Competing With the Big Box

Many of my clients are small independent retailers or small businesses. At some point, a big box store moves into their area, or online notices the products that they have found and been selling and starts selling them cheaper. How do they stay relevant and compete with the stores that have millions of dollars of advertising?

This is what I tell them: service, relationships, and unique products. Let’s say you’re a feed/tack store. If you sell the big brands, you can’t compete with the box store down the street that buys 100,000 units of Big Name Shampoo. You need to seek out the better or more unique product, maybe the organic product or the newest product, that is made by another small business. The Small Shampoo/Supplement Company can’t make enough of their product to service 300 stores and Big Box wants the proven winner that they can sell a ton of, not the little unique product that doesn’t have the marketing budget in national ad campaigns.

Service is very important. The Big Box hires the cheapest employees and usually doesn’t train them all that well. You need to find GOOD employees, train them, and pay them well, or provide them with something the big box store can’t. And then reward them for their knowledge and loyalty to you and your customers. Sell items that require more time investment to sell it and invest that time; educate your customers. Be friendly, try to help them solve a problem, be useful, provide knowledge and customer service that the big box store can’t provide. Be relevant to your community and your customers. Know your customers! Know that Suzy just bought a new horse that has digestive problems and ask how the horse is doing the next time she comes in. Remember that Steve has a cute little daughter with a pony. Take notes or use a CRM computer system if you need to. Ask them how a product worked for them. Form relationships. Big Box won’t do that. People buy from people they trust and like.

Small independent stores can still thrive, but they have to be nimble and creative and not compete based on price on the same commodity products that Big Box gets in volume. Wouldn’t you rather shop where you have friends to talk with and a pleasant environment, where people can provide you with some insight into a product, instead of a self-serve, sterile, crowded and unpleasant environment?