Competing With The Big Boys

How do smaller businesses compete with the big, corporate players?

My wife and I have two children, and recently we needed to buy a roman blind for the nursery of our youngest. As a micro business owner myself I was desperate to support a small business, and purchase the product from a company that I felt I was actually making a difference to the local economy.

My efforts however were thwarted by what I can only describe as an apathy to everything I hold important when building my business.

1.      Customer service

2.      A unique selling point

3.      A competitive price point- Not the cheapest. Competitive.

4.      Individuals who represent the ethos of your company

5.      Ease of use

None of these were present. I’d like to talk you through my experience; and then the experience I had with the national chain I purchased through eventually.

We initially contacted the blinds company via the internet. They were at least listed on google, which is a must for any small business, but not always occurring in my experience. It took the company about 48 hours to contact me back. Ok, not the quickest, but I will run with that, they are a smaller business with limitations on staffing, so I’ll give them a break on that. However, I would always be advising people to have an automated system that would let the prospective client know their message has been received and set expectations on when they will be contacted next.

The type of purchase we were making involved the company needing to visit us, and measure the window. We were getting a few quotes, and therefore were not ready to commit on the first visit. We agreed we would contact them to rearrange a follow up. The company decided to just turn up during the day a week later. This was unplanned, unexpected, and they were turned away.

We waited approximately 2 weeks to get the quote back, and when it came in it was double the fee we ended up paying. The product was of no greater quality than the one we purchased, and although I am no material or blinds expert I would say was slightly inferior.

The sale representative from the small business was not exactly enthusiastic, and a good representative of the company he was working for. He was arrogant, not interested in negotiating, and did not engage us in anyway at all.

As a small business you are fighting against big budgets, slick systems, and enormous marketing budgets [In comparison to your own typically]. You have to be better on the things you can compete on. They are the things I value I listed above:

1.      Customer service

2.      A unique selling point

3.      A competitive price point- Not the cheapest. Competitive.

4.      Individuals who represent the ethos of your company

5.      Ease of use

This small business in my experience failed on all 5 of these.

In comparison the national company gave us an experience we continue to recommend to our friends, and associates.

Again, we contacted them via their website. They were advertised on Google, above the local listings. Of course they were. They had the budget to do so. However, what was very important was how my enquiry was dealt with.

The landing page was simple, and we completed our details. We received an automated email confirming that our details have been received and we will be contacted within 24 hours. We were called within the hour.

An appointment was booked for a local representative to come out and see us, at a time convenient to us. When the representative arrived, he was engaging, and interested. We had just had a baby, and he was comfortable making conversation with us about that, and what we wanted the nursery to look like. He made suggestions and helped us make a decision. Without a doubt guiding us to what he wanted to sell us for sure, but in a way that we didn’t feel sold to. This is so important.

When it came to talking money, the product we had decided on, we felt as previously mentioned was at least the same quality as that from the local small business. The starting price was 20% less. However, the representative was ready and willing to negotiate. They had some margin and wanted the business. Everything about the process so far said they wanted the business, and we should trust them with our purchase. We negotiated, and the price differential ended up with the local business being £280 and our purchase being £160.

The national company came and fitted a bespoke roman blind, custom made 3 weeks later. The same representative visited, again was engaging and remembered us. He will do very well for this company. [It is our understanding he owns a territory and works self -employed]. We were given a 8 week lead time from the local business.

It’s very easy for people to sit there and say that our high streets are dead, we are losing our small local businesses and the big corporations are putting them out of business. There is an argument there is an element of truth in the above, but I am inclined to believe that no matter what your industry you need to analyse your proposition and look at how it is perceived and amend it so you can compete.

If I was to advise this local small business blinds company, I would make the following suggestions.

Firstly, they need to deal with how the leads they are generating are dealt with. An automated email system is cheap enough to source through the likes of Get Response and can add an air of professionalism right from the initial engagement.

If they want to continue to charge a price which is significantly above the competition they need to look at ways they can justify that fee. The service needs to be quicker, not 5 weeks longer in lead time. The staff representing them need to be better trained, and better at engaging with clients- especially as they visit clients homes.

The company needs to address their ability and willingness to negotiate. This may mean renegotiating with their suppliers to reduce prices. This may mean looking at economies of scale to drive down costs- maybe forming buying coops with other not geographically competitive companies.

Finally, and this applies to all small and micro businesses in my opinion, they need to create an experience. The purchase journey needs to be enjoyable, and remove the barriers that their current process and experience has. Their point of difference does not need to be price, but they do need to be close. They just need to create a buying experience people enjoy, and want to be involved in.

 

4 thoughts on “Competing With The Big Boys

  • 22nd March 2018 at 9:27 pm
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    Well sometimes small businesses are not good. No or little experience and long time waiting to get what you ordered.
    I’m selfemployed so sometimes it happens to me aswel. Can’t be in two places at once. Cheers

    Reply
  • 22nd March 2018 at 9:37 pm
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    Yes! Small businesses have to be creative about their marketing too! I love your entrepreneurial content, it’s very informative!

    Reply
  • 27th March 2018 at 6:53 pm
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    Great post! Really gives you something to think about!

    Reply
  • 31st March 2018 at 9:07 pm
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    Sam@ Thiswaymommy.com

    Michael, awesome blog post. I have to agree with the other readers that the one thing that smaller businesses can try to gain leverage on is selling “the experience” to the customer. That’s the part the customer will remember whenever they look at the product. Keep these posts going!

    Reply

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