When it comes to meeting the challenges of competing with large mass merchandisers such as K-Mart, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, or Target, the independent retailer needs as many tools as possible.

Now, you need to evaluate and adjust your market to survive the invasion of this overwhelming competition.

The first step is to evaluate your competition. Don’t be afraid to shop these big box retailers. Have your employees check them out.

See what they have to offer in merchandise and service. See if their sales staff is knowledgeable about their products, if the staff is friendly, if they are helpful, and if they go out of their way to find the products and the answers for their customers.

These are potential areas where you can outshine them. Professional sports teams review their opponents — you should too.

When you recognize your advantages, advertise them. Define the reasons why customers should come to you. Ask your loyal customers why they do business with you. Ask your employees what they see as your unique advantages.

Once you have these answers, put them in your advertising. Do it over and over again. If necessary, make changes to better reflect and reinforce what sets you apart.

One advantage that often is overlooked is the age of your company. If you are a second- or third-generation business, tell people you have been doing business for years and you plan on being around for years to come. Quote repeat customers’ reasons for staying with your company.

The knowledge your employees possess is another asset you should be advertising. Let potential customers know your employees are EPA certified, enrolled in apprenticeship programs, or have attended brand-specific training.

Brag about an employee’s accomplishments. This lets your customers know you are supporting the efforts of your employees to better serve them, the customers.

Being able to set your own hours is one reason for being an independent company. Your hours should be for the convenience of the customer.

Once a mass merchandiser enters your market, consider expanding your hours. Many of your fixed costs will remain the same, such as rent, insurance, inventory, etc., while you increase your operating hours and your potential business. The largest increase would be your payroll.

Re-evaluate your return policies. There is no need to match the mass merchandiser’s policy, but it should be easy for your customer. Take on the risk of a customer’s buying decision. This can create a positive for your company by promoting product confidence.

A few may take advantage of your policy, but the majority are not out to swindle you. Let the world know you take care of your customers.

It’s your job to analyze the competition and the marketplace to determine how your business will survive. Don’t forget to look at your situation through your customers’ eyes, to determine the services, merchandise, and store hours you should provide.

Take the right steps to make the correct choices and your business will not just survive — it will thrive.

Reprinted from the “Rocky Mountain Review,” a newsletter of the Utah Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Gas Association.