Small Retailers Can Compete with Big Box Stores IF…

By Jamie Shepard, Consultant, Business Innovation Center

PictureAllison Craft Designs bets the odds in Grayton Beach

Small retailers everywhere struggle against national chains which can offer deeper volume discounts and loss leader items to entice shoppers in person and online. Does that mean you should shutter your doors and surrender? Certainly not! In fact, your mom-and-pop shop might have a distinct advantage over the megastore. 

A good case in point is Allison Craft Designs (ACD), an artisan pearl-on-leather jewelry studio in nearby Grayton Beach. What began in designer Allison Craft’s home studio a few short years ago has blossomed into a successful storefront business with a growing regional and soon-to-be-national wholesale presence. Her success has been built “the old fashioned way” by offering a unique, high quality product, genuine customer service and outside-the-big-box marketing strategies.  According to Allison and senior manager Scott Henderson,  quality and innovation are at the forefront of Allison Craft Design’s philosophy and retail practice. Here’s how:

  • A Quality Product and a Wide Range of Price Points. The desire for artisan-made, high quality products is a growing trend in domestic and international retail markets — a definite niche for small local retailers.  There are cheaper, knock-off versions at flea markets but one look at the real goods tells the tale. Allison Craft explains, “Real pearls are lustrous and radiate a natural warmth that synthetics cannot replicate. The workmanship of small production houses like ours and our ability to customize our designs to target local markets in other markets like Nashville and Colorado differentiate us from chain stores.” ACD also recognizes the need for entry-level, affordable and versatile products. “By introducing these buyers to our line, we build the same brand awareness as with higher end clientele. Both wear their purchase with pride and tell their friends, who in turn become our customers”, says Scott.

  • Quality Customer Service. According to Allison, “As kids, we all loved to play dress up. We embrace that need for relaxed creativity in our store. Our staff is very well trained (another key element in success) in how to market our product but also in ways to make the customer relax and enjoy the whole shopping experience.” 

  • Quality Exterior and Interior Appearance. First impressions count! Making the storefront visually appealing and your inventory accessible inside are equally important. Front window dressing is your store’s billboard. ACD has made a concerted effort to make its studio airy and welcoming with attractive point-of-purchase displays that showcase the jewelry’s versatility and the variety of its inventory.

  • Innovative Marketing. Traditional advertising is expensive but necessary to create brand awareness. The key is to know your customer and target your marketing accordingly, not to what the ad sales reps are pushing this week. Small retailers especially benefit from targeted customer loyalty /repeat purchase programs.  ACD’s “Pearl Perks” program rewards loyal customers with gift cards for future and referral purchases. It doesn’t really cost anything until redemption, then sales offset that expense.  

    Small retailers also have the advantage of being more nimble, “guerilla” marketers, capitalizing on opportunities as they arise. For ACD, the idea of “gifting” music performers at the 30A Songwriters Festival was one such opportunity. Allison created music-themed jewelry especially for female and male artists, who wore the gifts onstage at the festival. Many came by the shop and bought other pieces, which caught the eye of other performers, their entourages as well as music magazine reporters and the fans. This has significantly impacted online purchasing and wholesale vendors in the artists’ home market.

    Small shops can indeed compete and prosper. You just have to be creative and think out of the “big box”.

Jamie Shepard
Consultant, Business Innovation Center

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