Contrary to what a lot of small town citizens might think, Wal-Mart does not crush thriving local businesses. Wal-Mart and other Big Box retailers carry the stigma of being small business killers in every town they set up shop. Wal-Mart merely exposes fatal flaws in the businesses that go under when the "big boys" come to town. Any small business that is going to thrive under any circumstances must serve a niche and offer knowledgeable service that the mega-retailers never will. Recently a Home Cheapo (or Depot if you prefer) came to Three Rivers. I rarely go in there and can even more rarely find what I need or a salesperson that can help me.
Case in point, a couple of weeks ago my brother-in-law had a plumbing emergency and I suggested he go to the local hardware store in White Pigeon instead of Home Cheapo. My reasoning came from my personal experience of always receiving helpful and knowledgeable service at the local White Pigeon hardware store. Well, he went to Home Cheapo and wasted his time trying to get all of the fittings he needed and having a clueless salesperson that was no help whatsoever.
He then went to the White Pigeon hardware store and received knowledgeable and friendly service as soon as he walked in the door. They might not have the cheapest prices (actually, their prices are quite competitive considering the gas you waste driving to bigger stores), but they find what you need quick and even offer tips and suggestions on installation.
On a side note, every man knows that barber shops and hardware stores are the best places to stay up-to-date on the local community news and happenings. I suggest that whenever you are new to a town you should stop by the local hardware store or barber shop to find out what a town is all about.
Now, back to my opinions. The other thing that small businesses offer (I'll keep using the hardware store example, but this really translates across the board to all kinds of businesses) is a smaller selection. What, a smaller selection is a good thing? Well, yes it is.
The White Pigeon hardware store carries less products, but the key is that they carry the essential products without all the extras that Home Cheapo carries like lawn mowers, grills, patio furniture, etc. They have a far larger selection of plumbing, electric, and hardware supplies than Home Cheapo because that is their niche. They don't try to have a little bit of everything like the big box store.
Does anyone like having to go up and down every isle of a huge store trying to find one little product? I sure don't.
So, now we have the keys to beating Wal-Mart and the other chain retailers. Product selection, service, and serving a niche. If your small business does those three things you will never have to worry about Wal-Mart putting you out of business.
Just my $.02 for today :)