Independent, locally owned businesses offer everything from best-selling books and next-generation electronics to organic produce and freshly baked sweets – but they may rarely sell them in one place. More often than not, local businesses specialize in a particular niche, such as books, sporting goods or even microbrews. Still, they must continually compete against one-stop-shop superstores, boasting low prices and endless inventories. Rather than assimilating to the big-box business model, it’s time for small, locally owned businesses to embrace the niche model, turning “small” into an asset instead of an inconvenience.
Despite what the multi-million-dollar marketing budgets say, bigger isn’t always better. In terms of customer satisfaction, the world’s largest retailer is also one of the least satisfying. Wal-Mart’s massive scope covers everything from groceries to automotive services, but surveys like the annual American Consumer Satisfaction Index repeatedly show that the one-stop-shop isn’t the stop that consumers like to make.
Fortunately for consumers and small businesses, there’s an alternative. By focusing on just one or two industries, locally and independently owned businesses develop an expertise in their field. Local coffee roasters know exactly where their beans come from, and independent banks know exactly where your money goes. As a result, they’re able to offer a better customer service experience for consumers who walk through the door than their chain counterparts.
While small businesses themselves may not all be one-stop shops, Main Street is. Downtown districts and Main Streets across the country serve as hubs of local business activity. On a single downtown avenue, consumers shop for gifts, pick up groceries and sit down to dinner. They may even find closer parking than in the expansive parking lots of the big-box superstores.
The playing field between a specialty small business and a jack-of-all-trades superstore may seem inherently uneven. However, small businesses don’t need to be a jack of all trades. Rather, they need to serve customers with the level of personal attention and expertise that won’t be found at the big-box stores. If you’re a small business owner, succeed in your niche by offering expert recommendations and unique inventories that aren’t available elsewhere.