There are conflicting narratives surrounding small, locally-based businesses in the U.S. One says that big, chain stores are killing the Main Street, Mom-and-Pop type shops. The other touts the strength of the “shop small” movement, that small businesses are the “backbone of the economy” and that people generally prefer to buy local. So, which is it? Perplexingly, the answer is both.
Big businesses like Wal-Mart and Amazon can absolutely make things really difficult for small businesses, be they brick-and-mortar or solely online. But just because small businesses can’t necessarily compete with the goliaths of the world on price or free two-day-shipping, that doesn’t mean they can’t compete.
The same advantages that the internet gives to Amazon which allow them to have a dominant, global reach are also available to even the smallest company. In a lot of ways, the internet is really the great equalizer. After all, you’ve got access to the same internet that they do, right?
Local businesses need to learn how to take advantage of the tools and opportunities that the internet affords them, lest they get crushed beneath the footprint of a multi-national giant.
Be The David
The first thing any business has to do if they want to tangle with a goliath is believe that they can be the David. “Shop Small” and “Buy Local” movements are real things, and they are powerful. People DO prefer to buy from their neighborhood store if they can, you just need to show them where you are, why you’re great, and make it as easy as possible for the customers to engage with your business. In a recent market research survey by AYTM, 61% of respondents said they’d be willing to pay higher prices to support a local business. 56% said they prefer to support the local economy, and 53% said they prefer the personal service of a small business as compared to a large company. So, yeah, the opportunity here is real. We can work with this.
Play To Your Strengths
Think about the last time you walked into a major hardware store (or electronics store, or department store, or so on). I can’t remember the last time I walked out of one of these major chains without feeling some level of frustration. Way too frequently, employees either don’t know where things are, tell you they don’t carry items that you know for a fact they do carry, or simply don’t know what they are talking about. This is a major advantage for local businesses.
Part of the frustration people feel with big box stores comes from the fact that there is SO much information readily available about almost anything on the internet. So, when people come into a store, they are armed with information. If you try to tell them something that conflicts with the research they’ve done, they are going to be unhappy. What they don’t have though, is the wisdom that comes from experience. Your expertise as a small business is going to help them apply that information they’ve gathered into something usable and actionable that they can then feel good about.
Show Off Your Expertise
Being the expert your customers are looking for is great for when they walk in the door, but that isn’t necessarily going to draw people in who don’t already know you are there. And what about the people who aren’t in a position to come in at all because they aren’t anywhere near you? Don’t forget that you can have online-only customers as well. And these customers need to have just as much access to and awareness of your expertise as the people who walk in and speak with you face-to-face.
Translating your knowledge and experience into valuable content and getting it out there on the internet is both a crucial strategy to help people find you on search engines, but it will do wonders for establishing you and your company as personable, accessible resources that the big brands have no hope of ever providing. Writing blog posts, creating how-to videos or making your own podcast are just a few ways that you can get that know-how of yours out there into the world.
Cut Your Slice
Big companies need to go after big audiences. But guess what? You don’t. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, because of course you want to appeal to and attract as many people as you possibly can. When major brands advertise, they implement broad strategies because it isn’t worth their time to go after smaller, niche markets. That means if you turn your attention on one or two of these small niche markets, you’ll be doing so with little to no competition, at least not from giants.
Niche marketing gives you a huge leg up in appealing to a specific sub-set of people and can increase sales within that group by huge percentages. It might be easy for bigger companies to ignore these groups, but their loss is your gain.
Local businesses definitely have to work extra hard to establish themselves and compete with the name-brands that everybody knows. But as long as you don’t forget that you have the same, really powerful tools at your disposal as they do, you’ll be able take advantage of your strengths, give a personal service and attention that they aren’t capable of, and attract an audience that they are likely ignoring. Your budgets may be different, but with the right marketing strategy and investing in help when needed, there is still tremendous opportunity for success in the small business market.
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