If you run a small retail operation competing against a superstore like Wal-Mart or Kmart, is it better to cultivate a homey feelingat your shop or a "discount" look similar to your rival's?

It may seem counterintuitive, but some small retailers have found that it's more effective to mimic the look and feel of big storesthan to highlight their stores' personal nature. With customers accustomed to buying almost exclusively on price, independentssay they need to create the perception that they are competitive. "You have to change the box you sell out of and make yourplace look like a discount place," insists Larry Ehmen, co-owner of Fishers Office Plus, in Quincy, Ill.

To update his company's look, Ehmen and his partner, Randy Krutmeier, moved the operation from a 1,600-square-foot storeinto a 2,500-square-foot retail space and replaced old-fashioned, freestanding display gondolas with shelves of merchandise."We even painted the ceiling white to make it look less fancy," says Ehmen.

"Now, people come into our store and say, 'Finally, an office discount store." The truth is, though, that it was just the box thatchanged; so far, anyway, the prices at Fishers Office Plus have stayed the same.

Published on: Jan 1, 1995