Small Retailers: Just the Right Size?

Small Retailers: Just the Right Size?

Large retailers exert tremendous pressure on the marketplace. They are everywhere, from metro areas to small towns. They attract ambitious, skilled employees, and they drive the toughest bargains with vendors. Mass merchants and chain stores are cutthroat competition for small retailers.

Would you be crazy to want to work for a small retailer?

A Small World with Big Employers

The US Department of Labor defines small employers as those with less than 100 employees. In 1999, of 730,303 retail companies identified by the Census Department, more than 90 percent employed less than 100 people. Half of the 1.1 million retail stores in the US employed fewer than 20 people.

Still, you know that large retailers are where most retail jobs are. Of the more than 14 million retail employees in 1999, just more than one-third worked for firms with less than 100 employees. And this trend continues.

Small Stores Must Work Harder to Shine

Small retailers cannot compete with large retailers on price, advertising or a wide merchandise assortment. They can compete only by offering value with unique merchandise and outstanding customer service.

Staff in small stores must:

  • Learn the customer's needs.
  • Know the store merchandise and services thoroughly.
  • Convince customers that they can satisfy the customer's needs better than their competitors can.

Small Can Be Beautiful Too

Small retailers typically offer employees fewer hours, lower wages and fewer employee benefits than large retailers. If money and benefits drive your career plans, these realities can convince you to look for career opportunities with bigger retail organizations.

Still, there are definite pluses in working for small retailers.

  • There is less bureaucracy in getting things done. Fewer people mean fewer layers of decision making, and possibly more flexibility and creativity.
  • The small store is usually a specialty store. Its staff must know the merchandise inside and out. If you care about the merchandise or the customer (for example, plants or book lovers), this can be the best niche for a rewarding retail career.
  • Most small stores have limited hours and are closed on Sundays.
  • The owner of a small store may work alongside employees. This is a great way to get training and mentoring, and to have real influence with the decision maker.
  • If you want to own or manage your own store some day, remember that the small store owner or manager is an entrepreneur in every sense, developing skills in buying, selling, planning and management that cannot be learned any other way.  
  • Small retailers also employ people with specialized skills, like bookkeepers, who perform functions that in a national chain might only be done in a single national office. The jobs available in national outlets are likely to be one-dimensional jobs, providing training in only a narrow aspect of a business.

Your Retail Future May Be Small

Many retail professionals begin their careers in a small store. The experience can cement one's commitment to a life in this highly competitive industry. This may be a good option for you, especially if you have the entrepreneurial spirit and see yourself as your own boss one day. The positives of working in a small store may be just the ticket for at least part of your career in retailing. Grow with a small retailer, and you can get in at the ground floor.

Learn more about retail careers.