Your advantage over big box stores

Every small business owner knows that he or she cannot compete with the big box stores on price. They buy in such quantity that they can sometimes sell their items for less than what they cost you. However, there are some things that the small business owner can do that they cannot, and it’s important to use these advantages to grow your business.

These large retailers are well-known for poor customer service. As they move towards more automation this service will only decline even further. Try to find someone on the floor who can answer your questions or direct you to where the items you are seeking are located. They may have 30 checkout lanes, but if only two people are working check-out you’ll still spend more time in line than you spent getting the items you want to buy.

You have the opportunity to stand out by providing excellent customer service. Your team should be trained to greet people when they enter your business, quickly answer their questions, take the customer to the item they are seeking instead of just pointing in the general direction, and be prepared to check the person out when they arrive at the register. They should also be trained to suggest additional items that would complement the original purchase. For instance, in a men’s clothing store a team member might ask the person buying a new dress shirt if they noticed a particular tie that would go well with the shirt. In an electronics store a person buying a television can be asked if they’ve heard the difference a quality sound bar makes. These add-on sales not only add value to the purchaser; they also increase your bottom line.

Low, low prices often means low, low quality. One way to compete with the big box stores is to offer items that are of much higher quality than they offer. I know we live in a disposable culture, but that doesn’t mean that there are not people who do not appreciate quality and will pay for it. One pair of my dress shoes was bought over 20 years ago, and they still look like new. Try buying that kind of quality in a big box store.

Not everyone is willing to pay more for better service or better quality so these strategies will not bring these folks into your store. But, some people are willing, and these are your primary customers. These are the folks you want to direct your marketing to. As one business owner told me, “Do business with people who can afford to do business with you.”

Another advantage you have is your ties to your community. Go to a Little League game in most communities and you’ll see the sponsor’s names on the uniforms. The vast majority of those sponsors are small businesses in the community. Attend the awards ceremony at your local high school where scholarships are awarded and see how many of them come from small businesses and/or their owners. When I owned the heating and air conditioning business we gave a $500 scholarship to a player on our high school baseball team each year. The local Chamber of Commerce in our community recently held its annual dinner and passed out several awards. Each of them went to various small businesses in the community.

I will be the first to recognize that big box stores are also involved in their communities and often contribute large sums of money to various causes in the community. I applaud them for that and believe they should be recognized for their involvement. However, I also believe that when small businesses are involved it generates a lot of positive feelings in the community towards those businesses.

When it comes to consumable items it’s very difficult to compete with big box stores, and I am thankful that they can offer such items at affordable prices. I’m not against the big box stores at all because they do bring value to people. However, if you are a small business owner, you need to know you can compete with these larger stores. You can’t match them dollar for dollar, but there are other ways in which you can be very competitive and not only stay in business but grow your business.


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