Q: I own a small store with two employees. It is always a challenge to compete against the large chain retailers, but we manage. However this time of year it is that much harder. How do other small businesses handle this problem during the holidays?
A: I agree that competing against large chain and big box retailers can be very challenging, especially if you goal is to undercut them. Good luck with that. When it comes to competing against the chains, their one clear advantage is pricing; they can buy for less and sell for less.
Big deal. Bully for them.
Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you made a purchase based on price alone, especially for something as personal and as important as a holiday gift? Not often, I bet. A lot of other things come into play beyond the price of the gift, most significantly, the suitability of the present for the person, convenience, and maybe even the attitude of the salesperson.
The fact is, there are plenty of ways to distinguish your business from the large chain retailers, even during the holidays, in fact, especially during the holidays. To paraphrase a line from The Wizard of Oz: “You’ve got something they haven’t got – a heart!”
Meaning: Use your very smallness to your advantage. Here’s how:
Motivate the sales staff: The big box stores beef up for the holiday by hiring temporary, seasonal workers. These folk try and do their best, but they are often poorly trained and motivated by little beyond a paycheck (not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially these days.)
But your staff is different. It has many motivations aside from their regular paycheck. They likely like you. They know and work well with your customers. They believe in what you are doing.
Foster that goodwill. Remind them how important the holidays are to the business. Have some fun sales contests. Give them some extra time off to get their holiday shopping done. Let them bring their kids or dogs to work this month. Create a great place where people like to work and that will also be a place where people like to spend.
Be even more personal: You already know that one of your big advantages over the chain stores is the personal attention you can give your customers. Remind your staff of that, and act accordingly. Customers need help with their holiday shopping, and if that is your attitude, more than what you can sell them, you will ingratiate your store to them and you will likely sell more in the process.
Look, and be, unique: Go into a big, national chain store and it will look like almost every other big, national chain store.
Be unique. Be different. Be quirky. People love that, especially when they are out doing some holiday shopping. By becoming that cool little shop around the corner, you set yourself apart as different and better. And one advantage of that is that you need to compete less on price when you are quirky and cool.
While you are at it, don’t forget to make your store cozy. Offer some free hot chocolate for instance, or an over-stuffed chair for the husband who is tagging along or the child who is tired.
What you will find is that, all of a sudden, the game is on your turf, and you are playing by your rules, not the big box rules.
Have unique products: Of course your regular products are your bread and butter, but it also behooves you to have some unique items that fit your niche, items the big boys don’t carry. Having inventory that is distinctive further serves to set your business and brand apart. And customers love finding that unique item, no?
Offer free gift wrap: No, you can’t and should not compete on price, but what I am suggesting is that you make your store so cozy, comfortable, personal, and unique that you don’t need to. Another way to do that is to offer free gift wrap. Sure, it will cost a little extra, but not much, and the benefits should far outweigh the cost in any case.
Happy holidays to all, and to all some good sales!
Today’s Tip: Here are two more, bonus ideas:
- Check in with your trade association. It is their mission to make you more successful. I bet they have some super ideas for creating holiday sales success in your industry.
- Tap into social media: What about tweeting daily specials during the month of December? Or create a special e-newsletter with some tasty holiday recipes, and super sale items. Or have a holiday contest on your Facebook page.
Follow me on Twitter – www.Twitter.com/SteveStrauss