Competing in a Big Box World

 Small businesses, especially small retailers, have long struggled to compete in a world of Big Boxes.

Well, with the recent news out of Bentonville, Ark., many small funeral homes will be doing that literally. Wal-Mart recently started selling caskets on its Web site at discount prices, following a similar move by Costco a few years back.

For those in the funeral home business, the news may as well have been delivered by the Grim Reaper himself—or at least that’s what one would think. I was surprised to hear an industry spokesperson downplay the move, saying that Wal-Mart can’t offer one thing that small funeral homes can offer: the ability to comfort someone during a stressful and emotional time. Remember that.

Usually when a plan for a new development that’s filled with national chain tenants is unveiled, local businesses begin to panic, fearing the mega-competition. The reaction is not entirely unwarranted. Many small businesses do lose business to these bigger competitors. And some, from booksellers to clothiers to small hardware store owners, find the intrusion of the national brands to be the final nail in their coffin, so to speak.

Yet small retailers and service providers have been competing successfully alongside major chains for decades, and we could all benefit by reviewing their survival strategies.

First, get serious about customer service, if you’re not already. Which brings us back to the funeral industry spokesman who said that one thing they offer is the ability to comfort someone during a stressful time. What can you do to provide a level of service that your customers can’t find anywhere else?

Of course, that means knowing your competition, what they offer and what they don’t. What they’re doing well and what they’re missing.  Forget price. Where can you go deeper in terms of product offering, and with better quality?

Can you partner with others to achieve economies of scale or to refer business to each other?

What kind of experience can you offer your employees so you can keep the best and brightest and pass their expertise on to the customer?

Finally, make sure your own house is in order.  Sometimes the arrival of the Big Box just hastens the demise of a small business that was already in bad shape. Do you have your costs under control, is cash flowing, is your inventory and payroll where it should be for your size business and industry? Of course, that’s assuming you know your industry.

Whether you’re a small retailer or any other type of small business, the ability to compete successfully rests with you, your vision and your strategies. If you focus on your customers, on what you can do and on what you can control rather than on “me-tooing” your larger competitors, you’ll live to tell a tale of success.

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About Smart Companies Thinking Bigger®

Kelly Scanlon is the owner and publisher of Thinking Bigger Business Media. She recently finished a term on the national board of directors of the National Association of Women Business Owners, and was the national chair from 2010-2011. An advocate for small business owners, Kelly sits on numerous boards and committees to advocate on behalf of small business owners. She has won several awards for her advocacy. Among them are the 2011 United Nations NGO Positive Peace Award on behalf of Kansas City area small business owners, the U.S. Small Business Administration's Region VII Women's Business Champion of the Year in 2009, and the Women in Business Advocate of the Year from the State of Kansas in 2006. In 2002, she won the SBA's Region VII Small Business Journalist of the Year Award (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas). Whatever your business stage—aspiring, startup, established, mature—Thinking Bigger Business Media has the resources you need to grow to the next level. We are a resource organization dedicated to providing the strategic, "how-to" information small business owners need to become more productive and more profitable. We also provide information that helps owners connect with resources within the business community that can help them grow. We deliver that information through a variety of media products and other channels easily accessible to business owners.
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