Competition unethically stealing my jobs

Okay, I don’t want to make this too long, which is a struggle for me as I am very wordy, but let me share a scenario with you and ask how I can ethically deal with this.

For the last 4 years I have been washing windows and growing my business. I have only one real competitor in town. He has been quite off-putting to me from the start, delivering backhanded compliments left and right, “hey, let’s trade business cards, that way if I have too much business or you have a job you can’t handle we can trade”, or bumping into him on the street when he is with friends, he points to me and says “all the windows I don’t wash he washes”, etc etc it goes on and on.

For whatever reason, although he does mediocre work and acts like this, he is apparently a charmer with the ladies and still has a decent reputation (with most, not all, many know him to be slimy, and I have picked up many jobs due to him offending his customers by his unprofessional actions, like sending a bill when he hadn’t washed and such). 3 years ago he said “now let’s not be stepping on each other’s toes, there is plenty of business for all of us, I won’t step on yours if you don’t step on mine” I agreed as I have no intention of stealing another’s business on purpose, I’m not that kind of person, but he has, on multiple occasions, underbid me to steal a job. That all leads up to this last month.

A new business opened up across the street from the several business I wash there, some of which I have now that he used to. Because it was still freezing here and they weren’t going to open for a month, I went in and talked to them about doing their windows for opening day. They had been told by the neighboring businesses I wash that they should go with me, and the owner gave me the job without even asking for a price. As I was walking out, my competition walked out of the building next to me, another vacant building that someone is moving into in a few months. He told me that he had just gotten that job, that he was happy for me getting mine (I told him I had the job and he congratulated me) saying “that’s awesome, we’ll be neighbors!”.

Even though I had the deal done, I stopped in multiple times and talked to the owners sister who was setting up for opening day, and she said she would pass on whatever I needed to the owner. So opening week comes up and I call the owner to set up specific time and all that, but he doesn’t answer, so I head over to talk in person. As I’m walking up I realize that all the windows are clean. Inside, outside, and a wall of French windows inside. I go in, and the owners wife says “oh yeah, we gave the job to somebody else”. I’m thinking what the heck! So I leave, and later call the owner after I had cooled off to discuss it, at which point he tells me that three days after I talked to him, the other guy went in and talked to his WIFE, who gave him the job without talking to her husband, leaving me out to dry. I lost out on a $300 construction cleanup and a good route job. I’m talking to them today to try and get his business back and to set up a cross promotion with their store and my window washing, but I don’t have high hopes.

So yeah, tldr: I lost $800 dollars to my competition who sneaks behind my back to steal my jobs.

I don’t know whether to confront the guy, I don’t know whether to tell the owner the whole story, I don’t know whether to just ignore it, but it’s really gone too far and is really getting on my nerves. We live in a town of 20,000, so it’s tough getting enough business as it is without a another guy stealing jobs unethically. What should I do? Thanks all. So much for keeping it short, eh?


It is not, to me, unethical to offer a lower price to someone. Yes he knew you had already sold the customer, he probably also knew you didn’t have a written contract. If anything I would have an issue with the customer since you had a handshake on the deal. And why did he let the deal his wife made, supersede his deal? ( oh, wait, I think I know the answer to that one).


I have no problem with healthy competition, you offer a better price and/or have better service, you get there first, you win, fair and square. But to not only congratulate someone else on getting a job, but also to tell me to not step on his toes and he won’t step on mine, and then to purposefully go behind my back and talk to the person I didn’t talk to to steal the job after giving the impression that he wouldn’t, that seems wrong to me. Although I do not like the way he runs his business or his quality of work, any time I went canvasing and encountered a customer of his I would say “here is my card, let me know if anything changes or you need my services”, and I leave and do not go back unless I get a call or see that the windows have not been cleaned for a long time. I did this because he specifically said that he didn’t want us stepping on each others toes. But I can not even count how many times I have gone into a place, quoted them, gotten the job via verbal agreement, and then 3 days later I get a call that either they are going with him or they ask me to beat his price. I live in a small city, I am already charging way less than most people here do, and any less and I wouldn’t have enough to live on. He goes into places that I have gotten the job, asks them what I am charging, and then undercuts me.

I feel that if he is going to be this way, then I should not hesitate to actively pursue businesses that he cleans, because I have time and time again let his clients alone with the understanding that he would do the same for me, and that is obviously not correct.

I 100 percent agree that it is obvious why the husband is letting his wife’s deal stand, that is not lost on me, in my eyes it makes it even worse, he is using that to steal my clients and I feel like I’m ready to be done letting him push me around.

So ethically speaking, what is right and what is wrong when it comes to competition and getting jobs? Is it wrong to go into businesses that he washes and give them deals and actually promote myself? Is it wrong to ask what he charges to match his price? I don’t want to play dirty, that’s not who I am, but if I need to step up and not let him push me around what is the best strategy? Have any of you never dealt with such a person?

i really doubt his wife was involved at all.

i have dealt with far worse but not in the window cleaning business.

i don’t understand what he is “stealing” though, you don’t own the customer or the job.

if you decide not to go back to his customers that is your choice (i don’t think it’s a good choice but it is your choice)

i also don’t understand why you are charging less than most others.

