Small business owners may be intimidated when huge corporate chains open in the neighborhood and may worry that the mass-marketing giants will lure their customers away.  However, many small businesses continue to succeed in the face of corporate competitors.  You may not have a multi-million dollar bankroll, though small businesses have some unique characteristics that allow them to thrive despite heavily discounted competition.  Here are a few basic tips and strategies for success in this situation:

Always provide excellent customer service.  Your small size can be an advantage when it comes to customer service.  When a person calls or visits a giant company, chances are they will never get to talk to a CEO or anyone with significant power.  In small businesses, owners are almost always accessible to serve their customers directly.  Furthermore, customers rarely receive what they believe to be special treatment at huge corporate stores.  You have the ability to treat each customer as if they were your very best customer, and that treatment will keep them coming back.  You can also develop loyalty programs to reward customers for their continuous business.

Emphasize why your product is different or unique.  When small business Strutz began selling orthotic supports for the arches of your feet, they faced direct competition from Dr. Scholl’s, a company that dishes out millions of marketing dollars every year.  However, Strutz owners focused on educating customers on how their product was different from Dr. Scholl’s.  Strutz’s supports remain on your feet, not in your shoes, and the original technology in Strutz’s product was attractive to many sports trainers and orthopedists, who began recommending the supports to clients and patients.  Emphasizing the uniqueness of their product helped lead to their success.

Use creative marketing tactics.  Gone are the days when advertising mostly took place on television or in print.  Large corporations may dish out big money for a lavish television commercial campaign, however in these days of DVR and Netflix, not nearly as many consumers will actually see the commercials.  Use social media to your advantage to spread the word about your business.  Ask your current, satisfied customers to endorse your product or service online.  Even consider becoming a sponsor for charity events in your neighborhood, as this will get word of your business out in the community in a very positive way.

Treat your employees well.  The more you take care of your employees, the longer they will want to stay with your business.  Large companies often have a high rate of employee turnover, which means that at any given point employees may have less training and less dedication to customers.  The longer employees are with you, the better you can treat your customers (see above).  Furthermore, customers will enjoy seeing the same faces and hearing the same voices on the phone and it will give your business a strong community vibe.

Overall, do not panic if a huge corporation comes to town.  Small businesses have many traits that can be superior to these giants, and you have to remain confident in your ability to please your customers and provide a quality good or service.

- Claire Kalia

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