How To Utilize Your Competition To Achieve Success

One of the most important factors in the long-term success of any business is continuous research and assessment of the competition.

The best companies in the world remain at the top of their game by keeping a close on eye on competitors. As a small business owner, you must be willing to learn from the competition and use your findings to help gain advantage in the industry,

A competitive analysis does more than help you understand your competition. It can provide you the necessary intelligence to inform strategic decision making, illuminate your own strengths and weaknesses, reveal opportunities where you can gain competitive advantage, and enable your team to better understand your industry in order to effectively achieve your objectives.

But in order to conduct a proper analysis, it is critical that you fully understand the process, as described in the following five simple steps:

Identify true competitors

Interestingly enough, the first step is the one where so many companies fall short—identifying the right competition; you could waste a lot of time and money trying to beat a business that isn’t a good comparison to yours, so.

Your true competitors are your direct competition—those who offer a similar product or service that could pass as a substitute for yours, and operate in your same geographic area. Consumers have to choose between your company and theirs when it comes time to make a purchase.

Research top competitors

Competitive research involves identifying key information about your direct competitors that may help them gain market share.

The key is to identify internal details such as the company’s product and service characteristics, who is buying their products, how they are reaching them, and what unique selling points or key differentiators they use to help position themselves. 

This information is often readily available and can be found on their website or marketing materials, by using information from the internet and industry publications, or by simply asking existing and potential customers.

Strengths and weaknesses

Once you have gathered the necessary information, you must create a list of each competitor’s strengths and weaknesses within the industry.

Be sure to make note of any reasons a customer might choose a competitor's product or service over yours. This will assist you in identifying their competitive advantage as well as potential opportunities.

Remember to be objective and to avoid bias, especially when identifying weaknesses.

Goals and objectives

It is important to also identify each competitor’s current and future goals and objectives. This can typically be identified using the details provided in their mission or vision statements, as well as in marketing advertisements. 

A mission statement sets out why an organization exists and helps to clarify what the business is currently trying to achieve. A vision statement provides strategic direction and describes what the company wants to achieve in the future.

How a company advertises also creates a great opportunity to uncover the objectives and strategies of that business. Most of the information you need about products, services, prices, and company objectives should be readily available. If that information is not available, you may have identified a weakness.


Once you have completed the above steps, the last thing left to do is to compare your findings about the competition to your own company.

Knowing how you compare to the competition is critical for the long-term success of your business. Knowing who your competitors are, and what they are offering, can help you to make your products, services and marketing stand out. It will enable you to set your prices competitively and help you to respond to rival marketing campaigns with your own initiatives.

About Stingray Advisory Group LLC: Stingray Advisory Group LLC is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan and a proud Local First member. By creating dynamic customized solutions for business growth, we empower businesses and entrepreneurs with the tools to further their development. To learn more or schedule a consultation, visit

Measure What Matters: C2C Gallery

This blog post is part of Local First’s Measure What Matters series, where we interview Local First Members who have taken the Quick Impact Assessment, and learn about how the assessment has helped them use their business as a force for good.

C2C Gallery has been bringing art into the lives of people visiting and living along the Lakeshore since 2011. Located in the heart of historic Downtown Grand Haven, C2C Gallery Owner Cyndi Casemier has organized dozens of community art events and programs that enrich the lives of those who live in and around Grand Haven, as well as artists who sell their artwork in C2C Gallery.

C2C Gallery has been a Local First member for three years and in January, the gallery was recognized as a 2017 Local Motion Award winner for their commitment to developing a vibrant and people-focused art community in Grand Haven.

“We are so honored to be recognized as a business that’s making a positive impact in our community,” said Casemier. “Being nominated for the Local Motion Awards made me sit back and reflect on ‘what else can we do to make a difference?’”

Every first Friday of the month, C2C Gallery participates in First Friday Art Hops where Casemier hosts a local musician in her gallery to play music and a featured artist. She also organized a class trip to Art Walk, which is an annual event that brings local fourth grade classes into downtown Grand Haven to see professional artists display their work. Casemier also created a Grand Haven High School student art show that takes place every May featuring jewelry, ceramics and 2D art. 

“Our goal is to support artists so they can support their families, while also enriching the lives of community members through art,” said Casemier. “We feel very fortunate that we are able to shine the light on our artists in a way that makes a big impact in our community.”

