Here in my city there is an adorable little mom-and-pop store that sells local products including wine, sauces and spreads, craft items, and jewelry. They rent a small storefront in a shopping center located very close to our local Wal-Mart and Target. I go to Wal-Mart or Target at least once a week so I understand the appeal of those stores. You can find almost anything you’re looking for from groceries to electronics in one place and usually, for cheaper prices than you will find elsewhere. I’m not going to try and talk you out of shopping at the big-box stores because sometimes cost and convenience are very important. However, I’d like to point out some reasons you should be stopping in at the smaller local stores every once in a while.
Better Customer Service
Some large stores do have great customer service when management makes it a priority and insists upon it. Local businesses have many more reasons to make you their top priority all the time. First, their success relies almost entirely on making you happy since they often can’t compete with the big guys on price or variety. Second, they work and live in your community so they have a personal interest in connecting with you and making sure you have a positive view of them and their business.
As a result of my husband’s career in the military, we moved away from Virginia for two years but then were fortunate enough to return to the same area. When I walked back into the mom-and-pop store here, they greeted me by name and pulled out my frequent shopper card to see how close I was to my next free item. This was after TWO YEARS!
Special Perks and Discounts
This story brings me to my next point. Since they can’t compete on price, small businesses have to be creative when it comes to winning loyal customers. Outstanding customer service helps, but it isn’t enough for most people. Oftentimes individually-owned businesses will offer special deals or loyalty programs that you won’t get from their corporate competitors. They will often special-order items for you and are typically more willing to participate in school fundraising events.
As I mentioned above, the store where I shop has a frequent shopper program. For every 10 gourmet items I buy, I get one free. They also have a wine-of-the-month club that includes 2 bottles of wine and a gourmet food item. Yes, there are other wine-of-the-month clubs, but do you know of any that know your personal preferences, if your kids have allergies or aversions to certain foods, and if you need a different selection because your mother-in-law is coming to visit?
Another way small businesses distinguish themselves from large ones is by being more diligent in choosing the types and sources of merchandise they carry. It is in your local stores and boutiques where you are more likely to find products made in the U.S.A., organic ingredients, fair-trade products, products that have not been tested on animals, and handmade products.
The local store I keep bragging about offers fresh organic milk, eggs, cheese and butter. The owners of the store can tell you all about the farm where they come from along with stories of all the wineries from which they order wine and the woman who makes the watches they sell, and the gentleman who grows and grinds the coffee they sell. They know all of these suppliers personally and frequently invite them into the store to meet customers and explain their products in person.
Visit any city in the United States and you will find most of the same big stores. Mom-and-pop stores are each unique and they help make your city different from another. They are part of your community’s character and story.
Our local mom-and-pop sells gift items that are all made locally. They have note cards that have local schools and churches printed on them. They also have trivets and paperweights that have local elementary school names etched on them. These make great teacher and volunteer gifts and they aren’t sold anywhere else.
Supports the “American Dream”
I’m a big fan of capitalism. I think competition is good for the economy and for innovation. Some people use this argument against small businesses insisting that if a small business can’t compete with a large business, it deserves to perish, thereby creating a more efficient marketplace. Here’s the problem with that logic. A small business owner starts out with the odds stacked against him or her. They have few loan options and no investors. Without the financial resources for marketing, staffing, and square footage, a small business has no option but to enter with a small space, small staff, and small volume (i.e. higher costs and higher prices). If we, as consumers, don’t value the other benefits we gain from the business so that we are willing to pay higher prices to shop there, we discourage entrepreneurship. The big stores will just keep getting bigger and over time we will give up variety, ingenuity, and originality.
I’d like to thank Olde Virginia Gourmet for inspiring me to write this article by providing quality, local products in a charming store, owned an operated by a caring and generous couple. If you happen to live near or ever visit Stafford, Virginia, please stop in and visit them so you can witness firsthand how wonderful locally-owned businesses can be. You can also visit them virtually on Facebook. All photos in this article are from their Facebook page, published here with their permission.