Small But Mighty: How Independent Retailers Can Continue To Make A Big Impact

Amy Peterson, Co-Founder of Rebel Nell

Guest Blogger at The Huffington Post


With massive corporations dominating the market, thousands of retailers clamoring for attention, and a less than favorable economy to contend with, being an independent retailer can feel like being a little fish in a big pond. When we founded Rebel Nell, we learned very quickly that the list of challenges can be long. There are no sick days, no vacation days, and no applause when you show up rain-or-shine.

However, the challenges are counterbalanced by great payoff. By focusing on what we have to offer the community, I’ve come to realize that small business is big business. The success of an independent retailer has huge benefits. Every dollar spent at an independent retailer circulates 6 to 15 times before it leaves the community, generating $5-14 in value, according to the South Dakota Rural Enterprise, Inc ( When you shop at locally-owned businesses, that money will stay in the community 3 times longer, creating a multiplier effect. Shopping with an independent retailer supports local traders and suppliers they depend on to run their businesses. Detroit has a bustling independent retailer scene with local gems likePeacock Room, City Bird, and Artisan’s Bench, who have proved to be pillars of the Detroit community.


This July as we celebrate the 6th annual Independent Retailer Month, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the important lessons every independent retailer should know:


Know What You Stand For
Before Rebel Nell began, I had a goal to help the disadvantaged women living in Detroit shelters get out of their current living situation and back on their feet. Today, our brand has grown into a movement that’s empowering women and helping them find their voice. Knowing that you’re creating a product and serving a purpose that you and your employees can be proud of is key. When the challenges come—and they will—knowing your brand and what you stand for will keep you going.


Embrace and Encourage Evolution
If you’re doing it right, your brand is going to grow. I’ve watched as our goals, jewelry, and the women who make our work possible have evolved and changed. Recognizing and rolling with this change has been vital to our success. Recently, we carved out some time to regroup and re-brand with Gyro Creative Group. Like a yoga retreat for our brand, this breathed fresh life and clear vision into Rebel Nell. If you can’t remember the last time you considered how your business and its story have evolved, it is time to hit the pause button, reset, and embrace your brand’s evolution.


Make Yourself Heard One of the biggest challenges for an independent retailer is finding a way to stand out in the crowd. There’s so much noise and clutter from competitive brands that it’s easy to get drowned out or overlooked. When you don’t have a big marketing budget, the key is using what you’ve got to get what you want. One of the most effective low-cost marketing tools is right at our fingertips: social media. Not only is it affordable and accessible, it breaks down the barrier between you and your customers. At Rebel Nell, we take the people-centered approach of our brand into our marketing as well. Recently, we launched a digital campaign called #IAmRebelNell, where we ask our customers to post a photo on social media captioning why they are a Rebel Nell, and what they’re doing to make their lives and the lives of others feel more empowered.


Recognize the People Who Count
Rebel Nell wouldn’t exist without the women behind it. No brand, big or small, functions without the employees who keep it running or the customers who support it. At Rebel Nell, I’ve made it a point to give these people my ear and value their input. When our customers talk, we listen. Every year, we poll our designers to give them a voice in how our business works. Always remember to appreciate and acknowledge the people that have allowed you to bring your dream into reality.


Play Your Role
If I could change anything about the way we ran our business in the early stages, I’d hire an accountant much sooner. Like a lot of business owners, I was reluctant to delegate, but you’re better off handing certain responsibilities to a pro so you can free your mind to focus on the things that made you start your business in the first place. It may seem like a hassle to have to walk employees through their mistakes, but for the sake of their growth and your own sanity, learn to trust the people you employ.

Before defaulting to a big-box retailer, I urge you to visit your local boutiques. Remember, your dollar goes a long way to support the community where you work and raise your family. In Rebel Nell’s case, every dollar is directly supporting our programs that help our designers take the necessary steps to becoming financially independent. Even if that means just getting their driver’s license renewed, or paying for the children to go to summer camp.

Sure, big-box retailers make a larger footprint in the global economy, but we should celebrate the deep impact that we independent retailers have in the local community. Let’s celebrate not just this month but every month, the work we do and the difference we make every day.

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