3 Lessons from Smaller Retailers Outperforming the Big Guys

— January 6, 2017


It is entirely possible for a smaller firm to outperform a massive corporation. Sure, the big guys have an incredible amount of resources: people, capital, infrastructure, large client base, stellar marketing firms. But, there’s one singular advantage that a small business has. The individual that breathes life into every aspect of the enterprise.

The individual, or band of happy warriors, can create a focused product or service. With all their mental and physical energy, they create something that perfectly meets the needs of a niche market. These small markets are either ignored, or underserved by large firms.

Are you ready to take up the mantle of the specialized markets that crave individualized attention? Yes? Then buckle up for the ride of a lifetime. You will be disrupting an industry and wowing customers in no time. Here’s how:

1. Get Personal!

The big guys are corporate. Everything about them feels scripted, run by policies and serviced by employees that have little to no passion for the service they provide. How many call-center reps do you talk to on the phone each month? I would be willing to bet my lunch money that less than one or two sound enthusiastic and show genuine interest in resolving your issue.

You must exude compassion, a willingness to serve and the capability to provide an incredible customer experience. Smaller firms win when they connect with their customer, instead of throwing up barriers or “systems” to limit their interaction.

2. Find Ways to Leverage the Weaknesses of Larger Firms

When a big company falls apart, or exits a market, you must be ready to pounce on the opportunity. By picking up the pieces from a competitor, you can expand at a fraction of the cost.

For example, Citibank decided the Massachusetts market no longer made sense, but only after they invested in the infrastructure required to maintain a presence there. That’s an expensive, time-consuming process.

Webster Bank is taking full advantage and picking up the leftover pieces at a fraction of the cost if they had built the locations themselves. There are many, many ways for smaller firms (both physical retail and e-commerce) to benefit from the failings of larger corporations.

  • E-commerce and retail firms can acquire items that didn’t sell through from larger firms for pennies on the dollar. Get in contact with the corporate executives responsible for inventory management for your larger competitors.
  • Take advantage of the market research your larger competitors are already doing. Look at their ads, website layout, off-site and on-site SEO, and selection of products. By observing what is working for them, you can weave those lessons into your operation.

3. Start from Scratch

Your large competitors are bought into a certain way of thinking. Humans are creatures of habit, and large corporations are no different. As a small retailer or e-commerce startup, you have the opportunity to do things in a new and novel way.

Look at how Google destroyed Yahoo. Sure, when Google first launched they were lightyears behind Yahoo, the perennial king of search in 1998. But, as Mohit Aron puts it, Google focused on building an in-house solution to data management and retrieval that would stand the test of time. It may have taken them a few years to catch-up, but Yahoo absolutely lost the battle. This was, in part, because Google’s data management system was flexible and able to accommodate a variety of missions. Yahoo chose to quickly utilize an outside system from a vendor. Every time their needs or mission changed, the entire 3rd party system had to be reengineered. This meant that long-term, Google could innovate much more cost-effectively and quickly than Yahoo.

Focus on building something of long-term value by ignoring the way things are done today. Think about the problem, imagine the perfect solution and start creating it. Because your business is small and agile, it’s possible to change the way things are done without massive resource and time costs.

Don’t be scared by the size of the competition. Their size is your biggest advantage. Think small, think different and connect with your customers in a new and exciting way. With enough focus, determination and effort, you can make it!

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Author: Annie Qureshi

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