Writing a regular column, I'm always looking for ideas. Many come from my clients, indirectly, for their questions and concerns are the questions and concerns of small retailers of all types.

But this question really struck me, for it cuts to the heart of the matter for many small retailers:

"Is there a future for small retailing? Can we really survive over the long term competing with the Home Depot's and Lowe's of the world?"

This is no idle question. Every new day seems to bring fresh challenges, and the margin for error gets smaller and smaller. This year has been particularly difficult, with energy prices pinching customers and impacting sales on the one hand, and driving the cost of both merchandise and doing business up on the other.