Gathering information about your competitors is easier than you think, and you can do this without a hint of espionage, or needing to call in the services of MI5, the CIA, KGB, or any other secret organisation.
In fact, if you know where to look, then important operational information about your competitor is freely and readily available.
All businesses have suppliers, retailers need to source retail products from sales distribution channels. And manufacturers need to source raw materials to assemble. Chances are that your competitors tap into the same sales distribution channel as yourself.
If this is the case, then your supplier can be a valuable source of information, especially if you become close. If you are not close, then you can determining their stock holding patterns will provide a “look forward” of what they expect to spend. As suppliers they do not want to hold stock for any significant period of time, so they will tend schedule their buying patterns to coincide with expected sales periods. Those sales periods are obviously when their customers (including yourself) are expected to place orders. If you are in a business where leads times are substantial, then knowing what your supplier is ordering might give you an insight into what your competitors are doing. This is especially important if someone is ordering and you are not – makes you ask the question “What is happening that you don’t know about?”.
If your competitor is a publicly trading company, then it might be prudent to purchase a small parcel of their general shares. This will mean that you gain access to their quarterly, half-yearly, and annual stock reports. These are usually “look backward” reports, however, they will always provide a future trend or expectations statement. This is the moment when your competitor tells you what they expect to do during the next reporting period and how they are trending to meet yearly expectations.