How Small Businesses Can Compete With Big Box Stores

It may seem like small businesses trying to compete with big box stores are fighting an uphill battle, but in reality there are many things that can make smaller businesses more appealing to customers than their big corporate competition. 

Do you think small businesses can’t compete with big-box stores? Do you think the low prices and huge marketing budgets of big box stores are insurmountable obstacles?  If so, it’s time to change your thinking. Your small businesses can profitably coexist with big box stores.

You probably aren’t going to compete on price alone so don’t try. Take these approaches instead.

Keep It Personal

As a small business, you have a huge advantage the moment a customer walks in the door. You can greet them personally – often by name. If it’s not you at the front of the house, your employees can do the same thing.

Welcome everybody with a smile and a kind word. When someone you don’t know comes in, take the time to learn their name and a little about them. Big box stores, even those with greeters, cannot duplicate the personal touch you can offer.

We all long for the personal touch. We want to be known by others. When they say our name, we feel special and when they ask us about our children, our wallets open. Capitalize on that not because it creates more revenue but because you care. The revenue issue will take care of itself.

Be Special

Personalization doesn’t just apply to people. It also applies to the merchandise your customers want. A hardware store can’t stock every possible model of weed whacker but neither can the big-box retailer.

What you can do is offer to special order whatever the customer wants – even if you don’t stock it. Many big-box stores won’t do that. More importantly, you can make it your business to know the differences between models and be a source of that information that you can provide to your customers.

How often have you gone to a big retailer and found salespeople with no more knowledge than you? Especially for businesses that deal in complex products, people will pay extra for your expert knowledge.

WWW Your Horizons

Still don’t have a strong online presence? You need one. First, a good website helps you expand your reach and ability to attract new customers. This is especially true if you own a store that sells unique products or services. Going online will help get the word out and if what you offer is what people want, they will come to you.

In addition to a website, consider the value of social networking through Facebook and Twitter. Even the smallest of small businesses is expected to have a minimum of a website and a Facebook page.

But don’t use social media as a sales medium. Instead, use it for its intended purpose. Develop relationships by giving customers something free with no strings attached. Examples could include product knowledge, an announcement of a new model and your review of it, and anything else that’s a value-add.


Don’t overlook the value of joining your local chamber of commerce. In addition to learning from fellow small-business owners, you will have the opportunity to build your reputation in the community, share leads, and potentially gain additional exposure through networking activities and events.

There will likely be membership dues to pay but the advantages of joining your local chamber usually far outweigh the cost.

Redefine Value for Your Customers

Don’t be so hung up on price – sell value instead. The kind of customers that create return business for your company are happy to pay a little more for a better experience. If you make the sale at little to no margin, what good is that customer anyway?

Saving a customer time (and money) by personally recommending a product and providing tips on how to use or install it, is a value big box stores can’t provide and the type of customers you’ll attract are loyal and produce profit.

Businesses larger than yours have closed their door because their sales came with no profit. Unless you need to liquidate a product, don’t make price the cornerstone of your value proposition.

Welcome Competition – It Drives Traffic

If your small business is not in direct competition with the big-box store, the extra traffic generated by a nearby large retailer can be of obvious benefit.

If, on the other hand, you own a grocery store near Wal-Mart, don’t despair. By being able to offer personal service, redefined value, and a unique shopping experience, you stand ready to take business right out from under the nose of that impersonal “big-box” as frustrated customers turn to you for answers and advice.

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