Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Long Live the Mom and Pop: Why Small Businesses Have a Magic Touch

The saying “bigger is better” doesn’t always hold true. Take for example those old, huge brick cell phones that lived in the trunk of your car circa 1990. Though I never got the opportunity to see these mammoths in action (I’m far too young for that) my parents tell me stories of pulling over on the side of the road, popping the trunk, and unzipping the briefcase the cell phone was housed in, all to make a simple call. I’ll gladly take my much smaller iPhone4, thank you!

Not a techy guru? Then let’s use cars as another example. Bigger cars are not necessarily better, either. Think about finding a parking spot for a Mack truck! Thanks, but no thanks. I’d much prefer driving my Jeep Liberty. Or how about in the instance of food? While the thought of sinking your teeth into a huge burger with mounds of fries may sound tempting, you must remember your eyes are often bigger than your stomach. Large portions of food aren’t always better because that “I’m so full I could burst” feeling isn’t a pleasant one. I’d much rather take a portion size that was just right so as to avoid busting at the seams (and the temptation of extra calories) when I can’t clear my enormous plate. This theory that bigger isn’t always necessarily better can be applied to retail examples as well. Let’s take a look:

Boutique-themed shops are popping up everywhere. Bed and breakfasts are gaining popularity as they compete against large chain hotels. Why? Because small bed and breakfasts and privately-owned shops not only offer character and a unique experience, but they also embody that “make yourself at home” atmosphere. And that’s exactly what travelers are looking for – a home away from home!

The restaurant industry is taking this boutique-y lead as well. Many privately-owned cafés are now stealing the spotlight of chain stores such as Starbucks and Caribou Coffee. I saw this theory in action during a recent trip to Los Angeles. While I consider myself a loyal Starbucks fan, I noticed the trend of L.A. natives retreating to local cafes in place of Starbucks. It didn’t take me long to figure out why, though. Smaller boutique cafes offer a personalized experience from the moment you walk through the door.

While I don’t fault Starbucks for their atmosphere at all, the ambiance at these smaller local coffee shops is just THAT much more appealing. Added to the atmosphere, the customization of beverages even outdid Starbucks’ millions of options! Then, to round out the personalized experience, café waiters hand-delivered your beverage once it was ready, which was a welcomed change from simply blurting out the order number as it happens in coffee house chains.

Finally, even America’s largest supercenter is scaling down: Wal-Mart has announced plans to scale down their sprawling establishments so as to cast a larger appeal to communities around the nation. Wal-Mart, which has received endless criticism for their expansive buildings, is going to start new store concepts over the next few years. Instead of building the enormous supercenters (which average 187,000 square feet), Wal-Mart will be featuring smaller versions which average 40,000 square feet. Hopefully this will be a step in the right direction for this discount retailer. Personal attention and customer satisfaction is something that is becoming increasingly more popula, and Wal-Mart should be willing to accommodate those interests!

What’s the take away from these scenarios? You guessed it: bigger isn’t always better. America is moving from large chains – which don’t offer much in the way of showing their customer appreciation – and more towards smaller establishments that take a vested interest in the wants and needs of shoppers. The individual attention small businesses offer make the experience more enjoyable and consumers around the country agree. Time to ditch the bigger is better attitude and get with the program: smaller is actually better!

Do you agree that mom and pop shops can offer better service than retail giants? Is less really more? We’d love to hear your comments!

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Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Momma's Boy

    I once worked for a mom and pop shop; it was the best job I ever had… That is assuming you’re a fan of Jerry Springer! 🙂

  2. QLP Kid

    In my opinion Wal-Mart’s Big buildings are awesome. They have everything you could want. I think if they scale down their store they are not going to be near as much of a “One Stop shop”. I mean there is no one they can still have as much merchandise with a smaller building.

    Go Big or Go Home!

    -QLP Kid

    “It’s How the Midwest was Won…”

  3. Scooby DOO!

    I totally agree! Generally, there is a direct correlation between company size and customer satisfaction. That is, the larger the company, the lower the overall customer satisfaction. After all, when you are a giant it’s hard to service everyone, and in some cases practically impossible. Their business model is not based on making everyone happy, but rather making JUST ENOUGH people happy. This philosophy is significantly different than that of a small shop or business, in which every dollar counts. They may sell products, but what they are really selling is an experience. With the rise of exacting customer specifications, it’s no wonder why the demand for boutique-size businesses are booming.

