Independent Retailers Step Up Their Game to Compete with Big Box Stores

John Krautzel
Posted by in Retail

Small businesses form the lifeblood of communities because they hire local talent, keep dollars within the area and help lead initiatives that support residents. In the era of big-box stores, independent retailers represent specialty stores that contain products or services national chains do not carry. Despite their size, smaller retailers still give places like Target and Walmart a run for their money.

Forbes magazine explains merchandise selection, prices, convenience, branding and a vibrant customer base combine to create successful independent retailers that remain in business for years. When you master these facets, you have advantages over big-box stores and profits take care of themselves.

Pricing is often the first thing customers notice when they enter your store. The difference between the higher price of a bicycle at local, independent retailers and that of lower-priced Walmart lies in the value or worth behind the product. Do local bike shops service what they sell? What services do customers receive when they buy bicycles locally? Knowing that retailers are "there" for clients when they need them the most can be one way to make higher prices worth more to local residents.

Merchandising represents one area in which independent retailers excel. When you don't have an item in the store, can you get it quickly and efficiently? Small retailers react faster to inventory that sits on shelves. If one clothing designer's line seems to be stuck in the back corner, put it on display to give it some fresh air. Small-business owners can make decisions about stock and inventory without needing corporate approval that could take days or even weeks.

Branding involves putting a logo with a name. Put your distinct company logo out there with signage, stationery, packaging, your website and relevant advertising. When customers see your logo, they know to which company it belongs. Do customers perceive your brand positively, neutrally or negatively? Analyze your brand and make it consistent across all aspects of your business to achieve brand recognition and increase sales.

Participate locally in initiatives such as Small Business Saturday during the winter holiday shopping season. Join with other independent retailers to offer discounts and savings to jump-start holiday sales. Use this time period to focus on your online store to see how inventory, advertising and branding work from your website.

Convenience can be tricky. A downtown location means many people can walk to your store. Locating near other busy stores means customers already see your storefront. Make reasons for your customers to enter the door in the first place, whether you have a location at the busiest intersection in town or if you are at the end of a residential street.

Use data to determine exactly who your customers are, and keep repeat buyers coming back for more. Repeat customers create free, word-of-mouth advertising. Knowing who buys what is the single-most important data set your business model can ascertain.

Independent retailers and small businesses have numerous advantages over national chains. How you turn these advantages into profits remains the key to success with any small-business model.


Photo courtesy of sirikul at



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