Second life for mom and pop stores

photo courtesy of iStockphoto

For years my parents operated a small retail chain in our home town. There was a symbiotic relationship between our store and that of the town. Yes there were other stores in town offering similar products as we did and everyone thrived serving the needs of different people. My parents knew most of their customers by name, including family members. To be sure, life was hectic.

Years later, one of the largest superstore chains opened in an adjacent town about an hour from our community. My parents didn’t anticipate the allure of the large superstore with its air conditioned walkways, spacious parking space and the diversity of products available from one location.

Despite the lack of personalization, the superstore thrived and many stores in our town soon found themselves driven out of business. My parents eventually closed shop retiring to a more simple life, and themselves occasionally going to the superstore to enjoy the air conditioned amenities, and buying the occasional bric-a-brac.

There is an element of self-service that pervades today’s shopping experience. But even as consumers appreciate the diversity of offering that superstores, including their online channels, offer, there is a recognition that consumers of all ages are preferring, and in some cases demanding, to experience that personal service that are hallmarks of mom and pop stores.

Would the Internet and e-commerce give my parents’ business a chance against the superstore?

CrescoData’s CEO, Anna Trybocka, believes that properly deployed and managed, e-commerce platforms offer mom and pop stores an opportunity to co-exist with the larger superstores. In this exclusive interview with Retail Tech Innovation, she talks about the opportunities e-commerce offers to mom and pop stores as “opening doors to small entrepreneurs, mom and pop shops, and with all the tools that are available to them, it doesn’t mean that you are restricted by having a retail store, it doesn’t mean that you are restricted by having physical stock, it doesn’t mean that you are restricted by advertising only within your town and your country. It is a huge opportunity for anyone who has a great product or a great idea to be successful globally,” she concluded.

Tools of the digital trade

Mom and pop stores have, at their disposal, technologies, experience, expertise, that they can leverage to compete effectively in today’s digital marketplace.

Technology gives mom and pop businesses an opportunity to not only serve their community but its borderless nature means the market for good products is limited only by the willingness to deliver these to locations outside the confines of the community.

Personalization is a hallmark of many mom and pop stores, and with the Internet, mom and pop retailers have an opportunity to recast their learnings in personalization to markets previously not possible.

Economic benefits of being small. The continued success of superstores is predicated by large volumes to support the infrastructure costs that come with superstores – staffing, inventory, cash flow, warehousing, and loads of floor space. Mom and pop stores may not have the deep pockets that superstores have but on the plus side are not burdened by large operating expenses.

Riding on the success of bigger players. Mom and pop stores can find success by leveraging already existing platforms such as Amazon and Taobao. These encourage smaller players to latch on to their platforms to reach to customers hungry for products and are not married to the idea of buying only from big brands.

The future

Size does not preclude success as we’ve seen with the likes of JC Penny, Macy’s and Sears – each of which have filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and will be closing several stores in 2017.

Even as large retailers race to become cool, mom and pop stores don’t necessarily have to fight their way to coolness. The goal should be to find the right balance of great customer service, artisanal products, and differentiated by authentic if not unique experience. Industry watchers also point to customers gravitating towards brands that are creating a sense of community, a sense of belonging.

What is clear is that the retailers that want to succeed in 2017 (and beyond) must look for their unique recipe for success and differentiation, and success is not going to be predicated on size alone.

Feature photo courtesy of iStockPhoto