I took my two Australian Shepherds to Ellie’s Pet Barn the other day. It’s the kind of place where you bring your wonderfully awesome dog (or cat if you’re into those kinds of things) and all the staff knows you as “Amity’s and Mayvee’s Dad.” The kind of place where they give everyone who walks in the door a friendly hello and a treat; good old fashioned customer service with a smile. In making small talk with the owner who I’ve known for more than a decade, I asked how business was. “Ya know...there’s good days and bad days. There’s a lot of competition out there with Amazon and Chewy. People live busy lives and it’s just easier to get it delivered.”
My response was “Yeah...but you don’t get all of this…” pointing to the experience you get by visiting Ellies.
I get it...the small business retail market is tough with not only behemoths like Amazon, Petco and Petsmart breathing down your neck...but speciality online stores like Chewy and PetMeds. Your customers have to make an effort to shop with you and it’s getting harder and harder to get their attention.
So as a marketing guy, I pondered this overnight and came to the conclusion that it’s not just a marketing problem - you’re never going to outspend or outshout Amazon. It’s a business opportunity - with of course targeted marketing attached. It’s about thinking differently about what you do and how you do it. What’s the one thing that Amazon offers that you don’t? Delivery. So why not beat them at their own game? Take two of your friendliest, best staff that everyone knows and put them on the road one day a week to deliver within a 20 mile radius? I would bet that’s 80% of your customer base anyway. Yes you have the added costs of having a couple more staff in the store and mileage, but that can be compensated for with a small delivery charge...something myself and other loyal customers would gladly pay to have the convenience of delivery but supporting the local store. From a marketing perspective you create a social media strategy around friendly visits, treats, and smiles - everything you’d get at Ellies. You create a grass-roots flyering campaign at local coffee shops, hair salons and pizza parlors. You create a “David vs. Goliath” PR campaign and get some news coverage for your new venture. You do hypertargeted, localized digital advertising campaigns which are ultra-transparent - “the convenience of home delivery with the local customer service you’re used to.”
In the end...small businesses need to play the game. The world is not changing...you need to change with it or risk becoming irrelevant. I’ll still take my girls to Ellie’s...but it would be nice to have the option of Ellie’s coming to me.