“Stay hungry, stay foolish.” Though Steve Jobs spoke these words to Stanford University graduates in 2005 rather than modern business owners, the notion applies today. It’s a sense of wonder (matched with a bit of hunger and foolishness) that inspires retail entrepreneurs to start a small business in an ever-changing and hypercompetitive industry.
Running a small business brings a number of challenges, but it also includes some unique superpowers that can offer you a competitive advantage against big-box retailers. Here’s our top five, and how you can use them to become a leader in your niche.
Responding to changing consumer behavior.
More shoppers than ever are turning to online retail stores. While not all retailers can afford to operate a brick-and-mortar shop, when it comes to eCommerce, the playing field is level. With a technically proficient and design-minded partner, you can create a stunning online store that’s synced with your brick-and-mortar operations to provide maximum visibility to your customers.
Use it to your advantage: Partner with a technology provider that “gets” your company’s vision, and has a proven track record of working with businesses like yours. ClikBoutik, for example, specializes in building eCommerce solutions for small and medium retailers in Canada and the US. Implement an omnichannel commerce solution that enables customers to buy what they want, how and when they want it.
Innovations in online search have made it possible for consumers to find exactly what they want, down to every last detail. The result — specialty stores are thriving now, from footwear to diamonds to organic puppy treats. When you have expertise in a particular niche, your customers choose you because they feel a real connection to your unique product, mission and brand.
Use it to your advantage: Become the go-to person for your niche, and work to meet your target customer exactly where they are. You don’t need a full marketing and advertising department to reach (and influence) customer behavior — you can use the data available to you through your ERP systems and social media analytics to connect with specific markets and sell to them directly.
As a small retailer, agility is your middle name. You don’t have to send every new idea through a rigorous screening process involving multiple stakeholders. Instead, you can try something new and adapt to your customers’ needs on a whim.
Use it to your advantage: Be innovative. Take risks. Experiment with different types of content on your website and see which garners the most conversion. For product development, use crowdfunding to get your prototype manufactured and distributed. Don’t worry if your new idea fails, because you won’t be out millions of dollars and you won’t have to lay off employees to recoup the losses — you can simply try something else.
You’re on the front lines.
Executives at big companies tend to be a bit isolated from daily operations and real customers, but as a small business owner you’re present for every moment. From the daily lives of your employees and cofounders to the feedback from customers, you’re privy to every detail.
Use it to your advantage: Listen. Customer feedback is a breeding ground for new, exciting ideas and offerings. How can you better serve your customers’ needs? Set up Google Alerts to keep an eye on what others are saying about your brand, and monitor customer activity on review sites and social media. Respond quickly and kindly to negativity — we all know it’s more cost effective to retain a customer than to acquire a new one, so treat your shoppers like VIPs. Big-box retailers may have hundreds of customer service team members, but that’s not much in comparison to direct and genuine customer service from a company founder.
What sets your small business apart from bigger competitors, ultimately, is a sense of togetherness — between you and your employees, your business and the community at large. According to a Harvard Business Review article, when people work in teams larger than 20 people, “the tendency to collaborate naturally decreases.” This likely confirms what you’ve already experienced in your daily work: small business feels like family, and family creates a type of loyalty that just can’t be replicated by bigger companies — no matter their market share.
Use it to your advantage: Treat your team like family, and you’ll reap the benefits of a positive company culture. With low employee turnover, a culture of collaboration and sharing, and a sense of commitment to one another, even the smallest retail company can withstand the challenges that come with changes in technology and the global economy.