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Small Businesses Can Take On the Retail Giants

Putting the customer at the core of the business and providing a superior service will help independent retailers compete successfully with price slashing supermarkets, according to University of Ulster research.

The research into nature and scope of retail branding in small to medium sized enterprises was carried out by Ricky Mitchell from East Belfast, who this week was awarded a PhD in Retailing at the University’s summer graduation ceremonies at Coleraine.

Small and medium businesses make a significant contribution to the Northern Ireland economy – SMEs account for 98% of the total number of businesses and employ 67% of the workforce.

The research found that instead of going ‘head to head’ with the supermarket giants in a price war, successful SMEs are competing in other ways.

“They differentiate their product or services by embedding meanings of localisation, family tradition and heritage into their brand”, says Ricky.

He continues: “SMEs that invest in their shop environment, their merchandising and customer service are perceived by their customers to be offering better value. Customers want to be treated as individuals, not as numbers and this is where SMEs can have a distinct advantage over the retail giants.”

Dr Karise Hutchinson, Head of Department of Business, Retail and Financial Services, who supervised the doctorate research, said it highlighted the need for owners of independent retail firms to capitalise on their unique selling points.

“In Northern Ireland alone, over 1000 independent stores ceased to trade in 2010 which demonstrates the continued difficulty facing independent traders, many of whom operate in smaller communities.”