Keeping Up with the Times

For years, the word went out. The impending death of small stores was a favorite topic in the media. As usual, they were wrong.

First, the bricks-and-mortars were going to give way to big malls. Then, online shopping was supposed to replace much of retail. But a funny thing happened on the way to the future.

Mall times — Amy inherited a women’s clothing and accessories shop in town. Sales were slow. Amy realized that women were drawn to the fashionable stores that popped up in the new mall outside town. She embarked on redefining her shop–not to compete directly, but to create a new destination. First, Amy visited fashion shows in big cities. She got on the Internet and found new designers looking for outlets. She began offering unique clothing designs and accessories that were not to be found at the mall stores. At the same time, she promoted heavily on social media. Today, Amy even offers a fashion show frequently at her shop, using customers as models. All this has created excitement among women shoppers. She has successfully separated herself from the well-known chain stores at the mall.

Big box times — Rick once had the only hardware store in his town. Then, a regional WalMart arrived, followed by Home Depot and Lowe’s. Rick’s options were few–he could close, move elsewhere, or go into another business. He decided on another option–to stay in the same business but redirect it, and move to a bigger location outside town. He developed a very clear idea–he would offer only quality products to discerning customers. And he would additionally concentrate on supplying electrical and plumbing contractors with the specific products they needed, using online suppliers to ship overnight whatever was called for. Also, Rick added truck and trailer rentals. Today, Rick is thankful that the big box stores came to the area–they forced him to expand his business.

Small store times — Mary spotted a unique opportunity when she looked at the changing marketplace. She and her friends frequently had conversations about their experiences in malls and big department stores. All the products looked the same, the quality left something to be desired, and customer service was iffy at best. Mary decided to open a small in-town shop. She filled it with clothing made from natural fibers, simple toys for children, jewelry handmade by local artists, unique tools for kitchen and garden, and many additional and unusual items. Her shop appeals to the first time visitor and they are returning. People–especially younger shoppers–appreciate the convenience, unique products, and the personal attention they get. Mary is building her brand and her loyal customer base. She posts pictures regularly on social media, and she has added shipping to her website.

Malls and big box stores have their place in the vast American marketplace. So do small shops. Astute owners of small businesses make adjustments–to survive and thrive. The shopping-small and shopping-local movements are alive and well.