Recently I took my youngest son to his pediatrician for a persistent cough that was not going away. What started out as an innocent cold was now looking like the beginnings of the flu. Since he had a fever I kept him home for a couple days. When his fever spiked we paid another visit to the doctor who then started him on Tamiflu. With the flu having reached epidemic proportions this season, I quickly found out how scarce both the vaccine and this medicine had become when my favorite pharmacy chain was completely out. Nearly every branch within a 50 mile radius had nothing. After calling around for the next 15 minutes the pharmacist’s assistant suggested trying a local family owned pharmacy. Surprisingly that thought never crossed my mind before. I’d even forgotten there were any such ones because you see the chain stores everywhere. I then remembered there was one walking distance from my house so I paid them a visit.
In the 11 years I’d been in this town I don’t think I ever shopped there before. But what a pleasant surprise. I was greeted right away and asked if I needed assistance. When I told them what I was in search of the pharmacist himself came out from around the counter to introduce himself and tell me how many bottles were left. He took the time to talk through the symptoms my son was experiencing, usage of the medicine and proper storage. His associate was quick to tell me they will deliver to my home and pickup scripts to fill if I were too ill to leave home. They also pointed out how many of their items are priced lower than the chain stores and gave me coupons as well. I was quite impressed at the level of care they demonstrated. Later that day who gives me a wellness call? My friendly local pharmacist. This wonderful experience gave me a whole different perspective on the advantages a smaller business could have over their big chain counterparts. If you’re a smaller, independent business looking to take some market share away from your behemoth competitors, you may be surprised at what you can offer that the big guys may not. Let’s dig into your bag of tricks:
Personally connecting with your community.
If you live in or near the town you service, chances are you’re familiar with the people, the culture, buying habits and the local politics. That’s a lot of first-hand knowledge that took years to cultivate but info you have readily available. The promotional campaigns you create for your business can speak their language and be more sincere since you, in essence are one of them. This could become a draw for you. Definitely not something a larger chain can easily craft and master right away.
Getting to know each customer.
Doesn’t it feel good when you go to your favorite restaurant on a crowded night and the host and wait staff greet you right away and minutes later whisk you off to a prime table to dine at? I’m sure your customers enjoy that feeling too. As a smaller entity you have the opportunity to personally learn all about your customers. Though your larger counterparts are using CRM tools, predictive marketing and other software to track their behaviors, it can never match the Emotional Quotient (EQ) advantage you have on them. Knowing when your customers have suffered loss, celebrated a victory, have gotten surprised and even experienced proud moments are the “little” big things that help you connect with your audience in ways the big guys can’t really measure.
Offering non traditional services.
One of the beauties of being your own boss and business owner is that you make the rules. You set the standards and the way you offer your products or services without having to answer to anyone other than your customers. Given the unique perspective you have on your audience as mentioned in the 2 previous items you have a leg up on exactly what your customers want. So you have the flexibility to provide customized services that oftentimes aren’t offered by the big stores. In-home fittings, pick-up & delivery, custom design services, personal demos. The list is endless when you think about the freedom you have in your specialties.
This can be tricky, especially in the era of Walmart. BUT there’s still plenty of opportunities here. Where you may not beat a particular price you can offer more flexible payment terms. Perhaps you can save customers with better interest rates or payment plans. Maybe the package offerings you provide become a better value for the customer than the cheaper one-offs the chain stores may have. Best of all, you could provide an end-to-end solution for the customer that gives them comfort in knowing you’ll be around for the long haul. And that alone could be perceived as worth paying more for.
Take some time to think out of the box and you’ll find numerous ways to keep the big competitors in theirs.