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Punching above their weight Small businesses, big wins

Alison Maccione, owner of the Barefoot boutique in Spring Lake.-(AARON HOUSTON)

Like a judo pro who uses an opponent’s mass against them, some small business owners say their relative small size often can give them an advantage against larger competitors.

They may not have the volume-based purchasing clout of a chain store, but their streamlined organizational structure means less time is wasted in decision-making. And with the business owner likely to be out in the front of the shop instead of miles away, that means customer service is going to be a priority — increasing the chance shoppers will make return trips and make referrals.

That kind of thinking prompted Alison Maccione to launch Barefoot, an athletic leisure store in Spring Lake, in March 2015.

“Barefoot provides fashion-forward active and lifestyle apparel that’s not easily available in stores,” Maccione said. “Barefoot carries smaller brands from all over the world, and the quality is often better than larger brands. I provide a personal shopping experience and I know my customers.”

It’s a lot more than just nodding to them and remembering their names.

“I know their style, where they work out and what they need out of their activewear,” said Maccione, who’s also a certified yoga teacher. “We often work out at the same places and my customers provide me with great feedback on how their clothes hold up and perform during their workouts.”

Maccione tracks customers’ purchase histories and “can quickly and easily look up specific sizes, making shopping a breeze for my customers who don’t have time to try on.”

Opening her shop wasn’t just a job — it was a calling.

“I knew I wanted to be in a small town by the beach with an active community,” she said. “I grew up spending my summers in Normandy Beach and have always wanted to bring my concept to the same sort of town. Community is everything and is so important to me.”

She also did her research.

“There are so many boutique fitness studios in Monmouth and Ocean County, so Spring Lake seemed like the perfect in-between location to bring it all together,” said Maccione, who leverages her reach by working with “feeder” businesses. “I’ve always loved the personal experience I get at a boutique fitness studio, and it’s been amazing to be able to partner and cross-promote with yoga, barre, spin, Pilates studios and even local gyms. There were no other athleisure boutiques in Spring Lake or the surrounding towns, so I knew it was the perfect fit.”

Maccione stretches her limited budget by using Web-based and other e-enabled advertising techniques.

“I continue to research new brands, attend trade shows, host trunk shows, and expand my products,” she explained. “I have launched a small e-commerce site and sell through Facebook and Instagram.”

She also markets Barefoot locally, through social media, and local newspapers and magazines.

“Instagram is my greatest resource, but I also cross-promote with local fitness studios in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, and have an Ambassador Program that allows me to partner with local fitness instructors,” Maccione said. “Word of mouth has been extremely positive for me as well.”

Unlike many large corporations, mom and pop businesses “have opportunities to really get to know their customers — and vice versa,” according to U.S. Small Business Administration blog post “4 Ways Mom and Pop Businesses Can Outshine Their Bigger Competitors,” by SCORE Association Vice President of Marketing and Communications Bridget Weston Pollack.

“It’s not just business; it becomes personal as small business owners and their employees develop friendships with the people within their communities,” Pollack wrote. “Customers that know and like the people running a business will naturally be more inclined to visit again and again.”

Additionally, the simple management structure that characterizes most small businesses means “they can respond to market demand and customer needs more quickly,” she said.

Added Pollack: “And with no messy hierarchy and bureaucracy to navigate, mom and pop businesses can more adeptly cater to special requests from customers and offer more than customers are expecting. With their quick decision-making capabilities, mom and pop businesses are well positioned to nurture customer loyalty, earn repeat business and gain referrals.”

Tod Wilson, who launched Mr. Tod’s Pie Factory in 2002, said the “personal touch” keeps customers coming back to his shop.

“I met a guy who was a senior executive with a large retail chain, and he told me, ‘You have something special because it’s different,’” recalled Wilson, who’s shop is in Englewood. “I agreed. It’s all a matter of offering a great product with taste. It’s also the little things, like if you say you’re going to open at 8:00 a.m., you do it. No excuses.”

He also takes advantage of opportunities to get his name out, supplementing channels like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, with an appearance on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank.”

“You can have a great product and service, but people need to know about you,” he noted.

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