Independence day

Carole Sloan, December 2, 2002

Bigger is not always better.

But the problem is that the marketplace is increasingly dedicated to the big guys. And now, manufacturing has moved so quickly offshore that the big guys will be even more in the spotlight.

Too bad.

Travelling across the country, and even in areas where there are more cows than people, these independents are serving their public — and serving them very well.

I tend to find these retailers by asking "retail junkies" in whatever city or town I'm going to for a list. It's amazing what comes back — most times easily a day or so of places I never would have found. Here are some quotes from an itinerary for a trip this week. "I always buy something here when I swear I won't;" "a great place to shop for the person who has everything;" and, "the merchandise fits the owner's mantra — if it's cute, I want it."

And these are retailers in a town with big boxes, giant discounters and department stores. And they are successful.

What makes these retailers different from the big box and giant retailers?

First off, there's the personal touch. The owners know their customers; they're friends or neighbors. They know the area and how people live and what they want from their homes.

And as you can tell from the quotes above, the owners have a point of view, which is something rare in retailing today.

And then there's the convenience factor of not having to drive an hour or so to a Wal-Mart or a big guy's store. More than ever today, time is money.

And then there's the service element. The best of the mom-and-pops have either convenience or service front and center with customers. And their approach serves as critical examples for the sales staff, which typically comes from the community, and is influenced heavily by the owners.

Time magazine, in its Oct. 21 issue, provided a national, full product analysis of the mom-and-pop stability with a feature story on "Plucky Competitors," citing the indies' success across all consumer product and service lines.

Maybe it's time for the suppliers to rethink their attitudes about the industry's indies and tailor product, marketing and systems to their needs. Maybe even a rep or two would help build this segment of the business.

Just lately, I'm getting vibes that some suppliers are beginning to rethink their businesses and move in the indie direction without sacrificing their big numbers guys.

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