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Playing With the Big Boys
How to compete with chain stores

By: Alvin Apple

Alvin Apple helps everyday people start businesses they will enjoy. Then he teaches them how to succeed. Read all his helpful strategies, including his latest article, "How to write the perfect classified ad" at Reach Alvin at 801-328-9006 or

Ashley opened a posh, little gift shop and decided that the best way to advertise was a 15 second spot on one of the local television stations.  Her commercial emphasized that people should stop by for the grand opening.  When her shop first opened, it was visited by a steady stream of customers, many who came by because they had seen the commercial.

After her shop had been open for several weeks, business began to taper off.  Ashley visited several of the larger, chain gift shops in town and found that business was booming.

Ashley couldn't figure out what the problem was.  She felt that her products were unique and stylish.  She thought customers would be intrigued by a shopping experience that was more personal than that in stores like Pier 1 Imports and Pottery Barn.

In her advertising, Ashley emphasized that people should come by for the grand opening, but she figured the shop would sell itself. She didn't understand that people might fail to see the benefits of shopping in her store if those benefits weren't pointed out to them.

Here are some advertising techniques small businesses can utilize to compete with chains:
  • Emphasize the uniqueness of the product.  People are often attracted to the idea of getting something unique from a smaller, independently owned business, but are used to  the larger selection a chain store can offer.  Ashley could have featured the originality of her stock as compared to the universal stock a chain store offers.

  • Shoppers often create a comfort zone of buying from stores that have everything.  They know what they are going to find there, and that means they don't have to take the time to search.  However, many people shop because they enjoy it.  Always knowing what you are going to find can be boring.  Ashley's store offers mystery. People won't receive a catalogue that shows everything they would see if they went to the store.

  • Although Ashley's store is not at the same economic level as the larger chain stores, she should make her business as recognizable as possible.

    One way to do that is hire a designer to create a logo that represents your business.  Many companies spend millions of dollars making their logo familiar to the public.  One could also include a jingle or an original piece of music in commercial spots; something a viewer can become familiar with.

© 2001, Alvin Apple

Other Articles by Alvin Apple

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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