Independent Retailers Win by Playing to their Strengths

Customers shop the establishments operated by independent retailers for various good reasons. However, selling merchandise at discount prices may not rank high on their list. Shoppers typically find bargains or special offers on select products during limited-time sale events. Just as Walmart has built its reputation on reducing costs, independents understand that competing with the big boxes primarily on price is a losing proposition. Yet, there are ways for home improvement store owners to carve out their path to success by playing to their strengths—better assortments, exceptional customer experiences, and comparable private label brands.

While giant low-cost discounters such as Dollar General and Family Dollar are attracting shoppers whose primary concern is the cost of goods, these stores often fall short on the breadth of the product assortments and customer service. The unprecedented growth of these stores shows many shoppers are willing to adjust their expectations when faced with rising inflation, higher gas prices, and economic uncertainty. Although independent retailers should make every effort to mitigate the impact of price increases on customers, focusing on value rather than price may be a different perspective. 

Offer Customers Real Value for the Price 
Warren Buffet says, “Price is what you pay, and value is what you get.” Offering shoppers an extra item or free service that is unexpected is a value they will appreciate. Manufacturers often “bundle” tools, automotive products, and gardening supplies to allow retailers to drive seasonal sales and to introduce new products. Each bundle is sold at a significantly lower price than the total cost of the items when sold separately. Independent retailers also have the flexibility to offer unique product assortments or sell merchandise available exclusively through the independent retail channel. Offering products that aren’t typically sold at big box stores and are relatable to shoppers in the community can be a niche opportunity that builds traffics in-store and online.

Provide Service that Exceeds Expectations 
Businesses find it difficult to admit their service is less than perfect. Survey results indicate 80 percent of companies believe they offer a “superior customer experience.” However, only eight percent of customers agree. It’s essential to provide customers with a consistently positive shopping experience to maintain good relationships and grow a community of customers.

  • Deliver a problem-free experience. Customers don’t like unpleasant surprises or rude behavior. Being out-of-stock on popular products and seasonal merchandise can be irritating. It’s best to make customers aware when products are not available online before placing the order or making a trip to the store. If possible, recommend a substitute product that’s comparable in price.
  • Listen before reacting. Ask customers the right questions before recommending a product or deciding on a solution. Build trust and show the customer that addressing their concern is more important than making a sale.
  • Know Your Business. Customers shop at the local hardware store or home center because they want advice from someone who can provide them with solutions for their projects. They assume you know more about what you sell than they do. Sharing information about products and services creates connections that can translate into future business. 

Promote House Brands and Improve Margins

At one point, consumers bought house brands as a last resort. Today people are less brand-loyal and are more conscientious about saving money on comparable products. Some house brands have become so popular that they are indistinguishable from branded products in the minds of shoppers. Promoting private label brands has several significant benefits that make them profitable to sell and market.

  • Quality Equal to or Better than Branded Merchandise. Wholesalers who invest in developing house brands can control the quality of the product by taking the lead in sourcing, packaging, merchandising, and marketing. The point is to make a product whose quality is equal to or better than national brands that sell at a lower price.
  • Higher margins and Competitive pricing. It’s essential for retailers to promote national brands to attract shoppers to their stores. However, positioning house brands near branded products encourages shoppers to compare both products. House brands generate higher profit margins and can be priced competitively. 
  • Exclusive and distinctive products. House brands give independent businesses a unique advantage by differentiating the organization from competitors. They are exclusive to the retailer’s wholesaler and can’t be purchased at another supplier. Building customer loyalty by providing quality products that shoppers know are trustworthy is a great way to become a destination point and gain repeat business.


Independent Retailers should focus on addressing the needs of their customers to compete in an evolving retailing landscape. Consumer behavior continues to change, and quickly pivoting to accommodate new situations is necessary to deliver the best assortments, value, and customer service. 

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