Last week I had the privilege of speaking at a conference for small church leaders in southern California. The two-day conference was hosted by Transformation Ministries specifically for their pastors serving in churches of 200 or less.
Southern California is an area with numerous megachurches, and I was curious to talk to these pastors about how it’s like to serve a smaller church with so many of these much larger churches almost in their back yard. I soon learned that it is a challenge for some of the pastors. One issue that some of these pastors addressed was that some in their churches struggled with self-esteem issues regarding their church. They wondered why their church had not grown as large as some of these other churches. Although none admitted it, I’m sure some were trying to compete with these larger churches. As I told them in the seminar, they didn’t have the resources to compete with the larger churches, and they were not expected to do so anyway. The fact is that they enjoyed certain advantages over the megachurches that would appeal to some of the people they sought to reach.
- Small churches can offer a sense of community that is not naturally found in larger churches.
- Small churches communicate quickly.
- Small churches allow people opportunities to serve.
- Small churches value people over programs or performances.
When large big-box companies move into a community one of the first things that happen is that some of the smaller, established businesses close their doors. They feel they can’t compete with the prices and products the larger stores provide, and they are right. However, they can often meet a market niche that the larger stores cannot meet.
- Small businesses can provide more personal service than the big-box stores. A big store might have 20 cash registers, but if only two of them are open they offer no benefit to their customers. Many people are tired of being treated as a commodity, a number, and are willing to pay more for personal service from someone who is genuinely glad that they are shopping in their store.
- Small businesses can provide specialized products that a larger store might not carry. A big-box store offers products that they can obtain with significant discounts from their suppliers. While they may have many products on their shelves, they don’t carry everything. The quality may not be the best either. After all, they are pushing their suppliers for the lowest price, and that often means lower quality. Your small business can compete by offering products the big stores won’t carry.
- Small businesses will often be involved in the local community. The big stores are often involved as well, but people expect them to be. When the public sees the smaller stores sponsoring a sports team or participating in the local Chamber of Commerce it means something different than when the larger stores do so.
- Small businesses don’t hide behind “Company policy” when addressing issues. If someone has a problem with your product or service, they can usually speak directly to the owner who, if he or she is wise, will make it right immediately. This can create a great deal of goodwill that the larger stores often do not enjoy due to their more autocratic nature.
The main thing a small business owner needs to remember when competing with big-box stores is that you can often do more by doing less. Don’t try to compete with these larger stores on price or anything else where they will have a natural advantage. Focus on doing the things they can’t do. Find a niche market and pour your resources and efforts on serving that market.