Note: I got an e-mail a while back that challenged me on my inclusion of an Amazon link in one of my e-mail campaigns. This and the following post (and probably a few more beyond that into the future) will be my long-considered answer to the seeming “crisis” presenting itself to local brick-and-mortars… the invasion of big boxes and big-box style on-line competition. Here’s my first stab at how small businesses can beat Goliath.
Small businesses face a double challenge in the new economy; not only are we in the midst of recession like times, with everybody tightening belts and spending less, we’re also transitioning from store-front shopping on Main Street to isolated shopping via the Internet. Location is not the factor it used to be in shopping choices; anyone with Internet access (which seems to be practically everyone) can shop at any store online. The options have opened up, and for the most part, consumers seem to love the choices.
Locally owned small businesses can thrive in the new economy – and love it – but it requires a different approach. When your competition expands from being the other small retail shop two streets over to being the biggest national box stores plus the on-line retailers… it’s time to think of a new angle.
Independent bookstores are a good example, because the ones that have survived and thrive despite competition from Amazon.com have learned to work the new economic angle successfully.
The angle is this: you must create your own niche position and dominate it in order to compete with huge brands and online options.
It’s not enough to be an average bookstore, or an average retail shop, or an average restaurant. When customers have limitless options, average is not going to bring them back.
But you can bring them back.
Niche Examples from Independent Bookstores
An article in the New York Times highlighted how the niche angle has helped independent bookstores to survive. “Being a specialty store gave us something that would distinguish us,” said Alan Beatts, owner of Borderlands, which focuses on science fiction. “We are serving a special demographic, and we receive customer loyalty in return” For a locally owned bookstore, a niche could include
- Selling signed first edition books (and holding regular author events)
- Selling, trading, and assisting customers in rare books
- Covering niche topics (stocking and special-ordering specialized books, magazines, newspapers, and trade journals)
- Establishing expert status in book-related topics or specialized topics
- Engaging an active online community and having stellar e-commerce options
So, if you’re a bookstore, a retail store, a service-oriented business, or a restaurant, how can you find your niche, establish yourself in it, and thrive in this new economy?
“It’s entirely possible that you will choose a niche that’s too small. It’s much more likely you’ll shoot for something too big and become overwhelmed. When in doubt, overwhelm a small niche.” -Seth Godin, business & marketing expert.
Want more ideas from the local book store angle? Here’s a post from USA Today on a similar subject showcasing ways that small local brick and mortar bookstores are competing with the Kindle, Nook and similar book technology…
Image by ReneS.