Business Time

When competition is a good thing

David RhindASB Pharmacy - Guest advice columnFriday 01 September 2017, 2:37PM
When competition is a good thing

Competition is a funny word. It's a word that evokes emotion every time it's uttered, and leaves the listener with feelings of ambivalence. 

For some, competition will bring memories of kicking the winning points in the historic (but oft underrated) Burnside versus Old Boys Division 3 quarter-final of 1984. Or taking the winning catch in the nail-biting Grafton versus Parnell Presidents Grade match of 1992, or graduating summa cum laude with distinctions in pharmacokinetics, professional pharmacy practice and human disease. 

For others, competition may evoke memories of coming last in standard-three backstroke, or suffering a debilitating foot injury on the form-two athletics day, verified by a note from your mother, which prevented participation in the 100m (sprinting is pointless anyway unless there is an animal, also sprinting, behind you), or scraping into second year uni without a grade point to spare…but that's enough about me. 

Like it or not, competition is a fact of life and can actually be quite electrifying.  

In 1884, after pioneering direct current (DC) electricity, Thomas Edison employed a brilliant young Serbian named Nikola Tesla (yes, the car is named after him) to work in his lab. Having been promised fame and fortune, young Nikola toiled away and came up with a number of inventions that Thomas Edison went on to patent. He also devised the concept of alternating current (AC) electricity which, unlike DC, could be transmitted over greater distances. Unfortunately, when it came time for young Nikola to be paid his promised $50,000 ($1.26 million in today's dollars), Mr Edison refused and so began a bitter feud. Mr Tesla left and formed his own company, and a fierce battle between AC and DC electricity ensued.   

In 1889, things got so heated that, in an attempt to scare the public and prove the dangers of AC, Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant with AC electricity. Despite the acrimony at the time, this competition led to the rapid development of electricity grids and all worked out well for everybody - except the elephant. Furthermore, who could have imagined that 100 years later, Edison and Tesla's Herculean efforts would lead to the creation of one of the greatest rock bands of the 1980s? 

A more recent, and less macabre, example of the benefits of competition can be seen closer to home. It began in the sheds of Westhaven and ended upon the azure seas of Bermuda. A team of mild-mannered Kiwis, having faced disappointment and adversity in equal measure, staved off a determined and well-resourced Australian competitor - with vim, vigour and understated determination.  

If the competition hadn't been as fierce, would the boat have been as fast? Possibly not. If a worthy adversary wasn't waiting to capture the cup at every turn, would the innovation have been as astounding? It's hard to say. In any case, competition sharpens the senses and undoubtedly improves performance. ASB is a very proud supporter of Emirates Team New Zealand, and with competition ever-increasing, we can all learn a thing or two from their achievement.  

Thankfully (for the readers of Pharmacy Today), my knowledge of yachting extends as far as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, so the rest of this article about embracing competition won't descend into a clichéd yachting analogy. 

Whatever your thoughts on competition, there's never a bad time to reflect and reassess your business. In perhaps the most collegial industry, in which patient outcomes are paramount, challenging yourself to improve is never a bad thing. More importantly, someone who knows a lot more about competition than I do, was happy to share some advice with the readers of Pharmacy Today: "At Emirates Team New Zealand, we have a saying - 'Does it make the boat go faster?' By that we mean, are the things you're investing in on a daily basis - time, money and sweat - going to make a difference to the end result? The most important thing is to create the right environment for your team and give them the tools they need, so that they can perform to their best."  - Grant Dalton 

The seven Cs


ASB's indefatigable and very proud vision is to be an Unbeatable Team delivering Unbeatable Customer Experiences. For your customers it might be making them feel welcome when they walk through your door when it's miserable outside, an extra minute explaining that probiotics might help their Augmentin ache, or asking how Mrs Chen is when her daughter picks up her regular Parkinson's script. If your customers love you, then who really cares about the competition? 


Now might be a good time to make sure that all the "boring" stuff is in order; the accounts are up to date, you've looked at your key metrics, and you're happy that everything is as it should be. When was the last time you spoke to your accountant or banker? Your banker should already be proactively aware of your plans and you should know what your options are, but if not, give them a call. 

Competitive advantage

What are you the best at? Not, what are you good at? What are you the very best at - better than anyone else? You might be a scratch golfer and captain of your club, but haven't utilised these networks. Perhaps you're fluent in Cantonese. Maybe you love technology but haven't thought about how you could innovate in the shop. Or maybe you're a customer service person extraordinaire. Whatever it is, focus on these strengths and differentiate yourself from the competition. 


If you're anything like me, then "a change is like a holiday" - in Chernobyl. As clinicians that are expert in managing the minutiae, there is a natural bias against change as often change increases risk, and risk can affect patient outcomes. However, it's important to take a step back from time to time and make sure you are up with the play. While I have to confess that the first time I saw a pharmacy "robot", I struggled to hide my disappointment that C-3PO wasn't in the dispensary using a pill counter tray and spatula, new technologies can increase efficiency and -competitiveness. 


In the words of William Ernest Henley: "It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."  


Take an honest look at what is working and what is not. Focus on profitable lines and divest the dust-collecting denture cleaner of days gone by. 


Competition is to complacency what cefuroxime is to chronic bronchitis. If you feel like you have been resting on your laurels then perhaps it's time for a reality check. 


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