Getting your product into mom-and-pop stores can be great for your business. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of only dreaming of seeing their products on big box store shelves. This makes sense initially, not only is it a huge accomplishment to get your product in Target or Walmart, but having even one item in a big box store can change your entire financial future.
While this is a great dream, it doesn’t mean you should ignore the advantages that mom-and-pop stores have. Yes, mom-and-pop’s have had it rough in the past few decades as big box stores spread across America, but they’ve also adapted and learned what they have to do to stay in business. And that adaptation has given them several distinct advantages in the retail market.
Think of mom-and-pop’s like a training ground. Maybe the goal for your product is the major league, and ultimately you want to be in Home Depot. However, you wouldn’t expect to get drafted before years of playing in high school and minor league games. By using the smaller size of mom-and-pops to your advantage, you can make sure you’re tweaking and refining your sales pitch, packaging, and products that you’ll eventually take to big-box retailers with your sales rep.
1) The Store Rules Are More Flexible
Your Product Will Be Stocked Faster
Want to see your product in big box shelves? Even if you got a yes from a buyer today, that process takes at least a year.
Big companies are going to minimize risks however possible, and this means vetting you and your business, making sure you can deliver the amount of product you said you could while maintaining quality and not falling behind an established timeline.
This means they’ll inspect any part of your production line they see fit and make sure it meets their standards. They want to make sure your manufacturing is set up and reliable. QVC spent 18 months reviewing Supersmile because they wanted to ensure their products really whitened teeth and didn’t have any harmful side effects.
Mom-and-pops provide a friendly alternative to all that red tape. They work on their own timelines which are typically much, much quicker. Depending on the store and industry, buyers may take your product right on the spot, or they may agree to stock your products within a month or two.
Your Display And Store Location Is More Customizable
You may have an exact idea of where in the store you want your product to be, and what you want the display to look like. However, big-box retailers are so tightly packed with other products they’re unlikely to meet any special requests you have. Plus, with so many different suppliers waiting for their chance, they don’t have any incentive to compromise with you. If you don’t want the shelf space they’re offering, they can just move on.
Independent retailers and smaller stores are much more likely to listen to and follow through with your requests. Although they certainly don’t have to do anything they don’t want to, if you’re a great salesperson you may be able to convince them that displaying your product in a certain way is advantageous to them. In most cases, you’ll be talking to someone who has direct control over what the displays are, versus in big-box where buyers won’t be as involved with how products are presented.
2) The Shop Owner Can Be Your Ally
Having a relationship with the owner of an independent store or a mom-and-pop shop is a more intimate relationship than with buyers at a big box store. With that increased intimacy comes the types of perks that happen with a closer bond.
You can ask for customer data, even if it’s just observed. You can ask for general advice, if they’ve seen products like yours, and what worked for them.
Because their shop is smaller, their business is more dependent on you, so they’re incentivized to see you succeed in ways that big box stores can’t be.
They also have more time for you and are more likely to view you as a peer. Since you are both small business owners, your jobs are more related than someone who’s a buyer at a big box store. The mom-and-pop owner understands the hardships of being an entrepreneur, and they’re more likely to give you second chances, work with you to succeed, and to root for you in general.
3) Smaller Means Less Pressure
Sure, mom-and-pop stores can’t offer you the overnight piles of cash big box stores can. However, with those tantalizing cash offers also come some serious responsibilities. Before you make the deal of a lifetime, don’t you want to feel confident that you can make a deal?
The Financial Responsibilities Are Much Easier To Handle
Gearing up for a run in a big-box location involves a lot of inventory. And that means you need to have a lot of cash to pay for manufacturing. Add in a year-long plus sales cycle, and that means you’re going to have to go a long time without seeing any returns.
For many entrepreneurs, buying tens of thousands of dollars of product in one go is a stressful task. All business owners like a little risk, but taking out a huge loan or a second mortgage on your house can be overwhelming for even the most adventure hungry entrepreneurs. By going mom-and-pop before big box, you won’t have to risk it all to see if your product works. Orders from these stores only require hundreds or low thousands of dollars of inventory.
Manufacturing Demands Are Less Intense
Can your manufacturer deliver 10,000 units of your product in the next 3 weeks? Will every unit be of perfect quality? Can you guarantee no delays? Are you sure?
If you haven’t done a large run before with your manufacturer, you don’t know what they’ll be like when asked to produce at volume on a short time scale. Also, if they falter, you might be left with a loan and no purchase order.
With smaller stores, you’ll be able to test your manufacturer on smaller batches, and even if they fail, you won’t have overspent past recovery. Even if the worst happens and you burn a bridge with a small retailer, you can simply move on and try again with another.
Scalability Is Easier
There’s a reason car commercials brag about their vehicles being able to go ‘0 to 60 in 5 seconds flat;’ it’s hard to accelerate quickly. If your business is a baby, don’t try to go from crawling to running. Smaller stores let you try out walking, speed walking, and even jogging before you go full sprint. Let the kinks get worked out as you grow, instead of assuming you’ll be able to overcome all of them as soon as they crop up.
4) You Can Test, Refine, and Repeat
Besides Tom Hanks, none of us are perfect. Which means no matter how hard you try, you will not come up with a perfect product and business on your first try.
Something will go wrong, an assumption you made will prove to be untrue. Manufacturers will be unreliable, employees will get sick, you’ll realize that joke in your sales pitch never gets a laugh. That’s just how life works.
So give yourself the gift of editing. Do everything the best you can, get your product out there in some mom-and-pop stores, and see what goes wrong. Cherish that these mistakes happened before you were national, and fix them under relatively low pressure.
Independent retailers are your testing ground. Experiment, edit, change, and improve.
5) You’re Part Of A Community
People love shopping at Target, Walmart, and all the places that bring us affordable, reliable goods. However, people generally don’t feel warm and fuzzy towards these businesses, and they certainly don’t have a vested interest in keeping them afloat.
Big-box stores are great, but they’re also slick and corporate. Despite a lot of them telling us that ‘we’re family,’ that marketing technique comes off as what it is: a marketing technique.
Small shops are not like that. They are usually community staples, with real ties to the people that shop there. Customers feel actively invested in shopping local, and are more likely to be loyal to your brand as a result.
Mom-and-pop stores also operate primarily by word of mouth. This means if your product becomes popular, a whole community may learn they can get your product at their local store. If you do eventually get into big box retail, those same customers will also feel like they watched you from the beginning, and maintain loyalty.
6) It’s Easier To Get In
Why make life harder than it already is? Perhaps the most significant advantage to mom-and-pop stores is that it’s easier to get it. The competition isn’t as competitive, and if you strike out with one store, you can simply go to another and try again.
If you have a new product, why wouldn’t you want to see it on shelves as quickly as possible? This means independently owned, mom-and-pop stores, so get out there, and start selling!