We’re not competing with you.

I love competitive endeavors. Ask anyone in my family about Monopoly or Trivia with Rob and hands will instinctively ball themselves into fists. But when it comes to Student Housing, I’m not competing with you. What I am doing is focusing on perfecting “us.” I’m playing a game that doesn’t end with this season or this decade.

In general, I gain nothing from a deep-dive into the market survey. I’ve spent some time over 20 years watching “the competition” in student housing and the biggest takeaway I’ve had is that watching them is a giant waste of time. Not unlike middle school, everyone is watching the “cool kids” and doing their best to imitate without it looking like they’re imitating.

Copy your competitors’ marketing and you’re not a better version of you, you’re a worse version of them.

Me – just now.

You know the old story: “I saw Cady Heron wearing army pants and flip-flops…”

To Sinek’s point; if your competition can get people checked-in on move-in day in 15 minutes and it takes you 2 hours, that’s weakness revealed. If your competition routinely clocks a 45% renewal ratio and you’re clawing your way to the low 30’s, that’s weakness revealed.

You can’t copy them to a better renewal percentage or a faster check-in time, but you can use that knowledge to redouble your commitment to navel-gazing and figuring out if your check-in time needs to be so long. Spoilers: it doesn’t.

The weekly rundown of what “The Exchange” is doing does next to nothing for me in terms of improving my situation on the ground. It doesn’t lead to better internal systems, promoting daring and driven team members, or committing to reducing error rates in billing and work orders. What it does is tell me that I need to give away two months’ rent to sign leases, now.

And that’s the problem; all we’re interested in is “now.” That’s why we copy our competition. It’s why we’re incentivized to match their policy for policy, process for process, promotion for promotion until there’s nearly no difference between us. Gross.

A trend is always a trap. All success depends on performance and execution. If you’ve got significant flaws in your process, product, promotions, or your people, you’re going to have a bad time. No amount of star-gazing will improve it.

When things are slow, think about the future. Planning is invaluable but plans are worthless. Get excited about ruthlessly interrogating your operation for the gap between the car seats; the place things routinely fall and get stuck. Build bridges over those gaps that would make Joseph Strauss blush with envy. Revise. Revise. Revise.

We’re not competing with you. We’re hyper-focused on shaving one-tenth of a second off our mile-time. If you’re running in the same race that’s great, but we don’t care about studying your technique. We’ve got our race to run and the fact that you’re running as well is almost an afterthought.

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