Competing with GIANTS

3 minute read

How small businesses are making it in today’s retail landscape

Retail giants seem to have it all. They’re able to leverage their economies of scale to offer rock bottom prices, provide next- or even same-day delivery, and build marketing budgets that rival the GDP of small countries. Yet, that doesn’t mean small-size retailers can’t win impressive market share.

Canada Post has been working with small businesses for our more than 250-year history. Over that time we’ve learned a lot about their ability to continually adapt to industry changes to stay competitive and relevant. Today, the digital era is posing perhaps the biggest challenge for small and start-up retailers (not to mention for traditional companies like us). But like always we’re witnessing how the best and most savvy are finding ways to win customers.

Check out these five strategies Canada’s amazing small businesses are using to compete with giants.

1. Collaborating

Big retailers can afford to cast their marketing nets wide with campaigns that target as many people as possible. Smaller businesses need to focus on their best prospects. Collaboration with like-minded partners – including other retailers, bloggers and social media influencers – lets retailers share audiences and extend their reach into a new pool of potential customers.

Montréal eyewear retailer BonLook understood this perfectly when it commissioned the founders of the popular blog A Beautiful Mess to design a signature line of glasses. Followers of the blog are discriminating consumers of unique fashion and decor; their priorities are character and individuality – the same attributes that describe BonLook’s customers. These Businesses were able to get exposed to each other’s shoppers, and expand their customer base.

2. Slowing things down

The slow movement has gone beyond food and taken hold in fashion, travel, even design. A growing band of devotees is willing to wait for what they want; for them, authenticity is more important than speed. The secret to capturing this segment? Meaningful customization and products that tap into their desire for handcrafted offerings.

Poppy Barley lives in the crowded retail footwear space, but the company’s niche is made-to-measure. Customers of the Edmonton-based retailer order shoes and boots made for them alone. That takes time – six to eight weeks, in fact. But that’s not a problem for its growing customer base, which embraces the adage that good things come to those who wait.

3. Charging more

Discerning customers are paying more for a first-rate product. The key is quality. That can mean superior ingredients, materials and durability. It can also mean fair trading practices with suppliers and creators, as well as ecologically sound manufacturing choices.

Montréal-based streetwear label Raised by Wolves calls it “buying into a system of values” and weaves this idea throughout its business. It keeps production in North America, produces limited numbers of each item and ensures a safe working environment for suppliers. It doesn’t compete on price – its currency resides in how it defines value.

4. Transcending the sale

Shopping habits often reflect not just customers’ need for particular products, but also their commitment to a certain lifestyle. They buy books and are concerned about childhood literacy; they choose organic produce and want to support local farmers. Supporting the customers’ lifestyle, can earn their loyalty.

For instance, though the mainstay of Fresh City Farms’ business in Toronto is food delivery, the retailer also offers cooking workshops, farm tours and screenings of movies about food issues. A transaction with the retailer is one-stop shopping for those who care about food, its source and the issues that affect it.

5. Owning the niche

No matter what the category, a retailer can become a destination shop by offering hard-to-find, rare or overseas imports. The key is sourcing items that mass merchants don’t carry. For instance, Canadian shoppers can find bathing suits at many stores, but Hamilton-based Kayokoko Swimwear has the largest inventory of swimwear in the country, including hard-to-get items from global designers. It’s one of the reasons this small retailer won Best Online Shopping Experience at the 2015 Canada Post E-commerce Innovation Awards.