4 Ways to Compete with a Big-Box Neighbor

Author: Clare C. Date: June 06, 2011

Small businesses are hard-pressed to compete with their big-box neighbors and the name recognition that accompanies them. But you have things going for you that they don’t.

Here’s what some small businesses are doing to face off with their big-box rivals:

Building relationships 

Big-box stores can’t offer the personal touch of a mom-and-pop, so why not capitalize on that idea? People like doing business in a warm environment with someone they like — offline and on. For example, for her online children's bookstore Slimy Bookworm to compete with the likes of Barnes & Noble and Amazon, Bolanle Oyeyipo sends a hand-written thank you with special offers to every customer that buys from her website. She also contacts them personally if she suspects problems with an order. Greeting customers by name, taking customer calls and making exceptions that large retailers can’t do will help your smaller storefront stand out.

Expanding your base

“Thirty percent of all small bakeries have gone out of business in the past five years,” says Stephen Pazyra, who owns La Patisserie in Winchester, Mass. Instead of sinking, his bakery developed a web presence and is now shipping cakes and biscotti nationwide. Running a small business has its limitations, not the least of which is a limited geographical reach. If you’re struggling with overhead, find out what territories could use your product or service — and target your online business to them. 


There may be fees attached, but don’t overlook the potential of your local chamber of commerce. Especially in a recession, your efforts at networking with industry groups will help build your reputation and create new business leads. Industry associations bring other benefits, like showcasing businesses on their website and at events.

Banding together

Independent businesses are finding strength in numbers, and some have taken creative steps toward helping fellow small biz owners. For example,, a new Chicago-based online marketplace, pledges to advocate for independent retailers while expanding their access to customers. 

Still, that big box next store may be willing to post flyers or refer to you customers who they can’t serve. By familiarizing yourself with your community, even your largest competition won’t seem so scary.

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