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When companies compete, products get better.

There’s a bagel restaurant in my neighborhood that posts a sign on its front door that reads, “No outside food or drink!” Apparently, the owner feels threatened by the Starbucks kiosk located inside the Albertsons supermarket next door.

The owner must think that by posting this sign he will deter the competition from cutting into his sales of high-margin lattes and espresso drinks. What he doesn’t realize is that people do not want to be forced to drink a mediocre alternative to their favorite coffee beverage.

The last time I bought a bagel in his shop was four years ago. At that time his sign was more specific and said something like, “No Starbucks beverages allowed on the premises!” It was such a turn-off to me.

I understand the owner’s underlying intent: to limit the erosion of his own beverage sales by keeping the competition’s beverages out of his sit-down bagel restaurant.

Ironically, the message had a different effect on me. I’d rather enjoy a good cup of coffee than eat one of his bagels. In fact, I presently drive to another bagel restaurant that is four miles further from my home. It also sells coffee and has a Starbucks retail store next door. The difference is that it does not censor the competition’s coffee.

I wonder what would happen if the bagel restaurant owner would remove the sign and accept (or at least tolerate) customers who entered the restaurant, Starbucks in hand, and ordered one of his bagels for dine-in?

On the one hand, bagel sales from people like me who resent the sign would increase. On the other, beverage sales might decrease due to granting customers the option to drink the competition’s coffee beverage on the premises while enjoying their bagel.

What might the owner do differently in order to address a situation where customers are consuming more beverages from Starbucks than from his own restaurant?

What if he invested in the quality of his coffee beverages to rival top brands such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts—who are renowned for their coffee? Perhaps he could then offer a complimentary 12 oz. refill to (in addition to customers who purchase his coffee) customers who come in with a coffee beverage from the competition.

Imagine the effect this could have. Customers who have never tried his coffee may, after sampling it, agree that it’s as good as or perhaps better than the coffee they ordinarily drink. Customers will appreciate the value they receive by enjoying a complimentary 12 oz. coffee refill. If the customers choose to remain at the restaurant rather than taking their refill to go, maybe they will order a second bagel or a muffin to enjoy as they linger?

Instead of putting up barriers to the competition and limiting customers’ freedom of choice, why not relax the barriers and let customers decide?

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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