Small business salvation: 'To survive, I will personalize'

It's time to change, mom and pop. I know you don't want to, but we need your diversity, your love of the craft, your contribution to our community.

Wal-Mart offers a challenge to small-business owners. You don't need a market study to see that. It may be a Kilimanjaro-sized challenge, but with enough provisions, financial backing and a determined spirit, a business owner can reach the zenith.

I believe that Wal-Mart makes mom-and-pop shops smarter. The largest corporation in the world drives innovation and quality service in its competitors, not necessarily in itself. Wal-Mart continues to profit because it found a successful approach - low prices always - and it will continue to repeat that until it doesn't work anymore. (And when is that? Never?) Sometimes an anomaly will surface, such as the Southern California blockades, but Wal-Mart will work in almost every circumstance.

A successful small business can try and beat "low prices always," and sometimes they will, but others will recognize that it can't "always" be done. It's too hard. Bills must be paid. My kid needs braces. My waterbed sprung a leak. A snow storm hits and receipts total $0.

While surfing the Net I came across a quote from Anita Campbell, a consultant and the editor of the online site, Small Business Trends. She says that the important story is how Wal-Mart is forcing a change in the nature of small business, not that Wal-Mart is forcing small retailers out of business.

"The smart small retailers know they can't beat Wal-Mart at Wal-Mart's game," she says. "So they change the game. Increasingly small retailers are becoming niche-focused. They strive to create a memorable, pleasurable experience for the customer. They offer levels of personalized service that the Wal-Marts simply can't match."

Wal-Mart also creates a conundrum for the consumer, for me, for you.

I broke my Wal-Mart boycott about two weeks ago. I hate to write it, but it's true. Way back when, as a socially responsible college student and then recent grad, I swore off the retail giant, committing myself only to local stores and more community-friendly chains. It was like a religious fast. I had to go out of my way to avoid Wal-Mart. Sometimes I couldn't, such as those trips to the lube shop that I justified by saying that I just didn't have the time to look for a local place to change my oil. But I never bought a Wal-Mart product.

It has occurred to me how arrogant this is. I didn't shop at Wal-Mart because I didn't have to. I make enough money to go to Target and small retailers. If you don't have a lot of money to spend, or maybe you do and you just don't like to spend it, Wal-Mart is the only option.

Then, two weeks ago I bought towels at Wal-Mart while I was waiting to get my oil changed. Nice ones. Oversized, gold and rust colored, super plush, Made in the U.S.A. towels. I didn't know such things existed at Wal-Mart. So, here I am, a socially conscious person who uses Wal-Mart towels. And I only feel a little bit guilty about it. Thankfully I only buy towels once every five years. Now, for everything else...

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Attention brand selective, cost-cutting smart shoppers: The Nevada Appeal will begin a new monthly feature called "Shopper" for those who want to sharpen their consumer skills. If you want to share your shopping preferences, and any consumer tips, contact business reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212. The feature will focus on what you buy and why.

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AARP is accepting applications for its annual awards identifying employers who create the best working environment and exemplary policies and practices for employees aged 50 and older. The award focuses on employers who are addressing the changing needs of workers as they age in the workplace.

In its fifth year, 88 companies have been recognized nationally, yet no winners have come from Nevada.

The Best Employers program rewards innovative organizations that offer policies and features that appeal to workers aged 50 and up, including flexible work options, training/learning opportunities and age-neutral performance and appraisal systems.

For more information contact AARP Nevada rep Deborah Moore at 702-938-3237, or The deadline for applications is Feb. 28.

Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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