Surviving in a Big Box World

store When I was still living in State College, Pennsylvania I watched several longtime Mom & Pop stores go out of business as big box retailers moved into town and siphoned off their loyal customers.

  • One was a very quirky hardware store that, among other things, sold fresh meat.  It was a cool place.  Unfortunately, customer service was horrible and when you entered the store, you felt about as welcome as swine flu.
  • Another was an electronics store.  Nice selection of products.  But their hours were Monday-Friday, 9 am – 5 pm. 
  • Another was a downtown bookstore.   It was OK.  They sold a lot of scholarly books that you couldn’t find elsewhere.  But their marketing plan consisted of…well….pretty much nothing.

What all three of these business did exceedingly well was whine about how we ungrateful consumers no longer appreciate the importance of locally-owned businesses.    But if you don’t serve me well or give me any compelling reason to patronize you, why is it my moral obligation to keep you in business?   

Of course, many small businesses have used a little creativity and found ways to survive and even thrive.  One is a bookstore in New York City that has succeeded through some interesting promotions and valuable services that are unavailable from larger bookstores.  Then there is another bookstore in Portland, Oregon that has used design cues to create an emotionally compelling shopping experience (I thought the customer-created shelf talkers were particularly neat).