The best thing independent and local stores have going for them is their ability to take care of their customers on a personal level. We know they’ll never be able to offer the huge inventory, low prices and many other conveniences the big boxes and chains offer. They shouldn’t even try to compete. But, independent stores have a lot of tools in their toolbox they can use to beat the biggies.Here are a few suggestions.
Get to know your customers
Since independent, local stores are often smaller, and they often serve a more stable customer base, they should be able to get to know their customers. They need to hire and train people who are good at establishing relationships with their regular customers. Get to know them by face and name. Talk with them like real people. My first job (outside of delivering newspapers) was at a local grocery store where we knew all the regulars, and they knew us. The store was like a club or a social center. And shopping there was a social experience.
Connect with community
Locally owned and operated stores should get involved in their communities. Sponsor events, work with local nonprofits, participate in parades, help local sports teams, make room for the Girl Scouts to sell cookies, etc. Every community has 100 ways to be involved. And every time a local business does things that support their community, people notice. In my town there are two locally owned restaurants that are involved in almost every community event we have. From the summer parade, to the art in the park to the chamber of commerce, these businesses get involved. As a result, the community knows who they are and they support them.
Offer remarkable service
The best way to beat any large chain is to offer better, more personal service. From remembering customer’s names to carrying their purchases to their cars, to offering free popcorn or coffee, find ways to to show customers you appreciate them. And, as a smaller, local business, you have more opportunities to ask your customers what they want in a local store. Find out what you can do to help them get what they want and do everything you can to offer it.
A smaller, independent store can tailor their business to meet their community’s needs in ways big chains could never do. The key is to follow three simple rules:
1. Serve people – make service your top priority.
2. Have conversations – connect with customers as real people.
3. Be authentic – do what you do best.
Find ways to incorporate these three rules in everything your business does. Do this well and you’ll see customer loyalty go through the roof!