Whether it's hardware, coffee, or news - competition is good - Beside the Point


With this week's announcement that Farm & Home Supply is coming to the city's west side, I watched with intrigue as social media commentary came flying in.

The chatter was about 50/50 with people in support of the new retail business in the former Skopko building, and people who turned up their noses at the unneeded competition to legacy hardware names already in place.

It took me back to an interview we did with the Kempker family after Bob Kempker's passing. One of the telling things I remember about that interview was that Chuck Kempker said his father believed in supporting all local businesses...even the competition.

The irony isn't lost that it's actually a hardware store coming. Of course, you'll see some of the same options, and Farm & Home Supply, a three-state franchise, will have greater purchasing power and probably heavier discounts to put pressure on the other local outlets, including Huffman's Farm and Home and Kempker's.

But here's the thing, that extra brand will probably attract more people to the town, which in turn should help everyone. Competition, unlike Gordon Gecko's "Greed" - is actually good.

I ran a KFC for about 20 years of my life and always told my staff the best thing that could happen to us was for Popeye's to open down the street. Because we'd be forced to be better than them, forced to treat our employees better, be cleaner, faster, and friendlier.

Then, in a perfect microcosm, they would in turn have to strive to be better than us - and who benefits? Everyone.

Scooter's Coffee is close to opening in the Fareway parking lot. They'll compete with Starbucks in Hy-Vee and Lost Bear on the west side of town. Fareway Meat & Grocery, completed just a few years ago, now competes with Hy-Vee. Who wins? We all do.

All this competition is great for retail and the local economy. The market is defining who's good at what, and ultimately who's best at what.

Here's a perfect example, I went holiday grocery shopping on Friday. One local grocery didn't have everything I needed, which was insanely, a lot. I've been craving comfort food lately. But when one came up short, I went to the other.

Some say they want one-stop shopping. Sure... there's that, but how wonderful it is to have a second option.

I visit Kempker's and Huffman's regularly. I have an old home and I'm not the best handyman. I'm average, and average usually means frequent trips to the hardware store.

I regularly swing in for coffee at Starbucks, Lost Bear, and even Casey's because I just like to have a hot cup in hand. Scooter's will be a regular as I pass my own shadow running around the wonderment that is Fort Madison. But when on the west side, Lost Bear is a quick in and out.

Pen City Current has competition, too. But we always encourage customers to diversify their ad spend to catch a larger share of the market. They should... that makes sense.

Sometimes they beat us to news and sometimes we beat them to news, but there is absolutely a place for both of us here, and a market to support both.

There are many retailers who use one and not the other. We think that's a mistake because we both have encapsulated readerships. There is absolutely overlap, but no one knows what that is so the sum ad spend should reach both audiences in one way or another.

Each publication has advantages and the competition has impacted customer delivery, costs, styles, packages, and other marketing strategies.

But in the end, we think the competition has made each of us better and keeps us on our toes. That has to be part of the equation with these new businesses coming into town.

Those that think Farm & Home, or Scooter's, or even Pen City Current will just cannibalize sales - sell people short. We've been clamoring for more retail and now we are starting to see it. We just need to remember it's here before we open the laptop and click the check out button.

With this week's column, Pen City Current starts its fifth full year. I want to say right here and now, that when we started this people said don't plan on taking any profits for the first three years, then we heard five years, then COVID came. Well, I'm done with the damned cheese being moved. 2020 has been a horrible, tragic, desolate, and demanding year in more ways than I care to admit.

Despite everything, we're looking forward to 2021 and our fifth year covering the people and issues in and around Fort Madison - but that's Beside the Point.

beside the point, Chuck Vandenberg, competition, economy, editorial, Farm and Home Supply, fort madison, Pen City Current, retail


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