Since opening my boutique 7 years ago, I’ve been compared to another local boutique just one town away. We both offer on-trend, women’s fashions, jewelry & accessories. We both offer weekly online sales. Our stores have a similar laid-back vibe. On the surface, sure, we are similar. To the outsider looking in, sure.
Over the past 7 years, while I have been building my one storefront, that boutique has grown into a chain, with 6 different locations; each storefront even more beautiful than the next. I’ve watched their success, their growth. I’ve studied their website. I’ve read their customer comments.
That “little” boutique just one town away, is now just one of many. And while I sometimes wonder why my business hasn’t grown into a 2nd or 3rd store, with a full staff, or magnificent array of inventory, I think about what I’d be giving up in order for that to happen.
If I made the leap from a small business to a chain, I’d be giving up the personal touch that my boutique offers. The coffee bar towards the back of the store that’s always stocked with hot cocoa, tea, and apple cider. The home-baked goods I provide every Saturday for my customers, or the fridge fully-stocked with sparkling water and soda.
If I made that leap, I wouldn’t possibly be able to know and recognize each and every one of my customers as they walk through the door. I wouldn’t know that Arline’s granddaughter was born, or Diane’s mom just passed. I wouldn’t know that Vickie was diagnosed with cancer, that Kathi just had eye surgery or Abby got selected to dance with the New York City Rockettes because of her crazy-amazing talent.
If I made that leap, I wouldn’t be hand-selecting the perfect prom gown, and seeing the look on Brianna’s face when she caught her reflection in the mirror. A true Cinderella moment, and one I was so proud and honored to be a part of.
I wouldn’t be there to pass out coloring books & crayons to the littles, so the mom’s could have just a few minutes to browse in peace.
Would it be great to have another store, earn more income, make more money so I could purchase inventory in bulk? Yes. Absolutely. If I could purchase in bulk, I’d get a discount from the designers, thereby passing that savings onto my customers. If I could buy in bulk, I could stock up on gift bags, tissue paper, hangers, and all things overhead.
But if I made that leap, where would I be when my customers come in to see me, to ask me to host a fundraiser, or tell me about their amazing first date, wearing one of my selections…would I be there? Or would I be at my 2nd or 3rd store? Or would I be so busy that I wouldn’t even be in my store at all, but behind closed doors in some office with spreadsheets, away from the customers who drive my business to success?
If I made that leap, many things would change. My pricing would go down by maybe 5-10% per item. That would be great for my customers, sure. But if I’m not there to greet them, or know them, or help them, or sponsor their team, donate to their charity, or give back to the community in which I was raised, what then?
You can’t call a chain store and ask them to pull something you just saw on their website, because you can’t get in until tomorrow. You can’t call a chain store and have the owner recognize your voice, as soon as you say ‘hello’ – Because it’s not the owner answering the phone. It’s not the owner who knows your size, your features, what looks best on you. There’s no relationship between you and a box store. There’s no personal connection.
So here’s the takeaway.
There will always be competition. There will always be someone else who can do it cheaper, faster, better. And yes, there will always be comparisons.
There will always be people that would prefer a cheaper price over the experience and exceptional customer care that a small business strives to provide. There are those people. These are not my people.
So I’ll stay small. I will stay local. I will stay where I am.
Because if I made that leap, the reward would not be greater than the risk. And if I risk losing just one customer, the risk is too great.