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How Small Businesses Can Stay Competitive

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How Small Businesses Can Stay Competitive

 

Getting a new business off the ground can seem like a gargantuan task, so once your enterprise is up and running it may seem like nothing can stop you now. Yet entrepreneurs who let themselves be lulled into a false sense of comfort and let their foot off the pedal well know the perils that this can bring. Managing the pressures of meeting payments to creditors, keeping investors happy and finding and retaining the right talent are just a few of the common challenges you may be up against. So how do you get past these hurdles and make good on your promises to your stakeholders, your employees and yourself?

 

The pains and perils of a small business

 

The thrill that accompanies starting or running a small business is balanced in equal measure by some trepidation around things like funding, marketing, brand visibility and acquiring customers. Here are some of the common thorns on that road to bigger things. As you will soon see, your problems are not unique. And thankfully, that means there are ways to get around, over or under these obstacles when they block your way.

 

Tackling the big guns

 

First, the good news. Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you’re on weaker footing. Due to your flatter organization structure, less red tape and higher degree of control over all the moving parts, you are considerably more agile than a larger lumbering corporation. What they have in heft, you can make up in swiftness and adaptability.

 

However, be prepared that a big company will undercut you on pricing, outbid you on big deals and burn up thousands of dollars in advertising and marketing. If you try and match them, it could cause you to burn your entire marketing budget overnight.

 

Keeping the machinery well oiled a.k.a. ‘The Money Problem’

 

Yes. Money. Funding is one of the biggest worries for the average small business owner. How do you keep the working capital going? Having the funds to pay vendors/suppliers, partners and employees is vital. It impacts your credibility in the market. Not paying up on time can cost you not just your reputation, but also impact the rates your suppliers or lenders charge you. Money problems can also spill over to impact talent retention, marketing and every other area of your business, making it possibly your single biggest challenge.

 

Expanding reach

 

Growing the reach of your business can be tough when your pockets don’t run that deep. You will need to compete with older players as well as larger players who have well established brands, websites, and even offline presence. How do you get a consumer to hear about you without splashing advertisements everywhere?

 

Hiring and retaining quality talent

 

Getting the best people on board and then retaining them is a huge challenge. A sound recruiting strategy needs to be part of your core business plan. Ensure there is a good rewards and recognition plan in place, have a system of bonuses and share the wealth early on. And under no circumstances should you let money troubles hinder payments to your team. Reputation once ruined cannot be undone.

 

Sustaining growth

 

Early stage growth by virtue of a passionate team, novelty or innovation in your product/service will get you good growth. But how do you keep that going and take growth to the next level?

 

Tips to put you ahead in the big race

 

Running a solid small business isn’t a sprint. To create a business that grows and builds lasting value takes time. Ensure your plans and strategy reflect this. Here’s a quick look at some ways you can make the most of being a small business to get a larger share of the customer pie.

 

  • Target sustainable growth. There may be occasions that demand stellar growth to draw investors, but don’t do this at the cost of eroding long term value.

 

  • Have a plan for funding. Don’t rely on investors alone. Services like Kabbage are a good backup plan and safety net. The convenient online/mobile app based platform for small business loans, enables you to get access to working capital in a quick and easy way. This is ideal for small businesses which may not have the credit scores to back big funding, nor the time to wait for the tedious paperwork involved. By following a method of online data analysis, Kabbage is able to evaluate each small business for its particular merits and assess its potential based on the health of the business and not just a credit score. And because it is a line of credit, you’re paying only for what you actually use.

 

  • Find a niche that you’re good at and talk about it. Its important to find a little segment of the market where you establish yourself as the expert. Chances are, the bigger corporate will not want to limit itself to just one area. Let prospective customers know this is your area of expertise.

 

  • Avoid doing what someone else is doing better. Suss out what the competition is doing and avoid choosing something they’re already known to be the best at. Unless you have found a niche that will edge them out. If not, you run the risk of getting into a price war or losing out to them.

 

  • Get smart about your marketing. Hire digital marketing specialists to build your reputation online. Use content to drive your goals of expanding reach and credibility. While online marketing isn’t free, it is likely to give you more bang for your buck if done smartly. Recruit evangelists – people who love your service/product and are happy to talk about it on social media/blogs/videos. And remember, the sooner the better.

 

  • Get on more channels/platforms: One of the big challenges you will face as a small business is one of reach. Thankfully mobile apps and ecommerce have proven to be a big equalizer. Work at building relationships with the big e commerce vendors and niche operators who service your target segment. Some lenders like Kabbage actually accord extra merit to businesses that are present on multiple platforms, because this effectively means better reach and potentially more sales.

 

  • Use your agility. You may not have huge R&D budgets, but you have a passionate team of specialists. Connect with your customers regularly. Identify new problem areas, develop innovative updates and bring them out before your plus sized competition.

 

  • Pace yourself. Don’t try and keep up with the big corporations. They can take a hit in the short run, your business may not be able to survive it. And if you must spend, keep a line of credit open with someone like Kabbage, so it doesn’t hamper working capital for your essentials.