    Now how does this apply to promotional products? Simple, purchasing 1,000 basic round stress balls it not always as effective as purchasing 500 industry-specific shaped stress relievers. In the case of 500, you may pay more per unit, by your overall ROI, due to the greater connection between your brand and your competences, would generally be higher.

    Happy Halloween QLPer’s! And Bret, you can take off your Mask, the party does not start until 6!

    • Ken

      Hi Scooby Doo I was reading your post and was wondering if I could use it in my campaign to promote small business. I hope to start a media company that promotes mom and pop businesses across America. It’s not that I don’t like being able to shop the big stores, I do, but I truly miss the small businesses in which America was built. Thanks

  4. KB

    Less IS more! As I’ve become a working parent with increasingly less time on my hands, I’ve found that though the retail giants may be able to offer slightly lower prices because of the volumes they purchase, I would MUCH rather pay an extra dollar to get the better customer service and a much more successful and enjoyable experience. Plus, it’s an added bonus aid in the success of the “little guy” and keep our local businesses growing!

  5. QLP Kid

    Bigger is Always Better…

    -QLP Kid

    “It’s How the Midwest was Won…”

  6. Jon

    …Thats what she said (-Michael Scott)

  7. skelly

    QLP Kid – WalMart is a one stop shop but I think you’re missing the point. You just dont receive the same personal attention at large stores such as WalMart that you would get at a smaller place. And thats what consumers are looking for now, attention and assistance from company employees to make their shopping experience more enjoyable.

    haha Scooby. The rest of us over here were afraid of Bret’s costume as well, so we shunned him to his office

  8. Bret Bonnet

    I recently returned from a short vacation in San Diego’s Coronado Island. It had a nice downtown shopping area; plenty of boutique and mom & pop shops.

    My wife is a BIG fan of this kind of shopping, the only problem is, thanks to technology, a lot of these non mainstream items oft ignore by big box retailers, that of which the mom and pop shops heavily rely on for their bread and butter are now available online for less.

    My wife found a dress she absolutely loved the other day. She tried it on, was going to buy it… but it was $500.00 at the local boutique. We left the store, popped online using or iPhone, and bought the same dress for $60.00 + shipping & handling.

    That’s right… $60.00!

    I felt bad, but I mean, times are tough, and $440.00 worth of profit/mark-up maybe used to fly back in the day, but not anymore! 🙁

    • Jimmy

      That is a bummer. However, for that small boutique shop, I’m willing to bet their markup wasn’t at $440 – If you don’t buy in huge quantities (or shipping containers, like the big box stores) then it’s possible their markup was much less (but probably still very excessive). My own experience: I sell reeds for concert band instruments. Online, I can find them for as low as $14.50 for a box of 10. —My cost from the distributor is $14.63— That’s a negative profit margin if I want to be price competitive!!! If I buy in huge bulk, I can probably save $1 per box. Considering I want to give my customers 10-15% off for promotions of my normal sale prices, while still making a profit, it’s basically impossible to sell that product without somewhat shooting ourselves in the foot in regards to customer perception. Some customers feel that pricing above the market rate is a deceptive practice, but if that is our only option (and we NEED reeds for our students), then as mom and pop stores we just have to suck it up and deal with it.

      What mom and pops need to do to overcome this problem is join in BUYING GROUPS, in order to improve their profit margins by buying in bulk. But they are all too stubborn to work with their “competition” to make it work. They don’t realize that their “competition” are the online giants, and we all need to work together to be price-competitive. It worked for our shop with guitars – we improved our margins significantly by purchasing a shipping container with 40+ other stores, and we only ordered 8 guitars.

      But it’s also the distributor’s & manufacturer’s fault. In the musical instrument industry, these companies make major container shipments to the huge stores, but they actually make significantly more sales overall (combined, of course) to small stores across the nation. In other words, these manufacturers/distributors make a higher profit margin by price-gouging the mom and pops while getting on their knees for the few online giants that can afford to make a one-time per year giant purchase.

