Wednesday, 28 August 2013 19:14

Don’t Mess With My Marketing!

Written by Tom Franklin

My first glimpse of malicious competitors was seeing a runner for one body shop remove a competitor’s business cards in an insurance agent’s office, and replace them with his own.

In a highly competitive market, some shops may be striving to steal other shop’s business when the number of jobs in the area is declining. In addition to the straightforward attempts to push a shop out of a dealership deal in order to gain the authorized repair center designation, I’ve seen some shops stoop to discrediting a competitor in every way possible. Sometimes signs are defaced, taggers sent to put an ugly image on a shop’s fences and exterior, and more. If you spot someone taking photos of your shop or vehicles parked in your lot or in the vicinity of your shop, get that person’s name and file a police report at once.

These days a common malicious practice is placing phony complaints against a shop on Yelp and local referral websites. One shop suspected a competitor of having a vehicle brought into his shop and deliberately sabotaged to create an insurance company and Board of Auto Repair complaint and a vicious story to be sent to the press and put on-line. The shop owner suspected he was under attack when an anonymous tip also sent OSHA inspectors into his shop for supposed code violations. Anonymous complaints are most difficult to defend against, but even a complaint by someone giving his or her name could still be someone connected to a competing shop. One shop that was broken into resulting in the loss of numerous radios, GPS systems and more, suspected a competitor of either arranging the theft or at least providing information on how to get into the shop at night.

How far will a malicious competitor go to undermine a shop he wants out of the way? In the famous fictional industrial espionage tale, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” author Roald Dahl has the evil Slugworth trying to steal Wonka’s secret recipes by bribing young visitors to get them from the Oompa Loompa sweets maker. Do body shop owners have trade secrets? Could a competitor squash a shop’s marketing strategy efforts if he knew them in advance?  Hacking into a company’s computer system may be the most modern way to steal trade secrets, but experts say most thefts still occur the old fashioned way, by sneaking into a company’s offices and making off with classified information.

Ira Winkler, a top corporate security analyst, in his book “Spies Among Us: How to Stop the Spies, Terrorists, Hackers, and Criminals You Don’t Even Know You Encounter Every Day,” Winkler estimates American companies lose as much as $300 billion a year to pirating, counterfeiting and other corporate theft. He says inside jobs are another tried-and-true method. We just saw an example of that when several people were busted as they attempted to sell Coca-Cola secrets to rival cola giant, Pepsi. Could a competitor pay off an employee in his target body shop to report on planned marketing activities? How could a shop owner defend against a devious attack of this nature?

One news article reports that experts say the best defense against corporate theft is to thoroughly vet employees who have access to sensitive information. Then make sure that that information is secure. If a breach occurs, report it to law enforcement as soon as possible. Corporations often hire a security analyst to perform simulated espionage to test the company’s security system. While few shops have the kind of sensitive information that a competitor might try to steal, there are many more basic ways to mess with a shop’s marketing and to try to discredit their image.

Where it is still common for accident victims to try to get three estimates, I’ve heard of a shop owner deliberately sending a prospective repair customer to the worst two other shops he could think of, where he could be sure the customer would get a high or faulty estimate. Some have mastered the fine art of tactfully bad-mouthing the competition to instill enough doubt about their integrity and reliability to eliminate them from the running.

A shop owner I know was stunned when he lost a couple of dealership deals he had for many years. He simply wasn’t prepared for the aggressive attacks on his quality that were made. Just running a shop is a full-time job and that doesn’t leave a lot of time to be policing business relationships and marketing maneuvers. But in a highly competitive business environment, it’s naive to assume all competitive moves will be honest and above board. Thomas Jefferson said “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” but, in a body shop, constant vigilance may well be the price of survival.

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