It takes customer service and more for a small company to compete in today's world of big box stores, and the same business strategies that will set a small company apart are valuable tools for a company of any size.
It is a business situation that has been repeated in towns across the country — a «big box» store comes to town and the local businesses get nervous. How can they compete with the larger inventory and lower prices of a store like Costco or Home Depot? The big stores seem to have more tools at their disposal — buying power, national advertising, etc. Local business owners can list a myriad of concerns, and while there is some truth to their fears, it is really just making excuses. There are ways small business owners can keep their customers — even attract new ones — and flourish, when a larger competitor moves into town.
The reality is that any business must consciously implement effective strategies to address competition from any new business that moves into the same market. This is true for any type of business or industry, no matter whether the established business or the newcomer is small, large, a deep discounter, whatever ... the strategies are the same. And some don't cost a thing.
Here are some low- and no-cost ideas that can help you compete:
Make it about more than the merchandise. You sell the same product or service as your competitor, and the competitor happens to be a «big box» store with the buying power to offer a lower price. Is it still possible to keep the customers coming through your doors? Yes! This is where customer service becomes the strategy of choice. Offering a better customer experience adds value to the product and can set you apart from the competition and free you from the commodity trap.
Or, do make it about the merchandise — the merchandise that the competitor doesn't have. One small hardware store that happens to be just down the street from a Home Depot has found a way to flourish. They figured out what Home Depot doesn't sell and then made sure to offer those items. Now Home Depot even sends customers their way for the products that have been so thoughtfully and purposefully stocked.
Know your strengths — and let customers know, too. Hopefully, you are known for offering good customer service, but what else sets your business apart? Why should someone do business with you instead of the competition? Figure out your advantages and then let others know.
Make it about more than the business. Lend your name to other causes in the community, be it the local, national or even international community. The company's market will define the scope of your «community.» For many small businesses, this means taking an active role in the local community by being visible — sponsor a sports team, let a local charity hold a bake sale outside your store on a Saturday, etc. Show the community that you care.
Let your loyal customers lend a hand. Keep in touch with your customer base through a variety of ways — social media, mail, and so on — and build an army of evangelists. Engaging with them will encourage them to promote your business.
Consider a formal loyalty program. Airlines, hotels, restaurants and more use loyalty programs to offer incentives for continued business. Would such a program work in your business?
Whether you choose to institute any or all of the strategies mentioned here — or dozens of other options — there is one ever-present way to compete in any market. Simply stated, just deliver amazing customer service that makes the customer feel so special that he/she wouldn't consider doing business with anyone else.