Coopetition. A neologism coined to describe cooperative competition.
Coopetition is a word mash-up of cooperation and competition, emphasizing the “petition”-like nature of joint work. It’s something that sounds completely backwards. Why would a small business want to work WITH their competition? How would either be able to receive referrals and grow, while constantly competing for the same clients? Many would think this kind of thinking is crazy. However, it’s actually not as bizarre as it seems. I sat down with Bryan Ghingold, owner of Steel City Movers LLC, last week. He’s a director consultant for BNI and a member of the Network Connections chapter. He also knows a thing or two about coopetition.
Bryan Ghingold dreamed of having a career in the film industry. He transferred from Bloomsburg University to study in the University of Pittsburgh’s film program his junior and senior years. As with most Universities, Ghingold wasn’t able to live in campus housing as an upperclassman. And he was forced find his own place near Pitt’s campus. Between rent, books, equipment, food, bills, and tuition, Bryan felt an intense amount of financial stress. Even with a paying work-study, he still found himself anxious as he tried to pay for each semester.
From the time he was at Bloomsburg University, Ghingold spent his summer breaks working as a mover. He knew the ropes of the industry and with the help of his father, was able to start his own moving company that very next summer. The extra income allowed him to finish college without fear of going broke. And before he knew it, the company was starting to gain some traction.
But as luck would have it, Ghingold was severely injured in a car collision not long after. His injuries kept him from partaking in any of the physical aspects of his business. And he also realized that he couldn’t physically handle the many hours of administration a growing SCM required. Yet the collision was a blessing in disguise. It taught Ghingold the importance of delegation. The crash forced him to take a step back and let his employees take charge.
Planting the Seeds of Growth
While standing in the doorframe of his four-bedroom apartment, Ghingold had an eye-opening moment. Something he still remembers clearly to this day. “I stood there watching three of my employees trying to work in my small room. One hunched over my desk and another on the bed. The third near the closet, which was almost overflowing with moving boxes. I just knew it was time.”
The husband of his roommate’s friend was in a BNI group. One night as they were hanging out in the apartment, he told Ghingold that he should to come to his chapter’s open house event. Ghingold accepted the offer and went to see what BNI was all about. He instantly “got” the BNI message and fell in love with the group. In August of 2013, he joined Network Connections and hasn’t looked back. He was able to move the home office to an actual office location through the resources he acquired at BNI. The third referral he ever received in the chapter was a 3K job – essentially paying for his BNI membership AND allowed him to acquire office furniture! On July 5, 2018, Steel City Movers will be celebrating their 10-year business anniversary – something Ghingold still credits to BNI and the wonderful people he has met through the BNI network.
But What About Coopetition?
One of the greatest benefits of joining a BNI chapter is that once a business category is filled, no other business in that category can join. Essentially meaning that a business won’t have to compete for referrals or new clients. At BNI, we phrase it as, “locking out the competition.”
Yet these categories are pretty specific. For example, my category is content creation/marketing. And while I’m a graphic designer who builds websites and does social media fulfillment, technically someone else could come into my chapter and be the social media or website guru. Ghingold learned early on that you should “stay in your own lane” once given a category in BNI. And he shared an anecdote with me about his biggest BNI regret.
“My Biggest Regret”
“My company is a moving company. That’s the bread and butter of what we do. But we also do junk hauls. That’s when companies or organizations need to get rid of heavy supplies, furniture, etc. when moving or closing or what have you. One of my peers in BNI, who is a general contractor, asked me if I would be okay with him inviting a junk hauler into the chapter. Technically he didn’t need to ask me, and I thanked him for his consideration. But I told him I would prefer the junk hauler not be in the group because I would like those jobs and referrals. The general contractor understood and told me he wouldn’t proceed with trying to get the junk hauler into the group. But he did leave me with a story…
So while we had him, the general contractor in the group, we also had a handy-woman. And while they fall into some of the same categories, the scale of the work they do is different. At first, the general contractor saw the handy-woman as competition and fought tooth and nail against her. But over time, he learned that the handy-woman was actually his biggest referral source.
Because you see, a lot of clients would call the handy-woman, asking her to do projects she simply couldn’t. And because there was someone in the group who could, and was trustworthy to do so, she began referring her potential clients to the general contractor. And the jobs that the general contractor didn’t necessarily need or want to do, he sent over to the handy-woman. They became the others biggest advocate. And now reflecting on his story, I fully regret turning away that junk hauler.
In fact, I’m still so regretful that I’m constantly looking for a junk hauler to invite to our group. My company only does a few junk hauls a year. I’d much rather send those jobs to another trustworthy BNI company. And I would hope we would have the same kind of relationship as the general contractor and handy-woman. Junk haulers aren’t able to do the true moving job my company does. I think we would have the potential to make a great team, I just need to find that teammate!”
And Network Connections…?
If you asked Ghingold to describe BNI in three words, he’d say “Worth every penny.” And if you wanted to know what it meant to him in three words he’d respond, “Makes mornings fun.” Both of which are intriguing and enticing answers. The group mirrors their values to the values of BNI. They look out for each other and treat one another like family. In fact, Ghingold invited their mortgage lender over for Mother’s Day lunch.
The Network Connections chapter has been around for the last 11 years. There are 23 members all ranging in age and industry. “I love my chapter.” Said Ghingold. “It’s truly familial. There’s a great mix of professionalism and seriousness. The number of referrals we get justifies the goofiness!”
Why You Should Join
Ghingold didn’t realize it at first, but he was always doing business through referrals. The managers of storage facilities and truck rental depots would often ask him for flyers and business cards. He essentially created a business sphere without even knowing it! “When I was first educated on the BNI methods, it hit me like a moving truck. This is literally what I’ve been doing, just without structure. This is structure.”
Ghingold gave me some sound advice for those of you on the fence about joining a BNI chapter. “Don’t let shyness or preconceived notions dissuade you. No matter your industry, just do it. Within the first year, if you put in the time and effort, there is no question you will make back the BNI investment tenfold.”
Though he did note to take it seriously. “You have to put in the time to get the value. You get out of it what you put in. Schedule those one to ones. Keep an eye out and ear open to help your chapter members. It’s rewarding in more ways than just business.”
So Take Advantage of a Two-Week Free Trial!
For more information on the Network Connections group, visit their Facebook page. Here you can see highlights of speaker presentations, BNI blogs, videos, learn about events, and more! For more information about BNI and to find a chapter to visit, simply click here.