Opinion

Charlie Mullins: A lack of competition in business breeds complacency

5 min read

29 February 2016

Based on the outcome of last week’s Ofcom report, unless you’re BT, everyone in business should love a bit of competition.

Ofcom’s report, which instructed BT to open up its Openreach broadband network to rival operators, is a direct consequence of what can happen when you are the only player on the pitch.

Of course, you’ll bang in the goals all day long because there’s no one to stop you. But when there’s no competition you will lose your edge, become complacent and not play to your best.

It looks like that’s what’s happened at BT because no one, be it consumer or business, has been able to push it into raising its game. As a result, as the many news reports bore out with reams of anecdotal evidence, large areas of the country experience slow internet speeds and, on the whole, generally poor customer service.

That in itself is not a surprise because Openreach is not, in gobbledegook management-speak, “customer facing” – do any of its vans actually display a phone number or, ironically, a web address?

So, to deal with an internet problem customers have to go to providers, which if it’s not BT, leaves businesses and the public with three degrees of separation away from those which have the power to install, connect or repair a broadband connection.

Now Ofcom has finally said what most of us knew already about Openreach’s monopoly of broadband infrastructure – others can enter the market, which can only improve the service customers receive And that is the plus-side of competition. It brings out the best in entrepreneurs; it keeps them on their toes and more determined to succeed.

Read more from Charlie Mullins:

While every now and again there is a totally unique idea that enables an entrepreneur to establish a new market and make it their own, more often than not, the majority of the time business owners take an existing skill or earned experience to start an enterprise in an established industry.

And whether it’s an upstart agitator looking to disrupt the market or an established firm battling off the new entrants, the only way to truly hold your own is to do it better than everyone else.

Competition will, of course, have an influence on pricing, but it should also help dictate the level of service offered to customers. 

I’m more than happy for other plumbers, carpenters, electricians and the like to operate on my patch, because I know that what we offer is the highest level of service, based on our investment in the infrastructure of our business and the levels of skills and experience of our engineers. This makes sure we maintain and grow our strong position in the London market.

Increased healthy competition is not just good for entrepreneurs and business owners, but also for skilled individuals who take pride in their profession. At Pimlico Plumbers our engineers continually strive to be better; and by being better they can earn more money, which means they pay more tax.

So if you are the only business in your field it doesn’t matter if you offer a “dial-up” level of service.

But as soon as others enter the fray you’ll soon find yourselves out on your ear if you don’t ramp things up with a business that operates to the equivalent of “superfast broadband” – something that more people across the country might start to experience now Ofcom has detonated a bomb under the UK internet industry.

If you love a good disruption story then head on over to our Everline Future 50 ranking, which is about to announce its latest batch of game-changing businesses on 3 March.