Small Business Week in Ontario recognizes the importance of independent retailers
There is something special Glebe retailers give their customers that E-commerce and corporate department stores can’t provide: customer service.
It’s the sole reason loyal customers keep coming back to places like Stomping Ground, Compact Music and Audio Shop – for a level of expertise, insight and camaraderie you just won’t get when clicking ‘checkout’ online.
“If you want customer service, you don’t go to Walmart or Amazon,” says Sprott School of Business Associate Professor Ian Lee. “If you want customer service, then you go to a small business where there is expertise.”
Lee has been studying the growth of online shopping for the past decade, and while he does agree that E-commerce is growing, never does he see a day when bricks and mortar storefronts are ditched for online stores. That’s good news for retailers who are celebrating Small Business Week in Ontario this week.
While more and more shoppers are heading online to purchase what Lee calls “commodity-like” products like cameras, TVs and other generic electronics, niche businesses selling high end electronics and other items will still have something the big guys can’t offer.
“Those kinds of stores, where the service is built into the transaction, are going to be less vulnerable to deconstruction,” adds Lee, referring to the Glebe’s Audio Shop. The Bank Street audio-visual shop is different than your run-of-the-mill Best Buy, but more of a specialized shop for gear heads looking for high end audio gear. If you purchase a sound system from Audio Shop, chances are you’ll have a relationship with them for life.
“They are selling very expensive, very high end equipment and they have the salespeople who often go out to the house to help set it up,” adds Lee. “You just don’t buy that stuff in a regular store and you don’t even get it online, it’s too high end.”
The same goes for in-person services like haircuts, massages and nail salons who Lee says are “immune” to E-commerce threats.
With giant corporate retailers widening their product net like Canadian Tire getting into kitchen products and Walmart entering the vinyl record business, it puts added pressure on small businesses to keep up and compete. But Lee says if small businesses try to compete head to head with the giants, they will lose. Small businesses need an added incentive, says Lee, that will keep a customer coming back and back and back. This could be a simple weekly chat with the corner jeweller, a long-term maintenance contract or knife sharpening services – available only at Knifewear in the Glebe.
You see this happening daily in the neighbourhood. Walk into Compact Music looking for a specific record and you’ll likely come out with five as owner Ian Boyd often offers up new tunes you may not have heard yet.
Stroll into Stomping Ground for a new pair of pants and owner Josh Chambers and Naj Petersen will complete your look with shoes, a sweater and sunglasses. If you have a question about skate boarding, Eric Dionne and Corey Hackett will talk your ear off. It’s this personal, social connection that makes shopping in the Glebe an experience on its own. You likely won’t find too many disengaged workers in the Glebe who are just showing up for a paycheck. Most often you’ll be dealing with the business owner directly – something that’s impossible to get online.
“I couldn’t imagine just hiring people to convey with as much passion and vigor who Stomping Ground is and what we are all about,” says Stomping Ground owner Chambers. “We have made friends with a lot of our clients, there is a trust when they know that this is our business, our passion and I think it’s difficult for someone else to convey that passion.”
Anyone who says it’s “doom and gloom” for small business just needs to look at the stats to get a clear picture of the retail landscape in Ontario. According to Stats Canada, 95% of all businesses in Canada were small businesses in 2018. Furthermore, 35 per cent of all jobs in Ottawa are created through small businesses. That’s more than three times the public service, which employs just 9.6 per cent of residents. Ottawa should be known as a small business town, rather than a government town.
Thank you to all you hard working, dedicated small business owners out there. You are the engine of our economy and the vitality of our engaged communities. Celebrate Small Business Week with us by shopping local.