After 224 years, America’s oldest general store, Gray’s Store in Adamsville, Rhode Island had to close its doors. The news was first reported on Saturday, as feelings of national pride were swelling with the first full day of the Olympic competitions. Then, on Sunday, July 29, Gray’s was no more.
Small Business & America
For many small business owners today, the thought of starting a business that lasts for seven generations is nearly unthinkable. While we can’t say that’s what Gray’s original founder intended, it is clear that he was quite successful with his venture.
Small businesses today still face many of the same struggles that Gray’s would have faced in the early days. After all, there might not have been any content strategies to create, but the laws of competition and the difficulties in coordinating and maintaining a strong inventory are always timeless challenges. However, things have changed a lot for small business owners over the last 224 years.
One of the biggest challenges for mom-and-pop stores today is online delivery. Some early Internet shoppers (circa 2001) might remember Webvan, the company that allowed shoppers to buy groceries online and have them delivered to their home within a thirty-minute window of their choice. However, in a matter of 18 months, Webvan went from being an optimistic business to having an accumulated deficit of $830 million.
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Well, things have changed. Now, in 2012, online delivery is more impressive, and common, than ever before. Today, customers have a few options for getting fresh produce and groceries delivered straight to their homes. The new Amazon Fresh service (currently in Seattle only), and The Fruit Guys are both highly competitive new services.
As Americans begin to shift toward these successful and convenient online business models, traditional mom-and-pop general stores will have a hard time keeping up. After all, these companies aren’t just providing cereal boxes and canned soup. They deliver fresh produce, meat, dairy, and more, which used to be the exclusive territory of brick-and-mortar business.
The Rise of Wal-Mart
And, of course, how could we not mention the rise of Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart and other major corporate retailers don’t just offer lower prices and the convenience of one-stop-shopping. Just as important, these mega-retailers offer a uniform brand experience. The brand experience is important because it gives customers a sense of comfort. You know exactly what to expect at any Wal-Mart anytime you go. Whether you like Wal-Mart or not, you have to admit that there are no surprises—unless you consider your fellow shoppers to be a part of the Wal-Mart brand experience, in which case there are plenty of surprises.
But It’s Not All About Mega-Corporations
Of course, Wal-Mart isn’t winning the battle on all fronts. As many Americans become increasingly aware of the loss of an important piece of culture—not to mention the loss in product quality—the general store/small business model is seeing an increase in patronage.
Taglines like “locally made,” “handcrafted,” “custom created,” and more are attached with an increasing fervor to the products and services offered by many small businesses. While Gray’s Store may not have been financially successful (for reasons we can’t know), many small businesses today are enjoying success—despite a down economy!
Quality products and services that are—to use a favorite Americanism—“by the people and for the people” are receiving more attention than ever, and they don’t seem to be going out of style anytime soon. If you feel like your brand is lacking that kind of depth, learn more about boosting your brand now!
Do you see small businesses thriving? In your opinion, what’s making them successful?