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How the smallmarts compete

stuffMany an industry has been rocked or merely put away by the big box stores. Some of the businesses that go by the wayside when a large competitor moves to town really had no business hanging around anyway. As soon as a choice of any kind came around, they were doomed.

But what about the small businesses, mostly retailers, that seem to thrive in the shadow of deeply discounted goods. What do they have in common, what do they do that works?

I will tell you that it’s pretty simple to recognize, not so simple to pull off, but you know a successful smallmart when you see one.

There are three such stores in the neighborhood where I live in Kansas City. They each sell pretty attainable stuff such as children’s books, candles, gifts and accessories. All things that stores like Wal-Mart and Target carry. I mean, really, can you imagine a small store that sells nothing but relatively inexpensive candles surviving? What about kids books, Newberry Award winners are sold by Amazon below cost.

So what’s the secret? (Above and beyond great products)

Here are the characteristics that I believe make a small store work and are a must if you want to survive, let alone thrive.

  • The owners are very outgoing networkers – they like people and they are connected to things and the community – they blog!
  • They exude authenticity – you go to each knowing that they have found what you are looking for and they know what it is – they are in it for the long haul
  • Their stores are about the experience – events, parties, tastings, Diva days, advice, classes and wine are all served routinely – you go to the destination and you buy something accidentally.

Bottom line – they don’t compete on price, they can’t, they compete on something much less tangible – emotion.

Have a look and learn:

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  • kerrin

    We have a small hardware store within walking distance of our home (1 mile). The key with this store is the location. There are bigbox hardware stores with in 15 miles of this neighborhood (10 minute drive). This store however doesn’t compete on price (they are more expensive) they bank on Harry-home-owner needing something to fix his house in a hurry.

  • http://comboplatter.net/ Amy Vercruysse

    It always comes down to relationships, doesn’t it? And that’s why emotions play such a key part. (I posted a similar sentiment on my blog just last week: http://www.comboplatter.net/2007/11/13/emotions-mean-business)

    I live in Seattle, and you can’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting at least a couple of smallmarts. There’s a lot of support here for local business of any kind, as the multi-national conglomerates tend to be mistrusted and viewed as taking advantage of every possible loophole, tax and business law, politician, ethic, etc. Me, I like the idea of getting something unique that can’t necessarily play in Peoria.

    That said, we do have one or two successful conglomerates as well. :)

  • John Jantsch

    Amy – Seattle has a rich history of Indy stuff doesn’t it?

    There is a great city funded program in Littleton, CO called Economic Gardening. They decided to pour everything they have, business development wise, into organically growing the local businesses instead of going big game hunting. It’s paid off and become a national model of how to do it.

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  • Scott

    Great post. Any wisdom (or follow up posts) for mom/pop e-tailers?

    I know plenty of small web-businesses that struggle to stand out in a much larger crowd with customers with shorter attention spans.

  • http://www.ychange.com Jim Smith

    I spend a lot of time counseling small businesses and I have to say that you are spot on. They aren’t selling products, they are selling relationships. Isn’t that the essence of customer oriented selling. Getting under the skin of your customer. Appealing to emotion.

    Thanks John… Great Post

  • http://echocove.com Dave Sutherland

    As a lifetime broadcaster and for some strange reason the owner of a small (3700 sq.ft.)retail store…specialty toys, gifts, gift baskets… I concur with the comments in the article…in addition, small retailers also know more about their products..actually help customers and know where they can find a product if they don’t have it. We have Sears Essentials, JC Penney, Michaels, IParty, Bed Bath and Beyond, Target and Walmart within a half-mile of our retail complex…all selling lots of the same products…But..we’re connected to the community, know lots of people and reinvest in the community. We work with our local media..particularly radio which is very strong in Keene, NH, while our big box neighbors load up the mail box and local papers with endless look alike flyers with one incredible sale after another..we talk directly to our customers..My businesses and many of the businesses I service as a marketing manager..go on the air and do their own ads..It’s personal, friendly, measureable – part of the fabric of the region. You can’t out-Walmart ‘em..you can invite them to your store, personally, everyday.