(Blogger´s Note: This is the first in a three part series on chain competition.)
Single unit operators along with small group entrepreneurs will face more aggressive competition this year from expanding chain restaurants than ever before. The chief executives of culinary conglomerates not only have to answer to the sweet customer in booth 19 but also are frequently faced with the heat from Wall Street when their stocks don´t sizzle. These giants have their eyes set on per store and unit growth. That paints a bad picture for the small restaurateur who has to compete with price, service, quality, presentation and the usual multi million-dollar build out chains invest in their spaces.
Independent restaurant owners in Dayton, Ohio, faced with losing customers to a multi-million dollar mixed use development boasting ten restaurants decided to take some action. The group met for the second time last week and discussed possibilities on how to get business back that came to a virtual standstill last November.
"Business just stopped after the election," said Gary Wiegele owner of the Peerless Mill Inn. "Right after the election, The Greene opened up and the chain restaurants have really hurt us. It was time to get together and discuss what we can do to compete. We are considering an advertising campaign for local restaurants and are looking into a strong email campaign," Wiegele added.
The Peerless Mill Inn, a Miamisburg area landmark, has operated as a restaurant since ´29. Others in the group include independent operators of successful Chinese, Mexican, seafood, Italian restaurants, bars and taverns. Together they now face the dilemma of how to compete with the chains and survive.
"We are looking at some very stiff competition. The first thing we did was to analyze ourselves to see if we had done something differently. All of our guests enjoy the food, enjoy the atmosphere and love the value. But there is still an hour wait at P.F. Chang´s on a Friday night and our dining rooms are empty." Wiegele said.
"The only way to compete is to let the public know that we are locals who put our money back into the community and that we support the community. We are not cookie cutter operators who serve the same food every day. We offer food, friendliness and personality. We are business people in the town," Weigele said.
An email campaign is in the final discussion stages along with a local advertising blitz to attract customers back to their favorite spots.
"We have a few other ideas that we are working on that will help attract locals to the spaces they have supported for years. I will admit though, I did get a little complacent and we all should have paid more attention. There´s been a 25% drop in population and an increase of 5000 restaurant seats in the past few years. That has to tell you something."
Tomorrow: Promoting your assets.