How does a small retailer fight supermarket monopolies and giant online stores?
Supermarkets, department stores and major chains seem to have a few massive advantages over smaller retailers. Economy of scale is one. Purchasing power is another. Distribution is a third.
If small independent retailers and artisan producers can’t compete with the big guys in these areas, there’s one place where they still have an advantage.
Unfortunately, it’s an advantage that very few of them leverage.
It is the art of storytelling.
Niche producers can tell stories that would be unbelievable if told by major producers.
The big guys know it. Nobody cares when Walmart started business. Nobody cares where the first Woolworths store was located.
However, these supermarkets also know the power of a story. So they will choose to tell the story of the family that grows their tomatoes, or the family that produces their beef. They will tell you how much one of their butchers cares about the quality of the meat he cuts or someone in the fruit and vegetable section cares about the freshness of the produce she displays.
They hope that the warmth you feel towards the tomato-growing family from Bowen will transfer to the supermarket.
We like supermarkets for two things – price and convenience. Our relationship is pragmatic. We don’t have warm, fuzzy feelings towards them.
Niche producers and small retailers can tell many stories. A manufacturer of furniture polishes can tell stories about each of the timbers used in furniture production, stories about the history of the products themselves, the magic of the ingredients they include and before and after stories.
A retailer of artisanal homewares can tell the story of each of the products sold. She can tell the history of the humble millet broom, the classic enamel cookware or the cast iron Dutch oven. She can tell the story of her travels in search of new artisanal products.
Niche businesses can invite their customers to share their own stories.
The furniture polish manufacturer can ask customers to share stories of their treasured pieces of furniture or stories of item rescued from dumps.
The homewares retailer can invite customers to tell the story of how they use a product in their home – what they cook in it, where it hangs or how long they’ve had it.
These stories become potent content for a website and for social media.
Stories encourage engagement. Stories foster pride of ownership. Stories get shared.
Stories are a niche business’s best weapon.
End of story.
Nice story, Greg. Sometimes smaller players are drawn into trying to compete on the discriminators that the big boys select, which are often about scale. Your comments are a good reminder about meaningful differentiation, communicated in a relevant and engaging way
Hey Greg, Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It’s true. Many small players do try to compete on a playing field which will never favour them. If they choose to find their unique positioning in the world they’ll succeed.
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