Cheater Brands

I had never heard of the term cheater brand until I watched an episode of The Real Housewives of New York where Bethenny Frankel railed on her pal Sonja Morgan for creating a booze brand called "Tipsy Girl," a direct response to Bethenny's highly-successful "Skinny Girl" line. Needless to say, Bethenny wasn't pleased.

"It's a cheater brand," she told Sonja. In essence, a product that capitalizes on the success of another by mimicking and copying its core elements. Since that encounter, I've been using the phrase nonstop; mainly because there are a lot of cheater brands out there if you pay attention to local business.

But is there such a thing as a cheater location? That seems like the new strategy for businesses lacking a moral compass.

For example, those of you who live near Burlingame are likely familiar with the outstanding Burmese restaurant Mingalaba. I've been going there since it first opened and it's easily one of my favorite spots on the Peninsula. It was the only Burmese option around (unless you felt like driving to Burma Superstar in the city) until a funny thing happened. Literally right next door, another Burmese place opened called Best of Burma. Not down the street. Not around the block. In the spot immediately next door. I was shocked. So was Mingalaba's owner Sandra. I remember asking her one day: "What's up with that?"

She just shrugged her shoulders and grimaced. 

Why did another Burmese restaurant open immediately next door to an incredibly successful Burmese restaurant? I don't know for sure, but I can guess: probably because they did a study and found that a lot of people went to that block of Burlingame Avenue to eat Burmese food. What better place to open a Burmese restaurant?!

I'm guessing that's the same reason a SoulCycle just opened up near my house in San Mateo, again literally next door (as in sharing a wall) with a different cycling center called Revelry that had already established that corner as its home base. That's some shady shit, don't you think?

Or maybe you view it as healthy competition. Different people might see the struggles of capitalism differently. Personally, I think it's sleazy. But that's me.

I even felt bad for Costco recently, normally not one of our friendly competitors for a number of reasons. The gargantuan Total Wine & Spirits just recently opened up in the same Mountain View parking lot, again literally next door to their operation—as in sharing a wall! That wasn't by chance. Total has a history of doing that. I was in Vegas last week and I noticed they did the same thing to a store called Lee's in Summerlin. From what I've been told by every major local supplier (none of whom spoke favorably) they come in aggressively, move right next door, and run impossible pricing to put the local competition out of business, even if it means losing money. But I wonder if the pricing stays as competitive once the competition gets eliminated?

Opening right next door to your biggest competitor seems to be the new way forward. Sort of like keeping your enemies closer?

It doesn't always work though.

Dunkin' Donuts tried that shit in Modesto by opening right next to local favorite Mr. T's. That experiment failed miserably. They got blown out of the water because the locals immediately recognized what was happening and they didn't like it one bit. 

Ultimately, I think most people are turned off by that type of aggression and shady business. But...hey...not everyone has talent or creativity. 

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll