Battling the Big Boxes ... and Winning: Part 1 of 2

Cliff Ennico on

Nothing -- and I mean nothing -- frightens a small-business owner more than hearing that one of the big-box retail chains -- Walmart, Costco, Lowe's, Home Depot and the like -- is moving into town (well, maybe that Amazon is moving into its line of business).

It has never been easy for a small retailer to compete with the big chains for two reasons:

--Big chain stores buy in massive quantities and negotiate tough terms with their vendors, passing these volume discounts on to their customers so they can offer the lowest prices available anywhere.

--Big chain stores have almost unlimited floor space and can stock a wide (if not comprehensive) variety of inventory, enabling their customers to shop for everything they need under a single roof.

When you are up against a big-box retailer (or any other enemy), you can't win by playing against its strengths. A big-box retailer's biggest strength is price, so if you are planning to compete on that, fuhgeddaboudit. You will lose.

So what are the weaknesses of the big-box retailers? I can think of three:


--They don't offer service of any kind -- their staff (usually) doesn't know the merchandise and won't spend time helping you or answering questions.

--They don't spend money on decor or customer experience -- they are giant warehouses with ugly industrial type lighting and few displays.

--They are hell to navigate -- sometimes it takes forever to find what you're looking for, and then you stand in a long line behind a bunch of contractors with pallets of lumber waiting to pay for your six-pack of dental floss.

Can you compete with big-box retailers by offering better service and giving the customer a great experience? Many small-business experts think you can.


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