Casemier first took Local First’s Quick Impact Assessment when they were nominated for the Local Motion Awards. The online assessment pointed out many ways C2C Gallery is making a positive environmental and social impact in Grand Haven as well as areas where they could improve their score. C2C Gallery is able to measure their positive impact by recycling cardboard and artists’ materials, encouraging their employees to walk to work, supporting local artists and musicians, and hosting community events. Casemier also moved her personal studio back into her home so she could create more space in the gallery for community events.

“I initially didn’t realize everything that we were doing in the community until we took the Quick Impact Assessment,” said Casemier. “The assessment provided a good reflection of our work and a reminder that someone can take an idea, run with it and make something happen. It also challenged me to think about how we’re using our space and how we are serving the community.”

Casemier says Local First has played a key role in helping them identify their role in the community. For businesses looking to make a bigger impact in their community, Casemier recommends sitting down with Local First to map out different opportunities.

“Local First is all about helping small businesses succeed. They are building stronger communities by supporting local businesses and keeping them in our communities,” said Casemier.

Interested in learning how your business performs against best practices on employee, community and environmental impact? Take the Quick Impact Assessment today to learn how much good your business is doing for the local economy and community at

Measure What Matters: Community Automotive Repair

Located in the East Fulton business district and with deep ties to the neighborhood, Community Automotive Repair has been providing the community with quality auto repair since 1975. What originally started as a business to support a local church more than 40 years ago, has evolved into a business that is committed to serving the community and making a positive environmental impact.  

“Community Automotive Repair was created to build up our local neighborhoods and support residents living in our community,” said Dick Zaagman, owner and founder of Community Automotive Repair. “As our business has evolved over the years, our ministry-driven values have remained at the core of our mission and have helped us better serve the needs of people in our community.”

Community Automotive Repair supports the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF), which is an organization that provides housing opportunities and services that encourage family responsibility and independence, by performing car repairs for ICCF employees with no labor costs, so customers only pay for parts. This donation of labor and financial support from Community Automotive Repair allows ICCF to offer their services in many ways to the families they serve. This is one way Community Automotive Repair continues to give back to the community and supports the vision established in 1975.

In addition to serving the local community, Community Automotive Repair is committed to sustainability and protecting the environment. Community Automotive Repair recycles all metal products from vehicles, old tires, electronics and paper and plastic parts. Ninety-five percent of their shop’s heat is produced with waste oil from cars. 

Most recently, Community Automotive Repair became one of only three LEED certified auto repair stores in the United States. Instead of building a new shop to meet LEED requirements, Community Automotive Repair renovated its existing facility to operate at the highest efficiency. Lighting in the new portion of the building as well as outside is LED lighting, and with 200 windows, the shop has abundant natural light which has improved the work environment for employees.

Zaagman took Local First’s QIA to understand more about how he could use his business to make a positive impact and identify areas where his business could grow. Asked to reflect on the Quick Impact Assessment, Zaagman said he was initially surprised by the different aspects of the triple bottom line.

“When I first took the assessment, I initially thought to myself ‘there’s no way I’ll be able to accomplish everything the assessment is asking me to do.’ However, the assessment ended up being an eye-opening experience that helped me evaluate and improve my business practices,” said Zaagman. “I’ve always been committed to social, environmental and community issues, so the assessment helped me identify ways my business is already making an impact and ways that we can grow our impact.”  

Since making facility improvements related to LEED certification, Zaagman expressed that the improved space, lighting and openness of the building has improve the business’ culture. The Quick Impact Assessment also helped him identify ways to build a team of talented people that share similar values.   

“By improving our building and taking steps to become LEED certified, we have been able to attract more highly-skilled workers,” said Zaagman. “This is an industry where it’s hard to find talent. Thanks to these efforts, I’m now attracting professionals with more than 25 years of industry experience.”

Looking ahead, Dick hopes to implement some changes identified through the QIA process such as 360 Degree performance reviews, which entail having employees reviewing each other as well as reviewing management. He also wants to identify more ways to provide employees with volunteer opportunities.

“I encourage every business to take the Quick Impact Assessment. If you have a desire to learn more about your business and move your business in a direction that helps the community, I highly recommend taking it,” said Zaagman. “The assessment is an eye-opening experience and it reminded me that it takes time to become successful in something. My best advice is to take the assessment one piece at a time and focus on what you can do today to move your business forward.”

