With record numbers of sporting goods store closings and consolidations, there is a lot of uncertainty in the sporting goods industry right now. It’s not all to blame on the drop in sports participation, there are many factors that are playing a role. If you are active in this industry, you are well aware of the additional effort that is required to differentiate your business from the competition. If you own a brick and mortar retail location, you are still in business because you offer your customers something they can’t find elsewhere. It may be the personal relationship you have with your customers. It may be the fact that your employees go the extra mile to produce custom orders with no mistakes, and deliver on time. Whatever you do that sets you apart, you need to keep doing it. We were reminded of this on the first day of the 53rd annual National Sporting Goods Association Management Conference. Keynote speaker Scott McKain spoke to store owners, team dealers, vendors and suppliers, reminding them all that nothing has to be a commodity. According to McKain, it’s your approach to the marketplace that makes the difference. As examples he pointed out that coffee was just a commodity until Starbucks found a way to turn getting a cup of coffee into a lifestyle experience. He also reminded us how Evian differentiated a commodity as commonplace as water by putting it in a bottle. McKain is a bestselling author of several business books. To read more about what McKain says it takes to differentiate your business, pick up a copy of his book, 7 Tenants of Taxi Terry. It’s a fantastic story of how one dedicated businessman went from being a humble taxi cab owner to build a thriving transportation empire. It’s all about being distinctive. McKain challenged all the sporting goods business owners in the room to do the same. To think about what really sets them apart. You might think it’s your customer service. But guess what? Everybody says that. You have to think deeper, dig deeper and understand why your customers like to do business with you. If you can figure that out, you’re one step closer to staying in business.