In the retail space, the ‘big players’ – corporations like Walmart, Kroger, and Target – are generally considered the dominant and superior forces in the market. They can offer lower prices, a wider variety of products, and more convenience than their smaller counterparts.
As anyone who’s ever shopped at a mom-and-pop store knows, small retailers are a force to be reckoned with in terms of customer service and experience. One study found that 87 percent of customers would actually go out of their way to visit a small local retailer, even if it cost them more.
So, what can the big players learn from their small retail counterparts in order to meet the above expectations? Let’s take a look at some small business tips for entrepreneurs and CEOs alike.
Lesson 1: Create a Personal Connection
The most profitable small businesses are often those with a strong B2C connection. This is one of the biggest appeals of small retailers – the personal connection that customers feel with the owner or employees.
In the #BrandsGetReal study by Sprout Social, 64 percent of consumers said that they want brands to connect with them. Furthermore, in the MarTech Alliance 2021 Customer Experience Trends & Insights report, the majority of surveyed CEOs said that a connected customer experience gives companies a competitive edge.
The lesson to be learned from small retail businesses is to treat customers like people, even if they appear as numbers in your system. Find innovative ways to connect with them on a personal level, and they will be more likely to return.
Craft Club, a small retailer owned and operated by just one woman, connects with customers on a personal level through her social media presence. She posts livestreams, behind-the-scenes videos, and asks for customer feedback on her rug designs.
Typo, which is owned by the Cotton On corporation, attempted to unethically copy one of the Craft Club rug designs – customers were strongly supportive of Craft Club due to the founder’s authenticity and close connection with them.
Lesson 2: Communicate Transparently With Your Team
For small retail businesses, communication is their lifeblood. There might be one leader and a few department managers, or it could be even simpler than that. This means that communication is often more transparent and fluid, as it’s easier to keep every employee in the know – and therefore, it’s easier to enforce consistency across customer interactions.
While it is undoubtedly more difficult for businesses with 500+ employees to keep communication transparent, there are a number of tech innovations that can help.
These might include using an all-in-one communication tool like Slack, or creating a company-wide social media policy so that employees feel comfortable communicating with each other on social media channels.
John Doherty, chief executive officer and founder of Credo, told SHRM that his team uses the Front software to manage communication across departments. This software allows the entire team to remain connected in a way that traditional methods cannot; it means that everyone stays on the same page in regard to company culture and strategy.
Lesson 3: Change It Up
One of the appeals of small retail businesses is that they tend to feel less ‘clinical’ or clone-like than mega-chain stores. In the same way that handmade items are priced at a premium for their unique touches, small retailers maintain a distinctly different feel from their competitors.
The Independent Grocer’s Association (IGA) in Australia is a great example of getting the best of both worlds. While it’s a national chain, it retains the feel of a small retail business by featuring independently-owned stores within its network. Every store in the chain has its own setup, and can even independently choose which products and brands to keep in stock.
Source: IGA Supermarkets
The slight differences between stores give customers a sense of uniqueness and discovery that they might not find at other large chains.
Lesson 4: Create a Sense of Community
Humans are wired for community. We need it to feel a sense of connection and to belong. This is one of the reasons that small retail businesses are often so successful – they create a sense of community among their customers.
LEGO is a big company example that actively fosters a sense of community by welcoming customers to submit their own designs for new products, vote on other designers’ work, and be a part of the brand’s output.
Source: LEGO IDEAS
This was their strategy for coming back from bankruptcy, and it worked incredibly well (they surpassed Mattel). What was the reason for their success? They took their pre-existing customer base and gave them a means of connecting and contributing to the brand – a strategy which makes all the difference.
Lesson 5: Nurture Your Culture
Small retail businesses excel at – and larger businesses often struggle with – nurturing their culture. This means creating a set of values and beliefs that employees can rally around and that customers can identify with. It also means ensuring the wellbeing of employees by developing an employee schedule that doesn’t burn people out, providing benefits and incentives, and fostering an attitude of support and care.
In a 2021 article, Forbes identified company culture as the ‘single most powerful advantage’ for businesses. Studies show that companies with a strong culture see far greater profits.
As explained by Blue Canyon Partners: “Here’s the culture connection: a customer experience is actively managed when employees demonstrate a prevailing, and positive, outlook on what it means to grow business and serve customers.”
Trader Joe’s is an example of a larger retailer that has captured the small-retail-business feel. Because its employees are fully bought into the company culture, they go above and beyond to serve the customer; their reputation is widely known, and customers love the cozy, friendly in-store experience.
Source: Eat This, Not That
When it comes to the retail space, the bigger companies certainly appear to dominate – but there’s plenty they can learn from watching how the little guys operate. Start by bringing a community-focused mindset to your business and create a personalized experience for shoppers. You’ll be amazed at the results.