Two miles north of Willison, North Dakota is the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and U.S. Highway 52. Like many communities over the years the downtown area with its small buildings and limited parking has stagnated as business has moved to that intersection north of town.
But, at the time in question, circa 1968, the only business at that intersection was Keenan’s Restaurant. Keenan’s was an old fashioned drive in, with car hops who brought your order to your car on a tray that suspended from the driver’s window. The menu ranged from basic burgers and fries to “21 shrimp in a basket.”
Remember, to get to Keenan’s it was necessary to drive two miles away from the city center and every other restaurant in town. People didn’t just drive by and pull in on a whim.
At that time the hottest chain restaurant in the midwest was the Country Kitchen. One of their stores went in next door to Keenan’s. Comparatively it was huge, with seating for 90, which made it even bigger than the truck stop restaurant on the other side of town.
People flocked to the new place. During peak periods the long line of waiting folks spilled from the lobby, through the front door, and wrapped partially around the building.
The conventional wisdom spelled “doom” for Keenan’s. Who would want to stay in their own cars instead of being served as welcome guests in a brand new comfortable, restaurant with much broader menu choices?
Still, there was that long line of people.
As much as people are willing to stand in line
for an unusual experience (think Disney), each repetition of that
experience makes standing in line less appealing for most of us.
didn’t take long for hungry diners, having driven that far out of town,
to see the line, look at Keenan’s half empty parking lot, and say “You know, Keenan’s food always was pretty good.“
Instead of losing business, Keenan’s thrived with the new competitor next door.
So, a new competitor doesn’t mean loss of business?
It certainly can. Much of that possibility depends on the way the legacy business responds to the newcomer.
Its too easy to blame forces outside our control for any decline in business. And, to the extent that we, as business owners, assume we’re helpless against circumstances, we will be.
Suppose you operate an office supply store, and another office supply store opens across the street. If you do nothing, it is likely that your revenues (and profits) will decline.
But suppose you welcomed the new competition as an additional traffic source for your store? Would that change the way you operate?
This is why car dealerships tend to locate next to one another. In the mind of the shopper, isn’t it easier to compete with two or three other dealerships next door and across the street, than with a dozen scattered all over town? And aren’t people more likely to comparison shop when you make it easy.