appreciation
What defines a top customer to you? My suggestion is to come up with a metric for a selective group of 100 or less customers - either most visits, highest spend, or tenure. Then shower them with love. It can be as simple as a hand written note with an exclusive discount coupon or a special private event. Remind them about how awesome you are before they get woo'd by the new kid in town.
Sixth Rule of Battle - Don't Go Toe-to-Toe on Their Grand Opening Day.
This may seem counterintuitive and people might disagree, but don't try to have a competing event on their grand opening day. You most likely won't out spend them and it won't be a good use of marketing dollars. You will want to stop by their event and even introduce yourself. Chances are, they've done the same undercover benchmarking as you and know who you are. If you have a solid plan starting a month before and continuing for 3 months after, you can afford to lose this battle and still win the war.