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It’s been over 5 years since my husband and I started building our bar.  At the time, I googled and wrote down every mobile bar in Australia in my diary as research, it took me about an hour.  But holy cow this is one industry which has just exploded over the last few years. I could probably fill a couple of notebooks with the mobile bars in my state alone now!  So it’s fair to say that competition is here. I’m sure all of us have a competitor or 2 in the same area.  We live in Cairns, Australia (pop. 150,000) and would you believe that we have 6 competitors in the beverage catering industry!

But Competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I love being able to recommend another company if we are already booked up, if our rig is too big (she’s a big girl) or if I just don’t fancy the event (‘A 4 hour drive you say?  No thank you!’).  I even meet up with a competitor for coffee and a chat!  Competition has forced us to hone our pricing structure, refine our offerings and perfect every aspect of our service-great for business but also great for the consumer so everyone wins.  You’re the best you can be and they get to enjoy that!

Competition isn’t something to fear, I think it just shows that you’re in the right place at the right time, filling an obvious gap in the market but of course they will take your customers so here are my top tips to stay ahead when they’re snapping at your heels.

Here are my six tips to thriving in a competitive environment.

Show your expertise.

We may have been the first bar in our area but I don’t usually say that.  I choose to explain our expertise instead.  By establishing yourselves as experts in this field you automatically put yourselves ahead of the rest.  Don’t be shy about offering free advice, write for local blogs/magazines and for your own website showing how you are the best at the most knowledgeable.  You only get married once and no-one wants a beginner ‘practising’ at their wedding!

Be Competitive in your pricing.

Of course, getting your pricing right is paramount.  We experimented for a number of years to get our pricing right, I won’t be shy in saying that last year we got it wrong and had our worst year yet (although with a brand new baby in tow and a half-built house, it might’ve been a blessing in disguise!) but we’ve hit the sweet spot now.  Price too low and people will be wary, but price too high and you’ll be out of the game too.  Every market is different too, you need to test what works in your area for your niche.

I have a little story to tell here.  We live on the same street as one of our competitors.  Every day when I drive out I have a little look in their garage for their van (you can see it from the road, I’m not that much of a creep!), they are 40% cheaper to hire at a per person rate than us- that’s a lot.  But I know exactly how much they have been out in the last 8 months and it is significantly less than we have been. 

We’re positioned at the high end of the pricing spectrum, but while we give up every weekend for wedding after wedding that bar sits there unused.  I mean there’s clearly more to this than pricing but don’t just think competitive means beating your competitors to the bottom, cheaper doesn’t mean better.

Specialise in one area.

You can, by all means, be everything to everyone and offer everything under the sun but you may find that you get more traction specialising in one particular area.  You’ll be better able to target your ideal customer and will become known as experts in that area (see 1!)  We target mostly weddings leaving festivals to one of our competitors, she’s thriving there and for now, I’m happy to have it that way!  We also have a big emphasis on draught beer (we Aussie’s love a beer!). We still make a mean cocktail but we find beer is always popular and we have an excellent tap beer system set up which most of our competitors don’t have. 

Set yourself apart from the others by doing something different and you might just find that little gold mine.

Focus on your presence.

Website, socials, physical presence.  Make no mistake about it, in this day and age, without a good presence in your city, both online and physically at events, you will become invisible and your competitors will walk all over you.  We don’t do festivals so we usually try to commit to one or two community events per year to ensure our bar is seen.  Presence at expo’s, especially if you can take your rig along, is a big one too. And of course, network, network, network!

Hone your service.

I always respond to emails within 48 hours, even if I have a crazy weekend with a heap of events on, I take 10 minutes to respond, even just to tell them what’s going on.  Or you could put an autoresponder on-just so people know they aren’t forgotten.  Don’t tell my competitors but I have snatched a few weddings out from underneath the others as the couple was waiting for a response from them.  Also, a phone call says ‘I care’ a lot more than an email.  You snooze you lose, simple.

Gather your people.

If you are an established bar in an area which is experiencing an influx of new competition you are at an advantage.  You already know people, have contacts and have probably networked to find those you gel with-keep in touch, create an open dialogue in which they feel they can reach out to you and make them feel loved often.  A coffee and a chat can go such a long way.

But on the other hand, If you are a new bar coming into a competitive marketplace you may also have an advantage over established beverage caterers.  Maybe vendors and venues have worked with the other mobile bars on offer and haven’t been that happy or they’re looking for another option-don’t hesitate to reach out to people and see what they’re looking for and where you fit in.  That one area you specialise in might just be the answer to their question!

Essentially, be the best you can be and show everyone, all the time!  The most dangerous position is being in front, so even when you think you’re invincible don’t stop pushing because they’ll catch you.  And lastly, always treat your competitors with respect, don’t bag them out- you’re all part of the same industry and it reflects worse on you than it does on them.

To finish, a quote:

“Taste the relish to be found in competition — in having put forth the best within you.” — Henry Kaiser (widely known to be the Father of American shipbuilding-one successful dude).