Black Friday is almost upon us and the big box stores are gearing up for the usual insanity.  If you’re a small brick and mortar business, you may be tempted to do the same and offer huge loss-leader discounts to get the bodies into your store. Before you slash your prices, though, think for a minute.  Do you really think you can compete with the big boxes, whose pockets are far deeper than you can possibly imagine? 

Let’s face it: you’ll never be able to compete on price, so why play the game on their home turf? To be successful, a small business must provide what the big boxes can’t:

*    Personalized service
*    Specialized knowledge
*    Sense of exclusivity

In the media world, this is called “counter-programming” – appealing to the people who aren’t following the crowd. For example, I used to co-host a weekend business talk radio program on WRKO AM680, a huge station headquartered the Boston that can be heard up and down the eastern seaboard. 

Whenever we were on the air during the Super Bowl, we did topics that would appeal to women.  While every other station was fighting for their tiny piece of the huge Super Bowl audience, we’d score huge ratings and dozens of call-ins by going after listeners who thought the mainstream brouhaha was a stupid waste of time.

And that’s what you need to do. Rather than catering to the frenzied masses, you create a Black Friday environment that will appeal to:

*    Customers who can’t stand the crowds
*    Customers who want to be treated like individuals
*    Customers who, get this, are willing to pay more for that privilege

How do you do that with two days left? Here’s a strategy that might work:

1. Make it an invitation-based sale. Tell your customer base that you’re having a private party on Black Friday, invitation only, RSVP.  On the invitation, make it clear that that you’re creating a haven from the Black Friday crowds and that you’re offering something that they can’t get from the big boxes: personalized service.

2. Go the extra mile with amenities. On the actual day, have refreshments ready (like free coffee, tea, wine if your offering is upscale) and keep everything very low key.  Your job is to make sure that anyone who walks through your door feels like they’re the most important person in your business life.

3. Don’t focus on making a sale. Focus on getting to know these people better, because they are the customers who will buy from you even when the big boxes are undercutting every low price you could possible offer.

I know that this type of approach works, because I see it working in several of the local businesses that I frequent. I haven’t bought a household appliance, for example, or coffee beans, from a big box in over a decade. In both cases, there are locally-owned, one-outlet stores that charge more, but who have better service (in the case of the appliances) and a unique product (in the case of the coffee beans). 

Most importantly, both stores (which have been around for a lot time) know how to treat their customers... and it’s not like your typical Black Friday cattle call.