Many American consumers say that they believe in small businesses and they want to support small businesses however they can, even if that means paying more money. According to a 2014 survey from the UPS Store, 94 percent of consumers said buying from small businesses in their communities was “important” to them, and the number of people who paid more to buy from a small business instead of from a large corporation increased by 41 percent from 2013 to 2014.
This is a good sign that the economic climate is favorable for small businesses. More people are seeing the value of supporting their local small businesses. But in addition to being “small,” every small business owner needs to find their own competitive advantage by identifying what makes their business unique. What is it about your business that is so “different” and special that people should want to choose to buy from you instead of a larger, better-recognized, perhaps lower-priced competitor?
Here are a few insights and examples of how small business owners are competing with big companies – not by cutting their prices, but by cultivating a sense of uniqueness.
Lisa Hennessy is the founder of Your Pet Chef, a meal service for dogs. People are spending more and more money on pet food and pet accessories, as pet lovers tend to “humanize” their pets and get a lot of fun and satisfaction from pampering their cats and dogs.
Lisa says that her company has built its business strategy on being unique, by doing something that the big corporations cannot – offering personalized food made for each and every dog. “Your Pet Chef is extremely unique because we take into account the dog’s allergies or medical conditions and create a meal plan that will help the dog eat a completely balanced diet,” Lisa says. “Our meals are made by portion so the owner no longer needs to guess how much to feed. Our prepackaged portions allow the customer to simply defrost and serve. We use only 100% human grade ingredients, no grains, gluten, or fillers.”
Your Pet Chef has self-published a cookbook where they share recipes and stories from customers and their dogs. In a time when pet owners are increasingly sensitive about their pets’ medical conditions and willing to spend money on high levels of care and comfort for their dogs, Your Pet Chef has found a successful niche that is truly unique.
Greg Archbald, GreaseBook
You’d think that the oil and gas industry would be exclusively the domain of big companies – after all, it takes big budgets and big investments to drill for oil and gas. But one oil and gas tech company, GreaseBook, is showing how small businesses can compete even in such a “big” industry as oil.
Greg says that small business owners should take heart, because it’s often easier to compete with big companies than they might expect. “The playing field might be more level than you think,” Greg says. “A scrappy competitor with nothing to lose is every bit as daunting to the larger players. So, rather than looking up at your giant competitor and feeling intimidated, think of how your giant must be viewing you, wondering what they stand to lose.”
Greg says that small businesses can often outmaneuver their larger competitors by taking a unique approach to the sales process and by adopting an attitude of fun and fearlessness.
“Large companies are masters of the assumptive close – they assume the sale is
theirs, and it shows in their sales processes and in their boring and safe marketing language,” Greg says. “They know that no one ever got fired for buying their
stuff, and they hope and pray that people don’t get smart. At the helm of your small business, you must aim to be the monkey wrench thrown into what was otherwise a smooth afternoon. Your message must drive customers to think for a moment, and realize that in comparison to the big guys, your offering makes a heck of a lot more sense. Give yourself permissions to go out and make the inconvenient argument.”
One thing that makes small businesses unique is they have the freedom to be more creative and focused in their sales efforts – they can go after exactly the “right” kind of customers for them, instead of being bogged down by trying to be all things to all people like the big corporations often do. Instead of feeling like you’re at a disadvantage by being “small,” treat it as a source of strength. As Greg says, “It’s a good day to be the little guy!”
Rachel Blackburn, tiny brooklyn
New York City is one of the highest cost, most competitive cities in America – but even in the Big Apple there is still room for a small boutique to thrive when competing against big companies. Rachel Blackburn is a co-founder of tiny brooklyn (so tiny, the name of the store is un-capitalized), a children’s clothing store located in Brooklyn, New York.
Rachel buys inventory from all over the world – from Sweden and Australia to Brooklyn, and her store competes with big companies like Carters, Crew Cuts, and Gap Kids that have much larger selections and can afford to sell at lower prices.
Part of Rachel’s “unique” marketing strategy is based on the location of her store and in the one-of-a-kind kids’ fashions and accessories that they sell. “We are located in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn where there is a real appreciation for and desire to support small businesses,” Rachel says. “Also, when it comes to kids’ clothes, the parents here are so enthusiastic about dressing their kids in interesting, unique pieces that you cannot find at some of the bigger companies. I think that fashion has always been something that people are interested in but I see it more and more extend to their children. I think that people are really seeking out pieces for their kids that are unique and that the kid next to them won’t be wearing!”
Rachel’s tiny brooklyn boutique cannot compete on price with the big corporations, and they don’t try to – instead, they offer a unique customer experience. “We really try to place customer service and customer relations at the forefront of importance,” Rachel says. “It is important that customers really feel like they are important and appreciated here – because they are! I want people to get a sense of how grateful we are for all of our sales, regardless of how much they have spent. I don’t think that exists at a big company.”
What do you do as a small business owner to be “unique” when competing with large corporations? Tweet us at @KabbageInc and let us know!