NZ retailing is entering into a period of more intense, price-focused competition for the wallets of customers. This makes it more important than ever for independent retailers to focus on their strengths.
The Chemist Warehouse is one of many successful overseas chains that is busy identifying New Zealand locations where their “stack it high and sell it low” approach will work. Their arrival will inevitably lead to media commentary about the higher prices charged by other pharmacies, and whether these are fair.
The Amazon effect
Bricks and mortar competition is only one threat however, and every retailer is viewing e-commerce as a double-edged sword. It offers the promise of double-digit year-on-year sales growth for sites that get it right – but the arrival of Amazon downunder is a huge threat that few can ignore.
But “its not all about lower prices” (see my previous Blog article). The top 3 reasons why customers choose local, independent, bricks and mortar stores are because they are convenient, they have the right products and they offer good service. Low price ranks behind these critical success factors for many specialty retail stores.
Making a difference
If you are a retailer concerned about the impact on your business from cheaper competitors – think hard about the service experience you create instore. If you are a working owner you need to be aware of all the little things that you do, that add up to the unique style of services your store provides.
Even with high quality staff, it is rare to find employees that think and behave like an owner. There is a noticeable difference between the retailers with a working owner-operator, and those which are part of a corporate-owned chain. This difference is cultural, and is a potentially powerful point-of-difference for a small business.
Culture and leadership
The culture in any organization is set by the leader or leaders, and it flows down from there. No matter how much a business owner might hope that their staff will establish their own culture, the reality is that this stuff starts at the top.
The same is true of any school, church, scout group, sports team, political party or business association. The skills and performance of the leader has a profound influence on the whole group. No matter how strong the individual members are, they seldom overpower the habits of their leader.
With or without the disciplined approach of a business owner, it is still vitally important to have well-defined procedures, standards and checklists in place if you want your business to provide consistent, high quality services. But the absence of a working owner or strong leader does generally result in lower performance standards – particularly in the people-centric aspects of a workplace.
In spite of written procedures that specify how customers should be greeted, attended to and served, it takes someone to lead from the front – and this is more likely to be hit-and-miss if everyone is an employee and working without regular one-to-one leadership from the person paying the wages.
This observation provides a real opportunity for independent retailers, and a challenge for the chains. If one of your strengths is “the presence of the owner” then you should do everything you can to leverage this advantage so that you can confidently hold your prices in the face of discounting from your competitors.