It happens every day, yet small business owners continue to be caught by surprise. You’ve cornered the local market, you’ve built up your niche, people know you, and they come back. Then one morning you’re driving to work, and you pass a construction site— a big construction site. Before you know it, you find yourself in a difficult position: a giant has moved into your backyard.
Competing with big box stores—whether they’re down the street or only exist as a website and a massive network of warehouses—is tough when you’re a small business. Economies of scale dictate that you’re not going to be able to beat them on price or convenience.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If you take a closer look at what you have to offer and start to see your weaknesses as strengths, you can turn them into the advantages you need to compete with the brand giants and win.
Focus on Value, Not Savings
So, you can’t beat the big brands on price— weakness number one. Unless you’re an extremely specialized line of business, you’re going to have a hard time competing with companies that do business at a volume that’s orders of magnitude bigger than what you do. They can buy in bulk and get deals that you simply don’t have access to.
Instead of worrying about being the cheapest place around, you need to start thinking about value. You don’t just sell something; you also offer a unique, personal experience. What are you doing to make sure that when someone comes through your door, they’ll want to come back again and again?
Making Your Business a Great Experience
The first thing to look at when you’re thinking about value is the physical layout of your business. The classic rule is “location, location, location,” but the real question is this: what are you doing to make people want to come back? You want people to value the time they spend with you, and not just because you’re on the way from the grocery store to the gas station.
Big box stores are homogenous, especially in their design. You can walk into a McDonald’s, Best Buy, or Walmart, and they’ll look pretty much the same whether you’re in Montana or New York City. This is designed to make people feel comfortable, but it also puts you in a daze.
So, how do you make your experience really great? It depends on what your business does. Offering a lot of hands-on time with products, comfy furniture that invites people to stay awhile, in-store WiFi, a TV with relevant programming, a crazy layout that turns shopping into an adventure…you’re limited only by your own imagination.
A Personal Touch
Weakness number two: you only sell a small number of things, and they sell everything. Instead, think about it this way: you’re an expert, and they’re just a generalist. Would you rather buy something from someone who knows a lot about it or someone who’s just there to collect a paycheck?
Your best asset when trying to compete with a big brand is you. Your passion, your expertise, your experience, and your knowledge. You need to be aware that customers will value their interactions with you and, well, interact.
Make a point of striking up conversations with customers, and walk them through what you have to offer. It’s the relationships you establish that will create your biggest fans, the kind that will send their friends your way and talk you up online.
Competing with a Smaller Selection
Weakness number three: your selection is so much smaller than the big brands. Why would someone come to you when they can go down the street and choose from ten different options at a variety of price points? If they trust you, they’ll come because you’re the expert and the two options that you stock is better than sorting through a pile of seemingly identical choices with very little guidance.
In other words, the value you offer is your curation. Your selection might be smaller, but you stand behind everything that you sell, and you can explain why you sell it. Big brands have to cater to everyone, but you can take a risk and offer something more specialized or unusual.
What You Can Do Right Now
It’s understandable to be nervous when a brand giant moves into your backyard, but if you take the time to re-envision your weaknesses as strengths, you’ll find that you have more advantages than you think.
You’ll never undercut a big brand’s prices, so focus on offering value.
Make your in-store experience unique.
Focus on personal service and realize that the experience you provide has value.
- Carefully curate your inventory.
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