How do you compete against the world's largest retailer? Follow Sam Walton's own advice, he tells you just what to do!
Last week it was announced that Walmart (Wal-Mart? Wal*Mart?) was looking to expand into the used video game market. Locally, it spawned a very interesting conversation, but nationally we can learn much from situations like this. It's important to not treat "the W-word" as something akin to the three taboo topics of conversation. We each have our opinions about the company, it's policies, or even its customers. But, we should take Mr. Walton's opinions on how to do business as our own (yes, even if you believe the company as it is isn't what it once was).
If you own a small business, this should be an automatic advantage over "big box stores". The perception is that you are automatically a member of the community. Even if you don't carry something specifically, you may just be able to help them find something somewhere else. You are interested to learn what they need, why they need it, and even offer advice on how to paint their house, size a special piece of clothing, or where the best fishing spot may be.
On your end as a customer and not a business owner, please consider a local store as your ally. If you really want to know what's going on in town, get a good recommendation on how to do something, or even have a great conversation then give them a try. If you suspect that money could be the only reason why they want you to walk in, then you can reason that Walmart doesn't "need" your money as much as the local guys and gals.
"There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."
For owners of businesses small and large alike, this is an especially true statement. The customer is the one holding the money needed for you to pay yourself and your bills. Where you as a small business can focus is more directly on THE customer, not just their wallet. When you give people a reason to spend money at your store by hosting demos, teaching skills, or otherwise educating them in an engaging way you will win their hearts, minds, and the money will follow. You must give people a reason to spend all the above with you. They're willing to pay the bit extra it may cost them to go through you as opposed to Walmart because of the intangibles you provide.
Consumers, please know this. A small business in your area was opened by a human being with a passion, interest, and/or education in what they do. Don't be afraid to ask them about it. Find out what they know. Gauge them as people, community members, or professionals. You shouldn't offend them by doing so! The money you spend with them should be more likely to stay in your community, making it stronger and sounder.
"Celebrate your success and find humor in your failures. Don't take yourself so seriously. Loosen up and everyone around you will loosen up. Have fun and always show enthusiasm. When all else fails, put on a costume and sing a silly song."
Failure is common among small business. Not even complete failure, but failures in smaller scales. Have you ever seen Kitchen Nightmares? Good business intentions can only get you so far and even professionals overlook things. Sam Walton himself was forced to sell his business!
"... We hadn't made any mistakes we couldn't correct quickly, none so big that they threatened the business. Except, it turned out, for one little legal error we made right at the beginning. In all my excitement at becoming Sam Walton, merchant, I had neglected to include a clause in my lease which gave me an option to renew after the first five years.
He did offer to buy the franchise, fixtures, and inventory at a fair price; he wanted to give the store to his son." - Made in America, Sam Walton
Yup! Sam did so well with his first business that his landlord refused to renew his lease (not having to per his contract) and he was forced to sell it off!
"The whole thing was probably a blessing. I had a chance for a brand-new start, and this time I knew what I was doing."
But even if you run a struggling business or have been out of business before, don't let it deter you. To let you in on a secret, even I still struggle! Yup, the plumber who offers you weekly advice has pipes that leak in his own house. Just know that despite those obstacles, your business is proof to others in the community that you, and they, can do it too. You become a portal of advice and inspiration, especially if you volunteer time, money, or expertise to an organization like Junior Achievement.
Your results are closer to home and can do much to set the pace and mood of your community! If things are tough, you don't have to put on a fake smile, but turn the hard times into a learning opportunity and communicate with your neighbors about it. You may very well find advice and support! Wink, wink.
Make your vision clear, market to a target group. "Everyone" doesn't count! Most importantly, share your vision with others through your store and its marketing. If you're a customer and want to explore interesting new things, make a day of stopping into random stores in your downtown or other commerce area!
Lastly, if you have any anecdotes or advice you'd like to share with local businesses (including your own stories), please leave your comments below!