Wither independent retailers?

Do we really want a one size fits all world? You know, a world where every shopping mall has the same mix of national brand stores with each store carrying the same products? Do we want fewer people controlling what we can buy and the price we will be asked to pay?

Current consumer spending suggests that this is what they want. Look at the chain stores closing the independents down because of the success they are having compared to independents.

Take at cake shops. Now I know a bit about them, having studied their products for several decades. There was a time I would navigate my way around Australia by cake shops. Today they are a dying breed – they are being replaced by one of several national brands. While each of the chains have a vanilla slice or a match (a delicious combination of flakey pastry, real cream, jam, icing and coconut), the chain version is not the same as this store or that where each was almost a one of a kind. Once gets lost navigating to corporate cake shops.

With each independent store closing we lose the local specialties and if enough of these types on businesses close we lose part of us. Independents keep prices down, they are the real competitors. The conglomerates are not competitive at all and the politicians who believe they are have been snowed.

I have a vested interest because my software company serves independent retailers. That said, I prefer to shop independent. I want the range. I want to know that the person who owns the store has selected the products they sell and not some faceless suit doing a deal for the whole country. I shop for personality as much as the deal.

Chains are voracious and once they dominate a country they look beyond their shores. It’s this need for profit which has given us global brands. Hamburgers from the corner store were more tasty and delivered with more character than the drive thru experience yet we have been happy to see the corner hamburger shop close. Thanks McDonalds. Coffee from the local café was more enjoyable than the always the same Starbucks experience. And on it goes.

Independents, across categories, need to unite and sell their point of difference before it is too late. This article on downstreet.net shows what the independent retailers in one community are doing to fight back. Of comfort is this article about a study in Chicago showing that locally owned independent businesses generated more economic impact per square foot than chain stores. The report authors hope that it encourages regulators to limit the growth of chains.

No matter how one approaches the march of the chains one thing is true, the independence of the independents will be their biggest barrier to beating the chains.

To win the daily fight for customers provide the one thing the chains have trouble delivering – exceptional customer service every time.

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