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Well, i guess he could be lying, but that is what he told me, and my previous experiences tell me that is how my competition operates.

I guess I called it stealing because I had a deal with the customer, and instead of going to the boss and conducting business the right way (which generally would have resulted in being contacted by the owner at some point) he went through a back door, which is shady. He also congratulated me on getting the job and THEN did what we both agreed we wouldn’t do. If the rules of the game don’t define stealing, then there isn’t stealing, but he is doing what he had me agree with him on. It’s not about owning customers or jobs, but when you work this hard to get those jobs and customers and earn a good reputation and someone else who does poor work and charges less not only undercuts you but does so in intentionally shady and disrespectful ways, and continuously verbally puts you down and insults your work, you get a little fed up. He’s basically a playground bully.

On a second note, if the owner had called me and said hey, the other guy came in and did xyz and so we’re going to go with him, and I had at least a chance to make a counter offer I wouldn’t be mad, but the fact that I showed up to do a job that I had been given and it had been given to somebody else without me even knowing, you can see how that would be upsetting.

So as per my original post, I need to know, what is tough business, and what is straying over the line? What do I do to get jobs, beat the competition and not develop the reputation of mean jerk?

Also, I get this all the time “why do you charge less?” I live in South Dakota, the average income is 50k a year, a lot of businesses don’t care to have clean windows much less pay for that because a lot of them are businesses that revolve around dusty dirty farm work anyway, and so for me, the average I get for a storefront is 25 bucks. The average house exterior 100, and interior exterior 150-225. If I charged more I wouldn’t have a business, I’d have a side job.

There is no way you are going to prevent this guy from walking in the back door as you head out the front, especially in a highly competitive market. As a business owner neither you or I ever want to be presented with a situation where we have to drain ourselves over what the the hell is our competition doing, and what we aren’t doing. Some of the reasons I have a very steady account base over the last 25 years is the fact I have built personal relationships with all of my customers and they know my service is unmatched. Commercial work is certainly more competitive because there is a different perception of “clean”, and like ourselves, we need to keep track of the bottom line. Be persistent and realize you can’t change everyones mind. Consider focusing more on residential, it’s far easier to generate new accounts through referrals than going out and trying to pound the street with commercial.


Wise thoughts

So question? How do you know he asks what you are charging. Are you being told he is cheaper or have prospects literally said " he asked us what you charged, we told him your price and he said he would do it cheaper? Are people telling you that he is asking them that or are you assuming that because his prices are cheaper he is asking.

It’s not like every time people tell me that, but there have been many times where I have been told he is doing that. It’s fairly obvious when it happens because he and I charge basically the same and there have been times that I have been hurting for jobs and have extremely lowballed and got called later that he wanted to charge a few dollars less. (Edit: I suppose this could be the client themselves asking them to beat my price, that’s not a stretch by any means) Like I said, eventually I pick up customers that don’t want him anymore, but that can take literally years. I have even been suspecting that he has been claiming to work with me. I have no proof, but I had a big construction job last year that I completed and sent the bill, and then the guy who gave me the job went to write me a check for $75 and I said uh, no, I sent a bill for $300 and it turns out that after I did the construction clean, days later my competition “cleaned” them again and charged $75 dollars, and the guy running the job apparently didn’t know this, it was a very confusing situation. I often will clean houses that he used to clean and people will try and pay in cash and not pay sales tax because “that’s what the other guy did”.

Also like I said, I’m not really looking to start a riot, I’m not looking to get back at him, I just want to know, what should I be doing to be up front, promote myself, and gain new clients without feeling like a turd and without doing anything that goes against good practices. Is it wrong business wise to go after clients in my area that he already has? I need to increase my route to make my business more stable and sustainable, and I know I really do offer better service, and like @Wagonhound mentioned, the customers I have a have a great relationship with and they know me well, the issue is that we both agreed to not go after each other’s clients, but he does not hold to that himself, therefore, should I still hold to that? I feel like I’m being dishonest if I go back on my word to him, but at this point that feels like I’m shooting myself in the foot.

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It sounds like he is willing to race to the bottom. Unfortunately there is people that only shop on price, however other people shop on perceived value. If someone is going to win on price instead of following them go the other way. Let him get the customers that only see numbers and you get the ones that see service and quality. How do you do this? Ask yourself these questions . . . Is your vehicle better looking than his, is your website better, does your proposal look nicer, is your attire nicer. You need to look more expensive than him to gain higher paying clients that is part 1. Part 2 is understanding every business deals with this, you will take my advice and still lose on price from certain clients , you just have to go to the next one. If hes gonna show cheap you have to show value. You do this buy making your business look luxurious and he looks cheap.


Very good advice, thank you!

I did route work for many years. Things like that happen all the time. Do not take it personal and take the advise of others on this thread.


Pay no attention to this so called competition,he sounds like a right tit anyway.If he takes one storefront then you make sure to gain another two.Silence will drive him crazy rather than reacting to his childish behaviour when he sees you with his friends or tries to converse with you 1-1.