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Try ‘co-opetition’ with rival firms

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

To grow his company, Sam Calagione adopted an unusual strategy: create a culture of controlled chaos. But after a certain point, he needed to rein in what he had unleashed.

Calagione founded Dogfish Head Brewery in the mid-1990s. From the start, he differentiated his brand by promoting the “Dogfish Way” of unconventional living. His brewing team made beer with unusual ingredients such as saffron, chicory and exotic berries.

A public-relations whiz, Calagione did not view competing breweries as enemies. He rightly concluded that any positive publicity for rival brands would benefit his business.

He has embraced the marketing strategy of “co-opetition”—or limited cooperation with competitors for the purposes of mutual gain.

For example, Calagione has written four books about brewing craft beers and entrepreneurship. In his frequent media appearances to promote his books, he has praised competitors such as New Belgium Brewing.

Emphasizing the high quality of craft beers—even if they’re not Dogfish Head—enhances Calagione’s stature in the industry. It also breeds goodwill among other brewers.

“I really believe there’s a lot of good karma in my celebrating other small breweries I believe in, and not just Dogfish Head,” he says.

In his books, he includes admiring anecdotes about competing beers. And he hosts lavish dinners for beer lovers that feature other brews.

In 2009, Dogfish even partnered with a big competitor, Sierra Nevada Ales, to launch a product. Their shared mission was to highlight the social value of independent craft brewing.

“Co-opetition” has worked wonders for Dogfish. It’s one of the top independent breweries in the United States and has averaged 40% annual revenue growth over the past 10 years.

— Adapted from Uplifting Leadership, Andy Hargreaves, Alan Boyle and Alma Harris, Jossey-Bass.

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