Interested in learning how your business performs against best practices on employee, community and environmental impact? Take the QIA today to learn how much good your business is doing for the local economy and community at

Awareness Matters

A few weeks ago, Local First launched the Good for Grand Rapids campaign. This initiative strives to bring together and celebrate companies who have taken a close look at their environmental, social, and economic impact on our community. They do this by way of the Quick Impact Assessment.

To give you an idea of what the QIA measures, Local First wants to share our results. These are just a few of the practices the QIA measures, but it took less than an hour to complete and gave us some valuable information about our impact.

What we’re doing well:

nMore than 60{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} of our expenses are spent with local independent suppliers. This means they are less than 200 miles from our office and locally-owned and privately held.

nLocal First’s mission statement includes a commitment to a specific positive environmental and social impact. We also added an equity and inclusion statement in which we commit to underserved and underrepresented communities.

nLocal First screens our suppliers to make sure they have positive environmental, manufacturing, and labor practices.

What we can do better:

nLocal First has great potential to improve upon our energy usage by working with our landlord to implement energy and water efficiency strategies in our rented space.

nLocal First can create policies that incentivize volunteer service. While the organization supports the importance of acts of service, we can do more by rewarding our employees when they give back.

nLocal First will work to better represent the diversity of our community. We can work to engage members of our community and use their feedback to update our programming to meet our city’s changing needs.

Now it’s your turn! Take the QIA and be Good for Grand Rapids!

Strategic Planning For Small Businesses in 2017

Nowadays, the key to long-term growth and success for your business is to find a way to best serve your customers.

Using strategic marketing, businesses can better identify customer needs and create a marketing plan to meet those needs and achieve organizational goals. A strategic plan can provide the blueprint you need to stay on track to achieve your goals in a changing marketplace and help ensure you don’t waste resources pursuing opportunities that aren’t aligned with long-term objectives.

To create your strategic plan, you must fully understand the strategic marketing process and its three key phases: Planning, Implementation, and Control.


The planning phase functions to provide an overall picture of the organization and has three steps:

Step 1: Situation analysis and SWOT.

A situational analysis asks: what is the current situation with the marketing or product? To understand your company’s current situation you must research and analyze your competitors and customers, assess your company, and identify any industry trends.

The SWOT process is a key tool in determining your current position in the market, from which plans can be made to build on/improve strengths, detect and fix weaknesses, seize opportunities and become aware of potential threats.

Step 2: Market-product focus and goal setting

Organizations must find a focus for their product/service offerings. This is found using market segmentation – putting buyers into groups or segments that have common needs and will respond in a similar way to marketing programs.

This requires setting marketing and product goals, selecting target markets, finding points of difference (unique selling points), and position the product to attract a particular segment.

Step 3: Marketing program

After the target market is identified, you must develop your program's marketing mix and budget. Each component of the mix, the 4 P's, are combined to provide the organization with a comprehensive, cohesive marketing program.

This involves determining the best product, price, promotion, and distribution methods to meet the objectives, in addition to planning the costs of implementing the strategy.


Implementation is the process that puts strategies and plans into motion to accomplish strategic objectives and goals.

Four key components are necessary to support implementation, and all components must be in place in order to move from creating the plan to activating the plan:

Resources. You must make sure you have or obtain sufficient resources to implement the plan.

People. Make sure you have the right people on board; those individuals with required competencies and skills that are needed to support the plan.

Schedule. The marketing plan should be implemented according to a plan. It should be laid out by days, weeks, months or even years, and include milestones that must be achieved within a specific time frame.

Execution. Effective execution requires attention to detail to the marketing tactics, which involve the day-to-day decisions needed to implement the plan.


Marketing controls are a series of measurements used to determine whether the plan is meeting, or has met, its stated goals and objectives. The control phase will attempt to keep the marketing program moving in the direction set out in the marketing plan by:

Comparing results with plans to identify deviations – This involves comparing the actual results of the marketing campaign, through its sales, to see if the marketing plan is working.  Sales are compared to before and after the campaign.

Acting on the deviations. Once the evaluation is complete, if the actual performance is less than expected, changes can be made to the marketing plan to increase sales. This process can be repeated many times.


About Stingray Advisory Group LLC: Stingray Advisory Group LLC is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan and a proud Local First member. By creating dynamic customized solutions for business growth, we empower businesses and entrepreneurs with the tools to further their development. To learn more or schedule a consultation, visit Follow us today on Facebook, LinkedIN, Google+ and Twitter for more helpful tips!

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