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How Small Retailers Compete Against Big Box Stores
Small businesses are finding their own niche to convince people not to merely click a computer mouse or run to the local mall — and not all of them consider Christmas their biggest time of the year.
“I don’t think any small business can compete with big-box stores,” said Diane Sage, co-owner of Loft Fifty 5 in Bedford. “What we offer as a small business is what we strive for, which is a better customer experience.”
For example, Sage said, the home-accessories gift shop sells custom-made metal signs marking the latitude and longitude of a person’s house. “We have certain things in the store that we custom-make and support other small businesses around New England and around the U.S.,” she said.
People are supporting small independent stores.
On this year’s Small Business Saturday, the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Americans spent $17.8 billion at independent retailers and restaurants, according to a survey from American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business.
“I do feel people were more open to supporting the small businesses” this year, Sage said.
Loft Fifty 5 relocated to 25 South River Road in Bedford after losing its lease in Manchester’s Millyard last summer.
“So far so good,” she said. “We’re meeting a lot of new people who either didn’t know about the other location or didn’t have a chance to go over there.”
Many people want to do what the internet doesn’t allow for before buying.
“People want to touch it and see it and come in,” Sage said. They also want to avoid shipping costs and hassles.
And gifts aren’t loaded into boring plastic bags. “Nothing leaves here unpretty,” Sage said.
‘Tis the season, maybe
At Loft Fifty 5, “Christmas is extremely important,” Sage said. “It’s one of the biggest parts of our year.”
But at Music Connection in Manchester, owner John Benedict said his combined November and December sales account for 12 to 25 percent of his yearly revenues at his South Willow Street record store.
“Our Christmas season is typically in April, when all the awesome stuff comes out” around Record Store Day, Benedict said, referring to a nationwide event designed to promote independent music stores. The event includes special releases, especially on vinyl LPs.
Customers “all the time” talk about their “fruitless online search” for a specific record they’re looking for, he said.
Benedict said people can check out the physical condition of records at his store before buying. He stocks more than 50,000 vinyl records and more than 4,000 CDs.
“The spontaneity of seeing something in a store is a little more satisfying than scanning a screen (online),” he said.
At Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, owner Michael Herrmann said sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas account for nearly a quarter of his yearly sales.
“So far, we’re a little ahead of last year but still too early to tell,” he said.
Herrmann shared his recipe for competing with bookstore chains and the internet.
“You basically figure out what you’re strong at and emphasize that,” he said. “We’re strong at curation and buying books and merchandise especially for our market.”
The bookstore he’s owned for 24 years is “a community resource and people love shopping local and we give them every reason to,” Herrmann said.
At Amoskeag Jewelers, at 175 Kelley St. on Manchester’s West Side, owner Larry Cote counts on a lot of repair work.
Christmas accounts for about 10 percent of his annual sales.
“Our sales are steady throughout the entire year,” Cote said. “We’re an old-fashioned, 100-years-ago jewelry store where we do our repairs in-house. This brings in the people, not the sales.”
Repairs account for more than half his revenue, with word-of-mouth serving as important marketing.
Cote said he adopted a different sales philosophy this year: There’s a “Let’s make a deal” sign in his window.
Customers come in and ask what percentage off on sale is a particular piece.
“I say, ‘Let me see what I can do for you. I can go this far down’ and make a profit for the store, and they buy it,” Cote said.