Source: With large retailer box stores shutting their doors, as recent as Sears and Kmart announcing additional store closures; and a rise of small business community advocacy, is it possible for the independent Main Street small business owner retailer to rebound? Samuel K. Burlum investigates.
Is Main Street on the mend? There is a resurgence of small business on the rise in America. Visit any community where there streets lined with mix use commercial/residential buildings, and where the larger big box retailer has failed, and you will find a movement in motion. The family owned small business is making a comeback. So what is driving the trend?
With the big box discount retailer Kmart and one of America’s oldest retailer institutions, Sears-Roebuck with final plans to close hundreds of stores, towns and communities which relied on these mainstays are forced to find their needs somewhere else. These large retailers that offered a multitude of combined products and services have left a void in and a vacuum, which is in quick need of being filled.
The traditional Sears department store offered products and goods such as clothing for the family, to appliances and tools for the household, gardening equipment, to jewelry and housewares. In addition, Sears also provided services including a full service automotive department service center, on site appliance repair, and even other services such as photo studio and salon.
Kmart became the mainstay discount retailer once brand name variety stores such as Woolworth, Caldor, Bradlee’s, Jamesway, and Ames, which closed their doors as a result of the very aggressive rise of Wal-Mart and Target. Now Kmart is following in the footsteps of retailers now only a memory.
The demise of the big-box retailers such as Sears and Kmart leaves the path open for opportunity. New housing developments constructed around these mega malls which housed these former retailer giants, and with the expansion of the modern-day suburbs, support services are needed to keep these communities moving.
Though as in the past, when one large retailers’ space would go dark and vacant, another store would eventually fill its place; the retailer of today is so much more specialized. Instead of the all-inclusive full service retailer model, most retailers are experts in one area of goods. With rising cost of property taxes and lease rates at an all-time high, the turnaround time to replace an anchor retailer takes years when in the past it only took a few months. This leaves consumers looking for shopping alternatives. Hence the vacuum and need for the return of the family owned small business.
So which types of businesses are benefiting from this type of recovery? The trends which have been observed are the rise of the specialty boutique. Specialty stores which cater to a particular product or good are finding themselves the benefactor. These businesses become very good at providing one or two types of services or a set of exclusive product lines, establishing themselves as the go-to authority in the area.
Traditional service businesses such as the dry cleaner, barber shop, hair salon, corner pizzeria, or local pharmacy have always found themselves surviving the rise and fall of the big-box retailer when other businesses have not been so lucky. What is so interesting is the stores that have beaten the odds are stores that have a long history of developing relationships within the community.
Small local businesses that have outlasted the larger big-box retailer wars have also been found to be problem solvers. A pure example is the local hardware store. From offering everything for home and business improvement to expanded departments that offer home goods and custom kitchen and bath services, the local hardware store has evolved from being the last stop on the list when you need a nut and bolt to being the go-to expert in home improvement.
Consumers are also finding the quality of what they purchase from the big-box retailer related to big-ticket items have stark differences to the quality of their purchase made from the local provider.
“There are different grades to tools, appliances, and even some of the housewares,” as explained by Richard Fitspatrick, from The Hardware Store, located in Sparta, New Jersey. “Though the packaging may look the same, the outside of the product or tool may appear to be the same, the inside components are not.
“There are two grades of the same high-end ticket item in many cases. Manufacturers of power tools, for example, in order to fulfill the need for volume quantity versus quality, will often cheapen up the inside parts on a saw or drill for a larger retailer who has the desire to offer the power tool for almost half of what you would pay at the local hardware store, but so goes the quality. Unfortunately the consumer does not find this out until after the tool breaks or wears out faster than expected,” continued Fitspatrick.
“We have seen some consumers still fall into the big-box store trap. For instance, we sell the same type of Ahrens Snow Thrower that Home Depot would sell, and our price is ninety-nine cents more, however we assemble the machine, test-fire the engine and will deliver it in town for free. Consumers will want us to match what Home Depot offers the machine for, without recognizing the value in the service that we provide that accompanies the snow thrower when someone purchases the machine from us.”
With the rising cost of most consumer goods, and the cost of replacing cheap goods an inconvenience, people are finding themselves willing to pay a little more for quality that may last double or triple the lifespan of the identical cheaper version which may only last months. Is it possible that consumers are waking up to these kinds of tactics that have been under their noses for years?
The internet is highly responsible for providing information for consumers on where to turn when a consumer is in search of a product or is need of a problem solving service. Websites such as Manta, Merchant Circle, and Yelp are supplying potential consumers with data and reviews of other consumer purchasing experiences. Whether it is a retail product or service-driven business, these reviews are helping drive consumer traffic or deter consumer traffic to the doors of businesses. Businesses receiving the flow of consumer traffic are those documented for going beyond the call of duty in serving their clients.
How do they get these great ratings? What has been observed is that the businesses where the owner is fully invested in the success of the business, and has a passion for the best customer experience possible, will do far more for their clients so they keep coming back, than the big-box retailer whose executives are not working the floor, but rather a legion of low-wage entry-level clerks who see their position as temporary just until something else better comes along.
Even with so much technology integrated into our lives, communities thirst for relationship engagement, a trust in knowledge, and peace of mind that the person on the same side of the transaction of the cash register cares about their needs. This is where small businesses blows away the competition and thrives.