      If more customers knew this off-hand, they might be more willing to purchase at a slightly higher price. Particularly if the local shop works a lot with the community, acts as a sort of “cultural center,” and provides more than just access to “goods.” I’ve seen too many music stores that treat their customers like they’re dog meat – but being a music educator, I like to treat my interactions with customers as an educational experience whenever possible, which, I suppose, may be one reason they like to work with me. They still end up purchasing stuff on Amazon half of the time, though! lol

  9. Becky Gatch

    All I have to say is that I will never give up my Starbucks….and sometimes I buy it (ground & ready for home ) from the big box stores! It’s not the autmosphere for’s the product & the price in todays world. Happy Halloween!

  10. Tony Promo

    I agree wholeheartedly on every front that mom and pop’s trump big businesses every day. There is an obvious role for both, but when it comes down to service, you can’t beat getting personal attention from someone who will actually value you as a customer. Wal-Mart, for example, is a reason why, especially now, small businesses are so important. They went from a company who prided itself on selling all things “American Made” to selling virtually nothing American made. Not to get socio-political, but large businesses, especially retail, have helped destroy mom and pop’s nation-wide. Yes, it’s convenient to go to one huge big-box store and get food, deodorant, tires, a TV and a new lawn chair for low, low prices, but on the other hand, all it does is perpetuate the exportation of American jobs overseas and feed our already very hungry unemployment rate. Especially now, in the current economic environment, you have to get creative if you’re a small business owner to stay afloat. Wal-Mart may be scaling down in order to combat a negative image that many people have of them. They’re notorious for moving into communities and absolutely ruining small businesses as soon as they open their doors. In the pursuit of saving money, we tend to look past the obvious negative results of these practices, but really…can you blame us? I would imagine the answer is a resounding “no”. It’s quite a paradox.

    This is a great reason why small businesses of any type, should be more forward-thinking when it comes to advertising. No, you probably can’t afford a TV or radio ad. No, you can’t afford a billboard that most people won’t even look at anyway. BUT… you CAN afford 1,000 pens with your company’s name on them that will undoubtedly change hands a few times before they run out of ink. Residual marketing (promotional products) is, in many cases, much more effective than the typical forms of mass communication-style marketing that many people may think are the most effective. In reality, a logo-imprinted water bottle, refrigerator magnet, stress reliever, or any number of thousands of different items is WAY more effective, targeted, and personal. I used to think direct mail was the best way to target a specific audience, and as much as it does have it’s advantages, it doesn’t put a company name or logo in your face several times a day. There is also something to be said (quite a bit, actually) about the emotional aspect of marketing, especially when it comes to promotional products. I’ve gotten some pretty cool ones as gifts before in the past, and I’ve gotten some pretty bad ones too! At the end of the day, the carabiner I got from a local pizza place with their name and phone number on it was lost as soon as it was given to me (nor am I climbing mountains any time soon), but I’ll never forget how I felt when the guy across the counter thanked me for my business and handed it to me with a smile. In my opinion, there is no other form of advertising/marketing that will ever go further than that, in terms of a business truly showing a customer how valued they are. That is what will keep people coming back again and again. There will always be the Wal-Mart’s of the world, but they can’t sell everything, and they also can’t put that kind of smile on my face.

    • admin

      @Tony Promo – This is very insightful comment. We really appreciate it.

      Being a promotional products distributor myself I agree that promotional products are a GREAT way for small businesses to remain competitive against the likes of Wal-Mart and Target. While I don’t think Wal-Mart and Target are as evil as everyone else makes them out to be, I mean, they are the pinnacle of capitalism, but I think small business owners should be making offensive movies as opposed to defensive moves when the likes of a Wal-Mart come to town; otherwise they’ll never stand a chance.

  11. QLP Jill

    I love the personalized service that small businesses provide, but I have to admit that I’m a sucker for a good price. It’s really a toss up for me…I don’t mind spending more on a product if I get tailored service, but I can’t afford to spend TOO much more. I’d be in the same boat as Bret’s wife: no way would I spend an extra $440 on a dress! I don’t care how good the service is – I just can’t afford that kind of markup. It’s a shame that more big-box retailers can’t exemplify the same service as the mom and pop shops.

