I needed to ship a number of packages last week, so I made my first visit to a local mailing supply and shipping store in my neighborhood. It took almost 40 minutes to pack and ship all my items, and by the end of my visit, I hadn’t just learned a lot about their business, but I was also reminded of the power of being small.
The woman who works the counter is the co-owner with her husband. She’s also seven months pregnant, which would not normally figure into a business analysis except that nearly every customer who entered the store seemed to know when her baby was due. That’s notable because it turns out she knew them pretty well, too. Their names, their kids’ names, their occupations and health ailments and vacation plans. There’s a history there between the owners and their customers (I seemed to be the only patron who wasn’t yet on a first-name basis with the owner).
One woman arrived to check her P.O. box, at which point the owner mentioned to the new trainee behind the register (who also happens to be the owner’s mother-in-law) that this customer was named Dolores, she’s hard of hearing, and it’s important to look at her when you speak because she reads lips.
This business is a part of the surrounding community. The customers have a bond that goes beyond just convenience or the need to ship a package. The shop might be small, but that kind of connection with their customers will do a lot to insulate them from the bigger, less personal competition.
Many independent counselors and other small businesses go out of their way to hide that they’re small. For example, if you’re a one-person shop, why use the term “we” on your website, outgoing voicemail, and business communication? Most customers would rather deal with a “me” than a “we.”
If you’re a small business or a one-person shop, instead of trying to appear larger than you are, reinvest that effort into taking advantage of being small. Do things you’d never be able to do if you were two or three or ten times your size. In fact, that’s the surest way to spread word of mouth, attract more new customers, and eventually find yourself in the enviable position of being afforded a choice—get bigger, or stay small.