While large chain stores can often offer low prices, predictable inventory and flashy displays, don't be intimidated by their size. Bigger is not always better when it comes to connecting with customers and earning sales. The trick is to take advantage of the benefits of being small and nimble. Here are four tips to help small business owners and websites compete against the big guys – and win.
It's hard to beat chain stores on prices and selection, so find other ways to make your products and services stand out. Amy Boroff, owner of Be Craftful toy and gift store in New Jersey, stopped carrying a lot of retail inventory and opted for customization instead, according to Inc. Magazine. The small store became a destination for arts-and-crafts-themed birthday parties, school field trips, and even ladies' nights. This wide range of products brought in adult customers as well as kids. By being flexible – and creative enough – to sell products in different ways, the store was able to successfully grow business.
Big companies may offer cheaper goods, but Americans trust small businesses three times more than larger businesses, according to a recent Gallup poll. Small businesses can use their local knowledge to make better connections with customers, and earn their confidence. Mike Bodart, who owns Indiana-based Hoosier Sporting Goods, stocks specialty items rather than commonly sold goods. He then uses his expertise to help customers make better buying decisions, according to the authors of Roadside MBA, who interviewed small business owners nationwide for their book. Bodart also uses his local knowledge to increase sales, such as stocking up t-shirts in the local high school's brown and orange colors before big games.
Today's customers are more socially conscious than ever before – a big advantage for small businesses and websites that can do well by doing good. Florida company Complete the Pair, for example, helps its customers generate sales prospects through social impact. Customers buy a pair of sneakers and send just one to a sales prospect with a note requesting “a foot in the door." If the prospect accepts the meeting request, and completes the pair, the shoes are donated to someone in need. Companies that sponsor a local team, donate to a charity or find other ways to give back can engage customers and earn their loyalty, too.
Innovate and Improve
Small businesses can compete with larger companies by focusing on quality over quantity. As specialized experts, small businesses can win customers away from even the biggest chains if they innovate and create better quality products. Leah McMahon, owner of the Oregon-based gourmet coffee shop Silk Espresso, competes directly with Starbucks by focusing on the quality of her coffee beans, including improved sourcing, storage and serving techniques, the Road MBA authors report. McMahon also personally trains each and every barista herself to ensure that her drinks are brewed to the highest standards - and claims a loyal customer base as her reward.
Small businesses and websites actually have many advantages over big businesses that can often be slow to respond to change, over-generalized and lacking in local knowledge. With the right mission and message, small businesses can triumph over competitors of any size.