July 17, 2015
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that big box retailers have some big advantages over local and independent businesses. The most obvious being that the superstores can stay open 24/7, massively discount stock and offer much larger product catalogues. However this doesn’t mean that small businesses should roll over and let the faceless chains have their pick of the customers and leave the scraps. In order to fight back though, you must use your own unique strengths as a smaller retailer to make sure you stand out to customers. Find out what you can offer your customers which they can’t get at a Tesco or John Lewis, and make the most of these advantages. Your business will be buzzing in no time.
Make It Personal…
Personal customer service is perhaps the most obvious point but extremely important nonetheless, so it has to be included. As a small retailer you have the unique opportunity to get to really know your customers. When you build relationships with your customers you will add value to your business and in turn lead to higher revenues. So use this to your advantage by getting to know your customers and where possible, greet them by name. People love to hear their names. A simple, “Thanks again Chris for your business today. I look forward to seeing you again soon.” can make a huge difference to someone’s loyalty to your business.
Aim to know your customers shopping habits so you can offer them as much help as possible and make them aware of any new promotions that might appeal to them. Your customers will appreciate the extra effort you put in and will be much more inclined to spend more and return more often rather than be one of the thousands that have shopped at an impersonal chain store.
Build a Brand…
Luckily, as a small business owner it can be much easier to successfully brand your business how you want to. Running a small business means you can spend a whole lot more time on the shop floor compared to the chief executive of Argos and you should use this to your advantage. Being around your customers and employees so frequently will allow you to control how brand image is being presented and you can convey your messages and core beliefs more easily in all that you do.
Create a brand identity that looks to visually encompass your core values as a business – whether those values are quirky and unique or traditional, quality. Your brand identity is the visual representation of those values and must be easily recognisable by customers. Build on from this by ensuring that all customer touch points are consistently presented with your branding across the business. Does the layout and décor of your business tie in with the messages and values you’re trying to promote? The shop fascia and windows? Train your employees to be aware of your branding as well so they can also promote your ideas and vision.
Make the most of inexpensive locally focused marketing
Once you have created your brand you must expose people to it. Marketing campaigns no longer have to be outrageously expensive to be successful. Yes, you won’t be able to afford a television or billboard advertising campaign, but creating a social media presence is very cheap and easy to implement and are very successful when done well (read more at http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244708).
Websites can be built relatively inexpensively and optimised for Google to focus on local shopping searches. Email marketing is another affordable method that allows you to keep in touch with your customer base informing them of new products and services or latest specials.
Lastly, of course where big box retailers have invested millions in their loyalty programs (Morrison recently spent £300 million on their new loyalty program) now small businesses can get easy access to similar loyalty marketing tools through loyalty programs like Cally. :). Initiatives like Cally can help local independent business level the playing field and have a loyalty program for less than £1 per day.
Express Yourself Through Unique and Interesting Stock Choice……
As an independent retailer, you aren’t restricted to a national sales plan which gives you completely free reign to sell what you want to sell. So why not be creative? The larger brands tend to take less risk when it comes to their stock which means that you can have the first choice when it comes to new products. Stock the items you’d like to see in a shop and your customers will appreciate the thought and personal touch that has gone into your purchases.
You might not be able to offer the range that big box retailers can, but you will be offering products that your customers won’t be able to get at any of the hundreds of chains stores across the country. You never know, you might be starting the next hot trend!
Get Local Council on Your Side…
Local councils also need to step up their game and play a vital role in the success of local businesses. Pay and display parking in town centres is really hitting small businesses and the high street in general, hard. The average shopper tends to visit large superstores when the alternative of parking in the town centres council car park costs them an arm and a leg.
Recently, all the pay and display parking machines in Cardigan (a small town in West Wales, not the thing your grandma wears when she’s cold) were left out of order due to vandals. Despite being under regrettable circumstances, the local shoppers benefitted from the subsequent free parking. And so did the local business owners. Some shops reported that their number of customers had increased by 50%. Although the local council may be a losing a bit of revenue from the pay and display machines, this is outweighed by the money being circulated back into the community making for a much healthier local economy in the long run.
Many areas now have their own business improvement district (BID) networks which is an initiative in many areas where local businesses group together to improve the trading environment (Ealing for example have a BID – you can read more at http://www.makeitealing.co.uk/business/home/). These organisations can also be used to bring key issues to a local government’s attention. And if your local area doesn’t have a BID team, why not start one?
The main thing to remember when trying to compete with big corporations is not to take on their strengths. Trying to compete in areas such as price is never going to end well. Instead you should focus on what you do well and how you can distinguish yourself as a business. Make customers aware of the added value you can offer. Leading, we hope, to a future where you not only survive, but you can thrive in the face of this stiff competition.