  12. Barbara Miller

    Hi you guys! Shannon, good to see your writing here…

    My parents were a mom and pop drugstore before Wal-Mart moved into town years ago. We all worked in the store, we knew the customers, they could call dad at home in the middle of the night and he would go down to the store to fill a prescription for a sick child. Dad insisted on being open for a few hours every Christmas morning because “people get sick on Christmas, too.” After dad passed away, we got many, many cards from people who dad “bartered” with when they couldn’t afford their prescriptions. I always wondered where that great peanut brittle and all those potatoes and tomatoes would come from when dad brought them home!

    When Wal-mart arrived, things changed. Dad had already retired, but the feeling of community in our town changed. It wasn’t just the price, it wasn’t just the customer service. It was knowing the neighbors and going out on a limb. I think you get that with smaller businesses, and I am glad to see their resurgence. I won’t pretend price doesn’t matter, but as I get older, and I can afford a bit more, I will pay a bit more for that feeling…

    • Gallery Girl

      Thanks for sharing about your Dad, Barbara. Your story actually made me tear up. My parents lived through the Great Depression and I remember my mom telling me that her mother would never buy from the new “chain” grocery store that went in because the local mom and pop grocery “carried” them through the Depression when they had no money. Sounds a lot like your Dad! My folks had an art gallery and frame shop when I was growing up and now I own a gallery/gift shop of my own featuring local artisans. It’s a tough world out there with Wal-Mart down the road. Actually, my prices are many times LOWER than Wal-Mart and our customer service is exceptional. Custom pieces and special orders are favorites. So many people don’t even come in because they assume our prices are going to be higher because we’re mom and pop. Of course an original painting is going to be more than a mass produced print, and it’s a matter of personal choice on how someone chooses to decorate their home or business.

  13. Mary B

    Small Mom & Pop businesses are what make an area unique and generally, are in the kind of places you want to go when vacationing. Who wants to go hundreds of miles away and then eat or shop at the same exact chain you have near your home? It’s sad when you drive down the highway and each town looks the same. There has to be something different to attract people. I love to go to a quaint little town and walk around their downtown to see what kind of little shops they have. You very often find a higher quality of product than you can get at some of the big chain stores and you’re much more likely to have something that everyone else in your area doesn’t already have. In these tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to support your local economy by purchasing as much as possible through local businesses and keep the money in your own community. Sometimes the cost is more, but if it’s not a huge difference, I think it’s worth it. We should all think about why China is the only country that is really prospering right now…maybe because we keep sending them all of our money through these big box-mart’s??? Food for thought.

  14. Bob

    Wal-Mart succeeded because of its business model. Its value proposition is everyday low price. It targets the lower 60 to 70 percent of households. It captures value by selling stuff like toilet paper in bulk at low price. It maintains margins by grinding down its suppliers’ margins. It maintains its position by eradicating competition via trade area dominance. It sustains a competitive advantage primarily on the basis of low price and its cost structure, recently differentiating by offering financial services, etc. and, like CVS and Dollar General, building smaller-scale stores located closer to neighborhoods.

    Wal-Mart succeeds because many of the things it sells people need every day to survive and it usually sells these goods at a price that makes it hard for people to resist.

    As for mom-and-pop stores that outperform, say, a Starbucks, it probably has more to do with the business model than it does with, say, offering more personalized service (although important).

    Unfortunately, most mom-and-pop’s have no idea of what a business model is, how to develop one or how to redesign and adapt one to a changing environment.

  15. josh

    No matter how much people will argue over bigger is better, in most cases one on one customer and staff relations is always more important to customers even if they have to pay a few extra bucks. So long live mom and pop stores.

  16. Angi

    I love small mom & pop stores! Yes, sometimes things are pricier, but you just can’t beat the customer service that they have!

  17. Kaykay

    So in love with that passage. That is so true. “Long live small retailers!”

  18. Julie Austin

    Absolutely! The big mega stores can’t compete with small mom and pops for customer service. I think there’s a place for all of them – mega stores, online, AND mom and pops. I shop them all for different reasons. But I always get more satisfaction shopping in the mom and pop stores.

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