Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Are Your Competitors Really Who You Think They Are?

Back in 2004 when I started with TGA, I had an Outlook folder titled “Competition” where I would put emails/information related to other junior golf programs.  I chuckle about it now as it demonstrates how little I initially understood the business I was about to spend the next 8+ years helping to build.

I’m asked daily about TGA’s competition.  Usually the question comes from a franchise candidate and goes something like this – “My city has a First Tee chapter and several local golf facilities have good junior programs.  How does TGA compare with these competitors?  Can the business be successful coexisting with them?”

As TGA grew in size and scope, it became clear that our market was not the same as The First Tee’s. They are a non-profit focused predominately on programs for under-resourced youth that emphasize life skills and take place at golf facilities.  TGA is a for-profit focused predominately on parent-funded programs for middle/upper income youth that emphasize "enrichment" and take place at elementary schools.  Both causes are important and needed, but besides having golf as the common denominator, they’re very different.  TGA franchisees overlap with First Tee chapters across the country and our paths almost never cross.

It also became clear that TGA’s market was not the same as a golf facility's.  When a golf course holds a junior program, almost all of the kids who register have played golf before and/or come from golfing families where mom or dad has taken an active interest in getting them into the game.   When TGA offers our enrichment program at a school, almost all of the kids who register have never played golf before and come from non-golfing families – meaning, they’re not the ones showing up at the local golf facility.

At TGA, we’re not focused on competing for the 2.4 million kids who play golf but rather on capturing the 74 million kids who don't.  As a result, our competition does not come from other golf organizations or programs.

We compete for kids’ limited time and parents’ limited budget.  When parents make their purchase decision with TGA, they’re comparing us to karate and chess club and art class and soccer and basketball and drama and the many other activities available to kids.  That's our competition.  They are not analyzing whether they should sign up for TGA or The First Tee or the program at the local golf club.

And that, to me, represents three important things:
  1. It’s a great example of the entrepreneurial journey and how your “competition” folder can end up looking nothing like it did in the beginning.
  2. We have made important strides at TGA to become more razor-focused on who we serve, why we matter and what we want to accomplish.
  3.  There is a staggering number of kids in the U.S. not playing golf and we should all be obsessively focused on bringing the game to them as that is where the true opportunity exists.

Knowing your competition is a crucial element of understanding where you fit into the industry ecosystem.  A business professor once said something along the lines of – “if you can’t identify and describe your competition within 30 seconds of being asked, you don’t understand your business.” 

Eight years ago, I had no clue.  Most entrepreneurs don’t.  That’s what the entrepreneurial journey is all about.  Thankfully we have a great team at TGA that figured it out together and did so fast enough that I'm able to write this blog from TGA’s office as the COO. 

And with that, now I must get back to figuring out how to strengthen TGA’s value proposition against swim class, gymnastics, baseball, music lessons and cooking class.

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