Prospering as a Small Retailer
The popularity of small local retailers has risen of late, due in large part to the evolution of social media, when effectively utilized in tandem with owner attention to traditional fundamentals inherent to the business. Following are a few thoughts and observations on possible initiatives based on business characteristics that may be employed by those who may, for that reason, be contemplating entering the arena, or those wanting to grow their existing business.
An advantage that local stores have over their larger competitors is their ability to establish relationships with and to take care of their customers on a personal level. Large retailers do understand and invest significantly in the need to provide good customer service. In order to compete, the small retailer must go beyond just cordially helping a customer, to being genuinely invested in them, making them feel that it’s them and not just the sale that’s valued. Such customers will be happy to spread the word about their experience because they know that their acquaintances will also be pleased with the service.
People are often willing to pay a little more for exceptional service or unique or high quality product offerings. Small retailers also have the benefit of being nimble in contrast to larger competitors, where they can often start selling a new item on a moment's notice, providing the first opportunity to offer and market exclusive new products.
Large store products are typically displayed starkly as items on a shelf. Small retailers can conversely present an atmosphere where shoppers like to go and spend time. Owners can bring in vendors or featured guests, or put on workshops enabling customers to try products. Frequently reorganizing and restocking displays give the impression that the inventory is always new. Perhaps form partnerships with complementary stores to share inventory items to enhance product presentations, or to increase buying power.
Small stores are exposed to a whole generation of people brought up on the internet, so a professional, effectively functional website, and active social media engagement is paramount to a small retailer’s success. Individuals tend to spend more and more time with the fun stuff, so entertaining videos and blogs become increasingly vital. Small stores can set themselves apart from their larger counterparts and improve local online search results through locally-focused engagement on the owner’s backstory and mission or core values, narratives about the business, behind-the-scenes photos, or distinguishing product insights. Integrating the human aspects of the business into these will contribute to more loyal and lasting consumer relationships.
Involve customers in the interactions. Include loyalty rewards in regularly produced e-newsletters. Take advantage of free advertising by encouraging customers to check-in that they’re at the store with their friends on social media. Set up displays that create fun photo-ops that encourage photo sharing from the store, and repost photos and social media comments from users who mention the store.
Customers are more likely to support local stores when they see the business interacting with other parts of their community. Build that presence through sponsoring local events or sports teams or working with local nonprofits and charities. Pay attention to local events calendars and align with civic-minded organizations that are targeting the same people the store may be.
In order to prosper, small retailers can’t be just another store offering the same thing. They need to find their own mix of personal customer service, community involvement, social media interaction and use of other tools that combine to present the owner’s unique vision of what the store is and what keeps customers coming back.