By Bryan Orr

I don’t like going to Wal-Mart.

I don’t like their service, I don’t like their products (except popsicles, I always like popsicles), I don’t like the sad looks on the faces of the people who work and shop there, I don’t like how all of the carts seem to have at least one bad wheel.

Wal-Mart isn’t fun for me, but I honestly don’t understand all of the fear and hatred that get dumped on big, soulless businesses like Wal-Mart.

When I came up in the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) trade there was a HUGE construction boom in Central Florida where I live. Houses were popping up like tents left and right, and anybody who had two arms and a pulse was getting hired into the construction trades. At that time I worked for a huge company that focused on production, and even in the good times I didn’t like most of it. The craftsmanship was lost, the customer service was missing and developing people got buried underneath the next project that just HAD TO GET DONE YESTERDAY.

So when I started our business, we put more focus on growing slowly, one relationship at a time with customer service, and technical expertise as the cornerstones.

A year into our business the bottom fell out of the construction business, hundreds of businesses went under and thousands of workers lost their jobs, but our business kept growing, slowly.

People will often tell me that retail is different than service and that small retail cannot compete with the big stores. I disagree and every successful food truck and Etsy shop stand as living proof.

Here are my top 5 tips to not only compete, but win against big businesses.

1. Talk to Your Customers

Talk to your customers and then talk to them some more. Say hi when they are in the store, ask about their family, ask where they are from, ask what they do for work, remember what they like and dislike and call them by their first name.

2. Charge More

That’s right, you aren’t the cheapest, you’re growing a quality business with quality people in the community. Don’t be ashamed of being more expensive; be confident in the value and quality of what you provide.

3. Build Alliances

Nobody refers their customers to Wal-Mart when they need something, they refer to people who they know, people who have looked them in the eye and who know their name. This isn’t difficult, just go out and meet other quality business owners and let them know that you would like to refer them if they will consider doing the same for you.

4. Embrace Your Own Brand of Crazy

If you have a quirky style, a unique greeting or a weird sense of humor just go with it. You are a small business so you don’t have a huge brand image to protect behind white walls and khaki uniforms. If you are listening to your customers they will tell if you are taking things too far, so don’t be afraid to push the envelope.

5. Understand that Every Employee an Evangelist

If you are hiring great people and training them regularly and empowering them in their jobs, they will spread the word about your business to their friends, they will share your social media posts, they will defend the business on web forums. When is the last time you saw a Wal-Mart employee defend Wal-Mart?

No, you likely won’t become a billion dollar business on the backs of cheap labor and even cheaper products, but honestly, that’s not why you’re in business anyway.