Hamilton gets the gift that keeps on taking.

One of my favorite towns in Montana is getting a Walmart SuperCenter.

Hamilton Montana, about 4 hrs south of me. This is a place with one of the best Main Street business districts in the state, a really vibrant downtown with most of its original architecture, a river with excellent fly fishing, killer mountain views and a nearby ski mountain, among other things.

No, Im not one of those anti-Walmart people. However, it will be disappointing if the town’s merchants dont stay focused on the task at hand and work on staying open rather than just giving up.

Certainly, some businesses will likely struggle to deal with WMT’s arrival. The unimaginative. The ones that directly compete – and keep trying to despite the obvious need not to. The ones that give up before the SuperCenter doors open because “they couldnt possibly survive”, at least in their mind. The smart ones wont give that a second thought.

I’m hoping they use the construction period to fine tune their businesses, get in touch with their clients and do the things they should have been doing all along to take care of (and attract) their clients. I suspect that isnt what many of them will do. Many of them will wring their hands, something else equally ineffective.

Here’s what I think they should be doing…

Step 1
Walk around your own store. Think hard about everything you carry and why. Write em down on a yellow pad. Dont pretend you can memorize everything, WRITE IT DOWN.

Step 2
Drive to Missoula and visit the nearest SuperCenter there. DONT take the yellow pad with your product list into the store. Find the products in the SuperCenter that Bentonville is going to give you a pounding on. Hint: They’re the ones with the retail price tags less than your wholesale cost, for starters. Make a mental note (mental notes keep you from getting booted out of the store for taking product notes). If you have to go back and forth to the car 20 times to update your notes, do it and get over it. Youll never remember all the details.

Step 3
Drive back to Hamilton. Use the time to think about the products that you offer that compete directly with them. And be proud of yourself for not letting Walmart happen to you, but instead taking control of the situation. Im not kidding.

Step 4
You really cant compete product for product with them, so you need to consider accompanying services, upscale versions of the same products, substantially higher levels of service than you likely offer today (hopefully not, but likely so).
Mark a note next to each product on your list as you assign them into these categories:

“D” – Directly compete – no upsell
These are products that WMT sells and there isnt an upscale version of the product (and you are POSITIVE of that). Likewise, there is little chance of upselling, both on service or an upscale version of the product itself.
“C” – Competes, upsell or service possible
These are products that you have some leeway on. Example: A lawnmower brand and model that WMT sells that you also sell. Goal: to find a high end model of the same brand that WMT doesnt carry. Your goal – separate yourself from the price-sensitive client.

“N” – Not carried by Walmart
These are products that they dont carry, typically because they are for a specialized market, higher end items or something that WMT just doesnt carry. Dont assume they’ll never carry them.

Step 5
Start collecting the full contact information of your clients. Its time to start communicating with them on a regular basis. You have until construction is over to work on improving the relationship, working your story and making them feel like an integral part of your business.

Step 6
Ask them for their birthday month. You dont need the day or the year, and this helps you get around the privacy concerns that people legitimately have. Do the same for anniversary, if they are married.

Step 7
If you get emails, put them on an email newsletter.

If you get mailing addresses, put them on the mailing list for your monthly print newsletter – even if they are on the email newsletter list. DO NOT make the mistake of just sending one or the other.

If you get phone numbers, consider using pre-recorded messages and outbound automated calls (but you have to do this RIGHT) to improve your communications, notify your customers of sales, events and completed services (“Your mower is ready to pickup”). DO NOT get into the mindset of “No one else here does this, so I cant/shouldnt”, “This wont work for MY business” and similar things. I can assure you, if you do what everyone else in Hamilton does in reaction to the new Walmart, you’ll be doing something else in a few years – if not sooner.

Thats a start. We can make this more complex, but right now, there’s no point it making this more difficult than it is.

There’s a goal to each of the steps above. DONT skip one.
More on this subject in the future. Get started TODAY.

2 thoughts on “Hamilton gets the gift that keeps on taking.”

  1. This is a fantastic post on how a small business can beat the big guys — the bigger guys have the scale to focus on price leadership or operational efficiency as a competitive differentiator, but scale is exactly what prevents them from pulling off customer intimacy strategy.

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