Good Things Come in Small Packages: How Small Business Competes with Big Box Stores
Coffee shops like Madcap and Biggby offer multiple drink sizes. Why? Because not everyone needs a 32oz latte with 4 shots of espresso to start their day. The ice cream shops that dot our communities in the summer offer kid-sized options and it's not uncommon to see adults ordering them for themselves! Mini M&Ms, Mini Coopers, Mini Schnauzers - small things can be pretty great! Sometimes smaller is just better.
The same goes for business. If big-box stores were always better, the "little guy" would never stand a chance. Lucky for us small businesses, bigger is not always better. There is a lot that small businesses have to offer -- the key is to leverage the advantage where you can!
The go-to advantage for small businesses is customer service. What is customer service? It's not just how we and our employees handle customer complaints or that our employees smile more than the ones at the chain store down the street. It's the fact that if I run into a small business owner at a PTA meeting, they're likely to listen when I tell them about my great experience with one of their employees. That small business owner might even ask for my feedback about a promotion or a product they're offering. Would Jeff Bezos do that? Let's be honest -- Jeff Bezos probably wouldn't be at a PTA meeting.
Small business owners are prominent community members. They coach little league, we teach their kids in our classes, they share family dinners in some of the same restaurants we do. That visibility creates a brand all on its own, one we just can't experience with the Targets and Amazons of the world.
The question then becomes this: "How can small business owners take advantage of their place in the community to gain more business?"
Consider these ideas:
Be more visible in the community - think volunteer work, shop local, join committees and local networking events. We weren't kidding about the PTA!
Actively seek the BEST employees - when you do shop chain, watch for the REALLY good employees. You know who we mean. Chances are they want to work somewhere they can move up that would invest in their future.
Be the type of company that invests in your employees' futures - the more the good people want to work for you, the more people want to buy from you! How do we get good people to work for us? We take care of them. Benefits, annual raises, development opportunities - it doesn't have to be expensive! Listen to the team and they will tell you exactly why they work for and stay loyal to small businesses.
Events! Work with other small and local businesses to create events. The best events are the ones that make it easy and fun for your customers to buy from a number of local merchants and businesses in a short amount of time. We've seen shop hops with "passports" to stamp at every location, scavenger hunts, bingo games, and of course - the classic coupon book!
Remember your WHY and share it with anyone who will listen - chances are good that you didn't start your company with the plan of becoming the next Meijer (though I don't know many small business owners who would complain about that!). There was likely another reason, such as wanting to give back to the community, offering a service that didn't exist in your area, or putting your kids through college. Remind yourself of your WHY whenever you can and shout it from the rooftops so your customers and employees know it, too!
Local testimonials - studies show that we don't buy because of ads anymore. We buy because we heard your product was awesome from our friend who tried it and now swears by it. By focusing on the sales in your community, you're likely to find connections between customers and potential customers. Use those connections by asking for testimonials and reviews and post them where potential customers are likely to see them.
Don't compete with the noise, BE the noise! The holidays are when EVERYONE is clamoring for attention. Instead of focusing all of your marketing events towards a season where you will likely see an uptick anyways, look for times of the year where the business is usually slow and choose that time to MAKE NOISE! That's the perfect time to host an event, run specials, and make it fun and easy for customers to see you.
So, the next time you see your neighbor ordering their gifts from Amazon when they could have come to your store - or getting their oil changed at Valvoline instead of your shop - remember that there are ways you can get them to come around, and take advantage of what a small business has to offer. Consider working some of these tips into your strategic planning. Need help with your small business website or branding? We'd love to help -- reach out to CIS Agency to learn how!