Nearly every small business owner today has to worry about competition from larger competitors—whether it’s the major chain down the road or a popular online brand.
So how does a small company set itself apart and win over customers?
We asked business owners what they do to fend off larger competitors. Here’s how six responded:
Focus on customer experience
As a small independent retailer of skin care products, we have several large-brand competitors within a few miles of our store. But we focus on providing our customers with a better experience that serves their needs. Sometimes we might throw in a free gift. Sometimes we will open early or stay open late because they needed to get here before work or got stuck in traffic. We bring items to the car if they can’t find a parking spot or have a sleeping child. Those things are priceless and build brand loyalty.
—Roberta Perry, owner and president, ScrubzBody Skin Care Products, Farmingdale, New York
Encourage customer-generated content
We have been fortunate to more than double our revenue every year, and a large part of that has been thanks to the online community we’ve built around our products. Because of the large amount of content we and our customers create and share, we outrank large sporting goods retailers for the SEO terms most relevant to our business. We showcase customer-submitted Instagram photos on our home page and product pages. Our entire business has been built on garnering customer reviews and sharing customer photos and experiences.
—Jay Perkins, co-founder, Kettlebell Kings, Austin, Texas
Specialize in a niche
Small businesses have a huge advantage that big businesses don’t: focus. Our company specializes in high-end security products like windows and doors. While anyone can go to a big-box home improvement store to get basic products like these, clients like working with us because we take the time to understand the homeowner’s security situation and can provide the depth of knowledge from years of experience in this small niche.
—Jon Harris, founder, Fortified Estate, Wilmington, Delaware
Build customer relationships
In the software as a service industry, there’s lots of competition online—both big and small—and it requires a lot of effort to become a popular brand in the industry. We’ve grown our business using two simple concepts: First, make everything you can a personal, authentic experience. Second, be empathetic towards people both inside and outside of business. We make time to talk to our customers about literally nothing, so they’re not just talking to us when something has gone wrong.
—Nick Dennis, CEO (“Team Dad”), fitDEGREE, Sewell, New Jersey
Create unique experiences
The key isn’t just to focus on the customer—it’s to focus on a personalized experience for the customer. Big-box stores offer a streamlined purchase flow, but there is very little consideration to experience. Contrast this with online clothing brands, for instance, that link you immediately via video chat with a brand ambassador that guides your wardrobe selection. At ShipMonk, for example, we offer a meditation room where you can destress while you wait for the service to be performed.
—Jan Bednar, CEO, ShipMonk, Deerfield Beach, Florida
Produce online videos
More and more consumers are getting information online from videos. As a small manufacturer of infrared saunas, we see video as the best opportunity for us to get in front of our customers and provide them with useful information about our company, our products and the solution our products provide. For us, a video is the first step toward relationship building in the digital age.
—Katie DeCicco, CEO, Celebration Saunas, DenverPrint this article