Retail Podcast 310: Tom Shay on How Independent Retailers Can Compete with Big Box Stores

Tom Shay on How Independent Retailers Can Compete with Big Box Stores

Bob Phibbs interviewed Tom Shay of Profits Plus. In this episode Bob and Tom talked about putting the fun in retail and how independent retailers can compete with big-box stores.  

Tom Shay

Tell me something good about retail

Tom Shay on How Independent Retailers Can Compete with Big Box Stores


How Independent Retailers Can Compete With Big-Box Stores

Around 1920, Tom Shay’s great-grandfather saw a business opportunity. With automobiles flooding the middle class, he decided to open up a general store with a gas station out front.

This was the beginning of a family business that would be passed down four generations. Now, Tom Shay is passing down the knowledge that he and his family have accumulated through almost 100 years of retail experience. 

It is great to have him on today’s episode of Tell Me Something Good About Retail, where he takes us through his story and many of the practical things that independent retailers can do to compete with big-box stores. 

Look At The Big Picture

When Tom was running a store, he looked at the business from every angle.

In fact, Tom feels that this is something that many retail owners are lacking today. “We’re glorified salespeople is what we’re becoming. And we’re not focusing on learning how to be a better owner.”

If you want to be successful against your competition, you must look at every aspect of your business. This means your marketing, your training, and even your storefront.

For example, Tom cites a statistic that “53% of the impression a person gets about your store… comes from when they first see the building.” You are leaving a whole lot on the table if your storefront does not encapsulate what your store is about and entice your target customer to take a look.

These seemingly small details are what you should be on the lookout for. Find all the little things you can take advantage of that will all add up in the end.

Be Specific With Your Merchandise

“The first thing is don’t play the game on price, okay?”

I have talked about this with other guests before, but the fact is, if you try to beat the big guys on price, you are going to lose. They just have too much capital.

Again, you have to look at those small details that you can take advantage of. Tom brings up an excellent point when he says that you could run a full business based on the 30% of customers that walk out of a big-box store empty-handed.

You don’t have to carry five different brands of the same product. You can sell the one right brand. 

On top of this, you don’t have to sell the same product as your big-box competitor. It is much better to sell something different. Then you can specialize in selling that product and other products that go along with it.

Create Unique Experiences

If you are an independent store, you automatically have a one-of-a-kindness that you can use to your advantage. You can offer a distinct experience that a customer can only get at your store.

In the second season of the podcast, I talked to a woman who made her entire store circus themed for a day (in honor of the movie The Greatest Showman coming out). Sure, it seems a little random, but this little event turned out to be one of her most profitable days ever. 

You don’t have to do something exactly like this, but be willing to try things.  

You have the ability to provide those one-of-a-kind experiences that your customers can’t get anywhere else. It makes your store something to remember.

Give people a reason to come to your store that is not just a product. 

Tom gives so much great advice that it is impossible to fit it all in one article. So take a listen to the episode. If you want to find Tom, you can go to, where he has a bunch of resources available for small businesses.

Tom Shay

Find out more about Tom


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