Staying competitive and relevant to your audience in the face of copycat startups and big businesses that have millions to invest to corner you out of the market may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right expertise and some foresight, small businesses can overcome much that comes their way.

 

Top Challenges in Distribution to Convenience Stores

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Top Challenges in Distribution to Convenience Stores

Every convenience store that starts business is constantly challenged to handle problems related to distribution network and inventory merchandising to retain interest of customers on a regular basis. The large variety of their items which require choices in each division like dairy, food, products, grocery and other products of convenience make it difficult for c-store owners to handle inventory effectively. The most common problems faced by convenience stores in effective management of channels of distribution and managing merchandise and inventory to ensure steady sales of stock and reduce chances of stock reduction. As convenience stores deal with both food and non food products their clientele is more diverse and their volumes are also larger than regular grocery stores.

Influx of social media and online shopping makes it even more challenging to manage distribution as both retailers and wholesalers are under pressure to show results and have to gauge consumer sentiment based on both online and offline trends. C-store executives have to now manage store operations and also react in quick time to changing trends in customer demand. When unforeseen circumstances occur like natural calamities, political problems and unethical practices by manufacturers to increase their profits, it can lead to further strain on supply chain networks. The latest challenge that distribution chains are facing is international trade which is unpredictable and is negatively affecting the supply chains of c-stores which depend on imported products.

Distribution channels

Wholesalers and distributors depend on the steady demand for their products by c-stores and grocery store owners to keep their process running and align their delivery schedules to suit their clients. They take the assistance of facilitators like independent warehouses, C&F agents and transporters to keep both manufacturers and retailers satisfied with deliveries and pickups at the right time and at right price. An efficient logistics and supply system can reduce costs of distribution and delivery thereby providing competitive edge to the retailer against other rivals in the markets. For any retailer timely availability of products is crucial as some has specific shelf life and delay in bringing them to stores can lead to wastage of time and money by distributor.

Challenges in distribution of food products and beverages

To keep their stores well stocked so customers can have a wide choice among new and existing product categories means that now stores have to manage several more delivery trucks on a daily basis. If store owners are faced with deliveries during peak customer crowd times then it becomes challenging for the employees to handle both situations. Food distribution is carried out on a weekly basis due to their short shelf life and to ensure that essentials are always available when people require them.

Beverage distribution is done by the manufacturers that use their own transportation facilities to maintain right temperature and quality and avoid chances of contamination during transfer. While these manufacturers want to maintain direct store delivery from the factory to keep the price at a competitive level it is frequently done by third parties who are specialized in this field. The process is still too slow and has to be automated which can reduce costs further and improve customer service. Challenges in this sector can be reduced by introduction of technology and tracking systems which will help manage inventory and schedule deliveries within existing transportation system.

Reducing inventory, product returns and out of stock situations – To run a profitable distribution system your inventory management has to efficient enough to keep it for minimum possible time within a warehouse. While grocery wholesale distributor have to make decisions based on service agreements with their clients they also have to keep in mind the perishability of their products which can lead to product returns. To avoid this situation storage and delivery has to be done accurately to reduce package or product damage and full acceptance of delivered inventory. When grocery distributors are able to manage their orders and deliveries efficiently there are minimal chances of surplus inventory and shelf space of c-store is also utilized in an optimum manner.

Planning and communication – Convenience product distributors work in a highly competitive environment where time plays a critical role between success and failure. Product orders are taken from grocery stores and c stores on a monthly or bi-weekly basis and trucks are packed with well planned route maps which given them a list of stores or warehouses wherein the inventory has to be delivered. The planning is done well in advance to allow synchronized action and make scheduled deliveries so stocks are replenished at stores in the right time to reduce chances of “no-stock” situations. Problems arise if regular updates are not communicated to delivery personnel in advance and then precious time is lost in trying to make urgent deliveries which drives up the cost of inventory.

Scheduling and route optimization – To remain competitive and eliminate waste distributors have to constantly seek effective means of getting inventory delivered to end retailers with minimum expenditure on fuel costs as well as loading, unloading and merchandising. By usage of latest communication technology and tracking devices distributors can now be more responsive to demands of their customers. Depending on their requirements, c stores can now interact with distributors to make changes in their scheduled deliveries to suit their inventory situation which can help them get discounts if distributors are able to offload a larger part of their inventory.

Collaborative solutions between all the parties involved in the distribution cycle can help integrate distribution networks more proactively to help all business partners understand the origin of their products and also the best way to track them within the supply chain. Retailers are most vulnerable part of a supply chain and cannot replenish their stocks when faced with unexpected events. Under these circumstances increased communication and collaboration between all partners will enable smooth transition of products from manufacturers to retailers so they are able to meet customer demands on time. Retailers have as much interest in an effective logistic system as their distributors, intermediaries and manufacturers as all the entities are interdependent on each other.