Humans crave connection. We want to be heard, to feel like we have a community around us.

You know the opposite of that? Feeling invisible. Unfortunately, this is how most companies make their customers feel.

Stand in line at a supermarket and you probably have to shove your money back in your wallet so the person behind you can move forward. Go to a busy lunch spot and you’ll likely be called by the name of your salad more often than your actual name. These aren’t experiences that tend to make us feel warm and fuzzy.

While there’s a time to be fast (you may not want to chat for 20 minutes with the barista when you’re running late for work), that doesn’t mean the experiences have to feel so empty. Even a busy barista calling your name instead of your coffee order helps.

This is why so many are finding their way back to neighborhood brands.

Consumers are tired of feeling like a number. They’re tired of spending their hard-earned money on mass-produced products of questionable quality. If they’re going to spend their money anyway, they want it to be on something that is special, something that will last.

This is great news for you! Now it’s your time to fully maximize your potential as a neighborhood brand.

Provide An Experience that Delights

A few things you can count on:

  • A customer will walk into your business
  • He or she will have an opinion on the interaction that happened (or didn’t happen)
  • He or she will come back or not based on that interaction (or lack thereof)
  • You have full control over making sure the experience is a good one

When I walk into a business and no one greets me, I think, “lost opportunity.”  When I pay at a counter and the person scowls at me, I think, “I hate this place.”

But when I walk into a business and someone casually says hello and offers to help, I think, “that’s nice.” When I’m paying at a counter and they chat and laugh with me, I think, “I’m definitely coming back here.”

Pretty simple, right?

Ignore your people and they’ll feel annoyed. Be personable and they’ll feel happy. But you don’t want to just do that, right? You want them to love your business? Delight your customer.

Don’t have the product they need? Order it and call them when it comes in – but include a gift and a personalized note for their patience. Can’t fit a customer into your busy schedule? Offer them a time earlier or later than you’d normally work. Or, if you can’t, give them free samples that can hold them over and extra care during their appointment.

So few people go over and above, so when you do, your customer will be pleasantly surprised. And that’s what will keep them coming back to you even when the big box competitors lower their prices.

Focus Your Products or Services on Quality & Specialization

Whatever service you provide or product you sell, someone else is doing the same thing. But the great thing about neighborhoods is that they have their own unique personalities. How can you incorporate that into your offerings?

Let’s say you own a yoga studio but a mega gym in your area just incorporated new hot yoga classes into their services. Even though you’re the original in your neighborhood, you’re afraid you’re going to lose customers to the gym since they can offer yoga as well as other classes and a steam room. What should you do?

Do something the larger competitor can’t that your neighborhood would appreciate.

Going with the example, say there are a lot of young professionals in your neighborhood. Young professionals may tend to work long hours, so offering early morning or later in the evening yoga sessions could be what gets your business over the gym.

To add even more value, you could add massage to your studio’s offering, which would help your clients’ yoga practice. Or private yoga classes that analyze your clients to determine exactly what kind of yoga practice would best meet their needs (for example, they could be doing hot yoga when a vinyasa flow would work better for their fitness goals).

Something else to consider when considering and possibly even typifying the people in your neighborhood: don’t fall for stereotypes. A common thing to do these days is make fun of  “hipsters,” for wanting to buy all things artisanal – but it pays to see past trends and evaluate what they mean. “Hipsters” don’t pay more because they like to spend money. They do it because they grew up with big brands that have a reputation for caring more about turning a profit than creating good products. And some of them are known for treating their workers pretty terribly.

People are trending away from this because they want to feel good about what they buy. They want to know that people weren’t hurt in the process. They want to know that the products and services they use won’t become a detriment to their health. And they want to have the best of everything.

Your business can offer that no matter what you’re selling. Specialize in the aspects of your business that your neighborhood would be most interested in and make sure you’re giving the best quality out there.

Keep A Finger On the Pulse Of Your Community

Trends change quickly in the world, but slowly in neighborhoods. If you’re spotting a shift in your community, think about what it means. Think far beyond the stereotypes to analyze what the trends in your neighborhood are saying about what people want.

Small businesses have the benefit of being able to move fast. If you keep your finger on the pulse of your community and adapt as needed, you’ll be light years ahead of the big box brands. You’ll stay relevant while the bigger chain stores get stuck in the past.

You Have the Upper Hand

When dealing with high overhead and competing with low priced chain competitors, it can feel like running a small business is a no-win game. It doesn’t have to be that way.

You have the power. You don’t have to deal with a board of directors, a massive marketing machine, or miles of red tape. If you want to improve your business, you can make changes today. That speed and agility are your competitive advantage. And being able to know your customers on a personal level is the icing on the cake.

You have the upper hand. Stay lean. Stay agile. Don’t give up opportunities to know your customers. Do these things and you’ll beat the big brands every time.