How to survive the big box store attack

While I usually write about how to manage your people you must remember that training and follow-up of great customer service is everything. If your people are not hired for their customer service skills and trained and reminded of them constantly you will struggle to survive, especially in the face of major competition.

The Box Store Attack
With a new Wal-Mart set to open in November here in my small town I can’t help but wonder how the small businesses are going to fare. Thank goodness our local Chamber of Commerce is on the ball, setting up a public seminar for How to Survive a Wal-Mart Attack. Actually, the name of the seminar was much more professional but the focus was the same. It was designed to help local businesses prepare for the take-over of the local economy. They even brought in a speaker from out of town, a real “small business” professional, Barbara Wold. She is very well known for her expertise and is also known for setting the customer service phenomenon at Nordstrom’s stores. The presentation was actually appropriately called “How to Profit from Wal-Mart’s Arrival”.

Well I hope everyone that is not business savvy attended because I don’t want to see more empty retail centers than we have already. The economy has been tough enough on our local small businesses as well as handfuls of larger businesses.

A David and Goliath Success Story
I didn’t attend the seminar, but then again, I don’t own a local business. I work for one of those local businesses though and, quite frankly, I’m a bit nervous for all of us. I console myself by thinking back to when I lived in Southern California and a good friend of mine had a small pet store in a quaint and wealthy ocean front town. A large box store by the name of PetSmart (or PetsMart or something like that) was coming to town. Not many people had heard of them yet but the concept was the same. They would come in and low ball all the local competitors with their volume buying and large inventory and hope to capture record revenues from another local market area.

My friend (let’s call him Les) knew exactly what to do in the face of survival. Les cleared out his store of all extraneous items, small pets, live perishable critters, things that grow too large for their cages, etc. He began selling out all the types of pet food and products that the box store would beat his price on and started talking to his distributors (who didn’t want to lose his business) about the exclusive high end brands that they would never think of carrying.

Les already had a clientele mailing list established and was prepared to educate them on the benefits of the improved quality and what it meant to the extended life of their pets. Les knew his clientele and how they were not necessarily concerned with low prices and brand names when it came to the long-life of their dearly beloved pets. Once informed, why would they take a risk on pet food with additives and other ingredients that could harm their pets when they could get only the finest ingredients to keep their pets healthy for many more years to come.

How Any Business Can Survive an Attack
It comes down to just a few basics of survival. Any smart business man should already be giving the best customer service by getting to know their customer. When I say getting to know them I mean their habits, lifestyles, addresses (and/or email addresses) and what is important to them. A big part of that is in talking to them and asking them open-ended questions; finding out more than just vital statistics.

Another, important factor is knowing the competition. What do they do and how do they do it. Why do you need to know that? So you can be different and focus on your uniqueness while meeting your customers’ expectations.

Lastly, you need to keep in touch with your customers and educate them on why you are different. You need to know how to do that in the most effective way possible whether it’s via email or offering special delivery with your message attached. What differentiates you from the competitor, no matter how big or small, is what makes you successful, as long as it is what your customer wants and needs.

Going beyond their expectations is what keeps you in business and spreads the word without even trying. Great customer service is key to everything with a passion for meeting unexpected needs and desires is how you stay in business for a long , long time.

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