How to Deal with Copycat Competitors in Your Indoor Playground Business
For a year or so after Climbing Vines opened, I could barely go one day without checking the websites and social media accounts of my local competitors. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, hoping and praying that no one would “copy” my business idea and steal all of my customers.
After two direct “copycats” opened within the first few years, it turns out that I was right about one thing: when someone finds success doing something, others will quickly recognize that and attempt to emulate it as best as they can.
However, I was wrong in thinking that these “copycats” would have an impact on my own business.
Both of these business owners made the common mistake of failing to stand out against their competition, and instead of creating their own original concept and “distinguishing” factors, copied ours almost exactly. As a result, one closed within a year, and the other still shows signs of struggle.
Now, not only do I NOT check on my competition more than maybe once monthly, but I also do not blink when a new indoor playground announces it’s local opening. This is because we place so much of a priority on serving our customers the absolute BEST they can be served, which has proven very difficult for any “copycat” to reverse engineer.
Having said that, it has taken me years to become so confident in my own business model that no longer spiral when competition rears its head. That why I want to share a few tips for how to deal with your copycat competitors when they do arise.
Take a deep breath. Remember, the BEST thing you can do is focus on your own business and making it the best it can be. Any energy you spend worrying about them is the energy you are depriving your own business of. You cannot change what they do, but you CAN control your own business.
Look at their website. Copyright infringement on a website is very difficult to prove in court, so even if they have copied phrases and words from your website, just know that it’s not likely you will be able to take legal action. The exception here is if a competitor steals your logo AND you have your logo trademarked. Having a business name and an LLC does not mean you have your business name or logo licensed or trademarked. Consult a local attorney if you believe you have been stolen from, or if they have taken your intellectual property.
Take the high road. Resist the temptation to badmouth your competitors to friends or customers-- this will only reflect poorly on you. Say things like, “I wish them the best,” or even, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I am considering it a compliment!” People will recognize your maturity and will be more likely to continue to do business with you if they see you handle the situation with respect and class. Do not negatively review them or have your friends and family do the same. Remember, this is just another family with a dream just like yours. If you continue doing your best and optimizing your own business, you can both exist happily.
Work on your messaging. If the business that opened is very similar to yours, be sure to rework your website and social messaging to continue calling out what makes you better, different, and original. By the time someone copies your business you should have gathered enough customer feedback to know what makes your customers love you and continue giving you their business.
Make sure your space is in tip-top shape. A brand new facility can, unfortunately, highlight the wear and tear on some of the more established playgrounds. Make it a priority to fix up your paint job, replace tattered or non-functioning toys, or get an exciting new piece of equipment that can reinvigorate your fans and customers.
Put yourself out there as an owner. Facebook and Instagram live, or even just posting personal photos is a great way to remind your guests that they are not just supporting a business when they visit, they are supporting a family. It’s more important than ever that customers feel good about where they spend their money, so remind them that you are a real person and family behind the business AND that you care.
At the end of the day, remember to just keep doing you. We work hard every single day to stay true to our values and priorities and continue serving our clients as best we can. These little things will help you stand out in your guests' minds and keep them coming back, again and again, no matter how many choices they have.