Ask a consultant

  • Updated: December 16, 2007 - 11:45 PM

Q As owners of a boutique store in a small market, we've succeeded by offering one-of-a-kind items that customers don't often see in this area. Competing retailers have recently begun scouting these items to sell in their own stores, then lowering the prices just enough to entice shoppers away. What are some tips for overcoming this challenge?

MARY TAYLOR

SEALED WITH A KISS

A Unfortunately, the retail world has changed. With the advent of the Internet, Google and eBay, your competitors can easily find and purchase the same items you once offered exclusively. However, you can use customer and supplier relationships to maintain a competitive advantage.

The relationships you've developed with customers are based on your store's unique ability to provide special items they wouldn't typically find in a small market. This is a valuable service -- one for which customers will pay a premium. Strengthen customer relationships by asking them to sign up for a loyalty program so you can give them the special treatment they deserve. Offer a collection of benefits that makes them feel invested in your success. These might include regular updates about what's new at your store, special access when you introduce new items and advance notice of and access to sales.

The strong relationships you develop with customers can also be an asset in enhancing relationships with suppliers. Suppliers of specialty items have a vested interest in maintaining their cachet. When your competitors discount these items, they undermine the suppliers' positioning of those items. You should share your marketing strategy with your key suppliers, stressing your ability to maintain premium positioning for the items you carry. Then, when sourcing new items, you can seek exclusive distribution rights for the items in your local market, at least for a while.

DAVID ALEXANDER

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, MARKETING

UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS

OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS

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