Small businesses are the cool kids on the block in the United States these days; humble practices and a hometown feel keep customers interested and consistently happy. In America, 71% of consumers feel that small businesses are something they can feel good about supporting and trusting, even more so than religious organizations (sba.gov). They would rather spend a bit more at a small shop than fuel large corporations with cheap laborers. This is quite a turnaround from ten years ago when shoppers were just seeking a deal.
The best way to thrive as an existing small business owner and take advantage of this new market trend is to create an experience for the customers. A brand needs to stand out in its practices and its physical look. People want to feel something when they walk into a store. A Kohl’s and a boutique clothing shop on Historic Main Street St. Charles give off drastically different feelings when you walk inside. A chain store looks generic and boxy. A boutique store with crafty table displays and drapery and exotic paint colors feels warm and unique. The store in itself should be fun to visit, whether or not they intend on buying. Having a location with an “experience” makes customers want to come back and bring others with them. An attractive appearance draws people in before a deeper relationship can begin.
St. Louis is rich in its diversity of small businesses that do exactly this. Every other corner features a quirky café or a small art shop. And they are all very distinctly different. Dressel’s Public House in the Central West End has the cozy feeling of an old English pub and the style of a hipster bar. The walls are covered in artwork
of famous authors and musicians and public figures. Each table has a lit candle. And the fireplace is always roaring in the winter. It is a place to be, rather than just somewhere to eat. That is the difference small business owners have to make.
Another fabulous example is Fitz’s on the Delmar Loop. The glass windows looking into the bottling factory are unmatched by any other St. Louis restaurant. They had the opportunity to put a brick wall or panes of glass between their clientele and their factory… and that glass wall is what brings in excitement. Steak n Shake has the same food, but in no way do they have the same atmosphere. People go to a diner to feel full; whereas at a place like Fitz’s, it is a place they go for their Friday nights with friends.
Small business owners today are in an excellent position: they don’t have to compete as strongly with big companies because consumers want to support small. So now they can spend their marketing efforts on creating an “experience” to attract already-interested consumers, rather than spend time on differentiating from large competition. There has never been a better time to jazz up your little shop and create a lasting impression that big stores can just ever compete with.