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Little Ideas That Make a Difference

Ways of dealing with new competition

It is easy to distinguish many of the attributes that will distinguish an independent retailer from their chain store counterpart.  Unfortunately, it is the attributes that work to the advantage of the chain store that most folks will first notice:  the expensive piece of real estate that the store is sitting on, the many departments that they have that an independent doesn't, the enormous advertising budget, and more square feet.

Even when it is first announced that the chain store is coming to town, people have already heard of their reputation, and all of the rumors about them are very positive.  There are even people that might walk into the independent's business and ask them how, or if, they are going to compete against the new competition.

The advantages of the chain store that we have named are similar in that they are all caused by a heavy expenditure of money.  And of course, the chain store is traditionally backed by a company that is capable of outspending most any independent.

"The dog with a full stomach does not go looking for other dog bowls", is one saying that has strong repercussions in most of the retail industry.  Whether or not the new "dog bowl" has arrived in your town, there are many advantages that you have that are unique.  They are the advantages that the chain store cannot duplicate.

Many retailers are so busy with the day to day management of their business that they are unable to explore, and then exploit these advantages.  And unfortunately, it takes time to look for these ideas and to implement them. Trade organizations can be one of the best tools that you can find to assist you.  The best ideas you can possibly find are those that have already been tried and proven by your fellow members.  One of the nice things about independent business owners is that they are always willing to share ideas with each other.  And now we would like to share some of the ideas that we have gathered from our membership in trade organizations.

One of the first suggestions that could be made would be that a retailer makes a point to find as many different retail oriented trade publications that you can. If you read between the lines, there are profit making ideas that will work for your store that are in a magazine that is directed to a gas station, drug store, lumber yard, clothing store or pharmacy.  The key is to make the most of every idea you can possibly adapt to your particular situation. You can also find these ideas in books, and by visiting other retailers.

The importance of these ideas is that they represent the many advantages that you have over these chain stores.  When the chain store advertises, they traditionally speak only of price. But most of the surveys that detail what customers want will tell you that price is not the most important item.

The chain store advertises with prices because they cannot compete with the independent on the important things.  Here, are some more examples.  It is a cold day, and you decide to go to the work site of one of your customers, a landscape company.  You go at a time when the food concessionaire has arrived with his food wagon.  What better way to cement a friendship than to foot the bill for coffee and donuts?  And, of course this is an excellent opportunity to ask for a tour of the job site.  When you see material that you did not provide, you can politely ask what you need to do to earn that business for the next time.

If you are prospecting for business, you will probably find that you will have a kinder reception if you walk in with two soft drinks in your hand.  Open one and offer it to the prospective customer.  Odds are, that he will give you more time.  And if those soft drinks are in a foam can holder that has your imprint on it, you will leave with more than just your business card on the buyer's desk.

The business that was reluctant to open on Sundays was able to resolve their concerns with a unique promotion.  For every Sunday afternoon shopper that would bring in their church bulletin, the business would keep the bulletin and write the amount of the purchase on the front cover.

At the end of the month, the business wrote a check to that particular church for 10 percent of the total purchases.  You can imagine that the best advertising for this merchant was the head of the church finance committee standing in the church lectern on Sunday morning giving the details.

Another merchant allowed the government to design his promotion for him by going to the bank and obtaining quantities of two dollar bills and Susan B. Anthony dollar coins.  Whenever possible, his cashiers gave the two currencies in change to the customers.

As he was in a small town, the residents quickly knew who had shopped at this particular store when the currencies were passed on to others. Most merchants will subscribe to the business technique that teaches you that the only way to make your customers number one is to make your employees number one.  One merchant makes a point to tell his customer that he subscribes to that theory by taking one day each quarter and closing at 5 pm.

He then invites all of his employees, and their families to his home for a party.  Each of the quarterly parties includes a meal that the owner and his wife have personally prepared, and the quarterly bonuses are also passed out.

There are many more ideas that will work for you.  They will not work for the chain store.  These ideas require few investment dollars, and are the type of business tips that will endear you to your employees and your customers. Find those magazines, books, keep the pencil and paper in your pocket, and be ready to succeed in a manner that the competition can't.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.
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