How to stand out from the retail crowd

By Sam Abdelnour, Contributor

In my last column, I offered five strategies that can help you carve out a unique space in your local market and build a loyal customer base.

Let’s do a deep dive on one of them: differentiating your business in a crowded marketplace. With the holiday season upon us, now is the perfect time to set yourself apart.

An effective differentiation strategy allows you to connect with customers by providing something unique, different and distinct from your competitors. To be clear, differentiation is not about competing on price. We all have those customers who do their research and come in looking for nothing but a rock-bottom price. Spoiler alert: These customers are not necessarily the right ones for you. I contend that you should let the big-box retailers have those customers.

Offering the lowest price is easy, and is also the easiest route to bankruptcy. To truly differentiate your business, you must get creative and set yourself apart in a way that price is not the only consideration. What you do to differentiate yourself may indeed be what tips more sales in your favor.

Dare to Be Different

During my dealer presentations you may have heard me reference the “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.” The example I cite from the book concerns the Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles, and how it distinguished itself as one of the city’s top-rated hotels on Tripadviser. How did this 70-something-year-old hotel compete with the likes of the Four Seasons and The Ritz Carlton? In short, by doing things differently, like the cherry red phone installed by the swimming pool. Dial up the “Popsicle Hotline” and a white-gloved staffer appears in minutes with a silver tray of frozen treats at no charge.

L.A.’s Magic Castle Hotel features a “Popsicle Hotline” for poolside patrons.

The Magic Castle learned that you don’t need to obsess over every detail. Rather, people remember experiences that are remarkable, and they need not be extravagant or expensive. A box of 18 Popsicle King ice pops costs less than $6, but goes a long way toward creating a lasting impression.

Being different also makes you unforgettable. Get creative and start thinking about what your Popsicle Hotline might be. Consider things you can do that the big-box retailers can’t (or won’t).

Know Your Customers

I recall a conversation with a dealer whose cooking sales were struggling. A quick look inside his store explained it: he was carrying too many freestanding units in a market that was heavily skewed toward built-in products. We suggested he elevate the customer experience by adding more vignettes with built-ins and training the staff on their benefits. The business also began promoting itself as the “Built-In Specialists.” The new and differentiated shopping experience soon paid off in higher average ticket sales and greater total revenue. 

In another instance, I persuaded a dealer to offer his customers “follow-you-home delivery,” a snazzy name for same-day delivery service. The owner invested in a pickup truck and began to tout his ability to deliver an item on the same day it was purchased. That is something a big-box store simply can’t execute. 

The Bottom Line

The key is to understand what your customers value and to deliver it in a unique way. Curate a distinctive assortment that caters to their desires in a way that makes them want to buy from you and only you. Identify additional services that your customer finds valuable: Delivery, installation, late-night and weekend appointments, flexible financing, design services … the list is virtually endless. The fact is your business is like no other, and big-box retailers can’t do many of the things that you as a local independent can do. 

Companies thrive when they pay attention to their customers’ needs and create exceptional experiences that are not soon forgotten.

How will you differentiate your business? Drop me a line at the email address below.

Sam Abdelnour is a retail authority, veteran Whirlpool executive and BrandSource Lifetime Achievement Award winner who has dedicated his 40-plus-year career to the appliance business and developing the people around him. He now channels his efforts into service and relaying retail strategies that work (as well as a few that don’t). Share your thoughts with Sam or suggest a future topic at

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