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The Importance of Frenemies

You can learn from your competition and give them advice — and you should do both.

Frenemies – Cat and Dog
Getty Images

Think back to childhood. What did you want to be? An astronaut? Maybe a rock star? Whatever your dream was, I certainly wouldn’t have believed at age 10 that I would grow up to be an integrator (not that I even knew what “integrator” meant back then), though I’ve loved technology since early childhood. I took things apart and put them (mostly) back together. I soldered. I hacked. I programmed. I then turned all of that into a revenue-generating hustle around the age of 19 and never looked back. Now think about your competitors. You know, the ones who do the exact same thing you do for a living (except that no one services clients quite like you, I know…). These are the guys and gals you potentially have the most in common with and, yet, how do we treat each other when we get together? If it’s a national trade show like the ones put on by the buying groups or CEDIA, we’re all lovey dovey. Get us together locally, however, and we act like cats with their tails tied together. Why?

I get it, we’re at odds from time to time with the local competition. We win (and lose) jobs against one another. Maybe one of my employees now works for a crosstown rival and vice versa. The same, by the way, is all true for other local groups in competition like the National Association of Homebuilders. There are local chapters in most cities where companies who directly compete with one another every day come together to share experiences and learn from each other. Why can they do it and we can’t? Why doesn’t CEDIA have local chapters? Maybe the market’s too small? After all, homebuilding is said to be the cornerstone of our consumer economy. If everyone’s eating at the table, then maybe they’re all too busy to care about who’s getting the big 10,000-square-foot jumbo house on the river. Or maybe they’ve figured out that banding together comes with some fantastic benefits.

Also by Henry Clifford: Do Your Job

No matter where you are in your career, there are a few certainties we all contend with: We have to keep improving lest our businesses die, and, at some point, we all have to get off the carousel. Who are the best people within a 20-minute drive to learn from or serve as a possible buyer of your company one day? That’s right. It’s your competition. If you’re not friends, or at least frenemies, with them, the world may end up a lonely place for you down the road. Over the last 10 years we’ve acquired five integrators and they were all frenemies.

My market has thee or four decent size integrators and I know all of them. Hell, I like all of them. They’re cool dudes. I call them from time to time to check in. Some of us have been around long enough where we share openly with each other because we’ve built up solid trust. I compete with these same guys every now and again and we race each other cleanly. We all live by a code. If we’re doing battle, we try to defeat each other. If we win, we are gracious in victory. If we lose, we cede and behave in a sportsmanlike manner. At the end of the day, it all seems to come out in the wash.

Frenemies are vital for success in our industry. If you’re not getting to know your competition, ask yourself why. What are you afraid of? There’s plenty of work out there for everyone and who knows — you might find out you have more in common than you realize.

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.