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Small Business Tips

Days Gone By: Nostalgia Can Help Small Businesses Bloom

By Small Business Tips, Uncategorized

Mom & Pop Hardware Stores Have Something Mass Merchants Don’t – Character

If you hired a top-shelf marketing guru to guide you through a new ad campaign, do you think they would suggest you label your product “Idiot Proof?” Likely a big no-no today, but it was popular in the early days of PC-Products, when we didn’t need to worry about being politically correct, and the occasional inane or frank comment was appreciated or chuckled at. If I were picking a new or untried epoxy repair product, and I was unsure of the outcome of my efforts, “idiot-proof” sounds pretty darned good to me. And no offense taken at all!

It is beginning to feel that times are again changing. People are horrendously tired of the giant box stores populated with non-English speaking or bored/detached salespeople. They yearn for the appeal of days gone by. Nostalgia for the past can breathe new life into smaller stores, and give them a big edge over the factory-feel of the heftier competition.

Owner of Ernst & Sons of Massachusetts, Rod Ernst says modestly of his continued success, “We’ve held on well and done okay.” The 78 year-old shopkeeper took over store operations from his father in 1973. His grandfather opened the store 107 years ago and passed it on to Rod’s father.

Inside the Ernst & Son’s store it is a bit like a time capsule. Not much has changed in the store over the past 50 years. Rustic old wooden floors line the aisles, tools and equipment hang on the wall as they always have, and a beautiful old-fashioned cash register sits regally on the counter. Due to their ambiance and great customer service, Ernst & Son managed to retain their market share after the invasion of larger stores in the late 1970’s and beyond.

Many other mom and pop stores are cultivating their nostalgia-factor in order to remain competitive and unique. In today’s economy, increasing numbers of families are pinching dollars and doing more home improvement projects on their own. They want answers to all their little questions, they want personal attention, and they want a knowledgeable source to give it to them. This is something big box stores just can’t provide.

Mutch Hardware in North Mankato, MN specializes in providing folks with that hard-to-find-item, it’s even becoming their unique selling proposition that they use to attract customers to their store.

Small businesses need to keep such uniqueness in mind. Provide a niche that the big boys can’t. Stick together, think smart, and have pride in what you have always done, and will continue to do. That’s American character!

Small Businesses: How To Trounce a Mass Merchant Like a Warrior

By Small Business Tips, Uncategorized

No matter what the retail business may be, a lot of mom and pop shops have thrown in the towel over the last decade or two. Mass merchants roll through towns like unstoppable steam trains, and all the initial resident uproar and town hall meetings fall short of their goals. In the words of the creepy old Oncler from Dr. Suess’s The Lorax, “Business is business, and business must grow…”

How do we compete, you ask? With these large retailers who outsource their parts and labor to China and beyond, their prices will beat yours every single time. They are everywhere, in nearly every town, and they don’t close their doors when our hard-working American families sit down to supper together. Mass merchants have the money and power to advertise circles around small businesses, and often, government backing through big-biz tax breaks. It’s frustrating. It’s maddening. But is it a lost cause?

Release Your Inner Warrior

Chances are, if the preceding paragraphs got your back up and your lip curled, then you have got enough warrior in you to fight back. It’s not a losing cause. It’s all about strategy – and it’s one we utilize at PC-Products Epoxies. We are all-American, we never outsource, we continue to grow, and we are Proud of Our Ethics.

Here is our own “PC-Products take” on just how to battle like a warrior:

1. Never slash prices to compete. If you get drawn into this trick, you will lose. Discount prices attract discount customers who don’t care about loyalty or quality, and you will just lose your profit margin. Our epoxy repair products are priced higher than many of our competitors – but we won’t lower them – because they are made to last and work.

2. Brand, brand, brand. If you haven’t done this, sit down and think this through. What is it about your company, and your core values that you want to transmit to your loyal customers? You will want to promote this message in every bit of marketing you utilize, and all your employees should know it in their sleep. Our own motto is “FIX YOUR THINGS with PC-Products.” We sell products that will help our clients with all wood restoration projects, concrete repair, plumbing repairs – so pretty much anything that needs fixing – we have a paste or putty epoxy repair product to help.

3. Don’t overstock. Hardware stores in particular are known for over-packing their aisles full of interesting stuff to browse through. The trouble is, without a clear merchandising plan with a customer focus, your shoppers may feel a bit lost, and that trolling aisle after aisle may be too frustrating and time consuming. Pick the brands you are most pleased with and focus on them. If a customer asks you “WHY this product? “ – have a good answer ready. The PC-Products answer is: We contend that if you want your money’s worth, always look for the PC on the label.

4. Make service your top priority. We are talking EXTREME customer service – the kind they won’t get anywhere else, and will bring them back to you again. You must choose employees with interpersonal skills, as well as knowledge about your products. Your salespeople may know exactly how to fix a plumbing leak, but you MUST give them the tools and scripts they need to be able to feel safe and positive talking to customers. It also helps to add value to your sales by suggesting other complementing products the customer didn’t initially ask for, but would certainly make their task easier or longer lasting.

Find Your Niche

According to Ken Stone, an Iowa State economics professor, “Hardware chains in particular — and I did a lot of work [consulting] for True Value and Ace — finally learned that they had to specialize and find niches. And the first niche was service. They gave better service.”

Figure out a way to make the “extreme service approach” come first in your business. Make personal and lasting connections with your customers, and don’t stop when they walk out your door. Keep in touch through email, newsletters, mailers, and social media. Stellar service and a great brand message or philosophy will keep you one step ahead of the big guys!