Small Businesses Think Resourcefully To Keep Up In The Era Of Digital Shopping And Big-Box Stores


In the past, the biggest competition a small business faced was the big-box department store. In recent years, however, an even greater challenge has emerged for mom-and-pop shops: the internet, where customers can shop for everything from clothes to groceries with only a few clicks on their phone and without ever leaving home.

But in Pasadena, many small businesses are changing their tactics so their customers can still enjoy the benefits of both online shopping and shopping local.

“That’s the whole thing, keeping people local in competition with the bigger people, keep the local economy thriving instead of handing it out to other people,” said Bernie Snoops, co-owner of Lauer’s Supermarket and Bakery, which will launch a curbside pickup service tentatively set for April 2.

The service comes in the form of an app called Rosie. Through Rosie, customers can scroll through all the products Lauer’s offers and place their order. Orders for same-day pickup must be placed four hours in advance, and Lauer’s will accept five orders per hour. “We want to make sure we’re dedicating enough time to the orders to make them right,” Bernie said.

After six months of the curbside pickup, Lauer’s will consider whether to add a delivery service.

Garrett Snoops, the director of eCommerce who has taken the lead on the pickup project, said they received mixed feedback about the service on Facebook.

“Some were saying, ‘Oh, we can’t wait,’ and some were saying, ‘Oh, we’d never use this,’” Garrett said. “They like to come in and socialize. They like the social aspect of the small family supermarket.”

The app will allow customers to personalize their orders. For example, if someone prefers extra ripe bananas, they can put that in the notes section next to each product. There will also be a place for customers to enter a substitute in case Lauer’s is out of a certain product.

“We create that personal experience too,” Garrett said. “You feel like you’re part of the Lauer family.”

Lauer’s isn’t the only business in Pasadena that has stepped up to compete in the digital era. “Many local businesses now offer online shopping, delivery and store pickups for their products,” said Paulette Morris of Idea Weaver Promotions, who recently began co-chairing the Pasadena Business Association’s Shop Local committee alongside Mike Dacre of HomeTown Exterior House Cleaning. Morris describes the union of digital and local as “the best of both worlds.”

Many of the PBA members offering online shopping see it as an important part of staying relevant. “There are so many other options, so you’ve got to keep up with those types of businesses,” said Kim Wharton, owner of Maher’s Florist, which began taking online orders about 10 years ago. Maher’s now has an app so customers can place orders straight from their phone and select either pickup or delivery options.

Wharton acknowledges that it does have its challenges, though it has its rewards as well. “We are a small business and don’t have someone full time on the website,” Wharton explained. “But shopping local, you’re getting a much fresher product, more of a guarantee, and the customer service is better.”

Even businesses that don’t offer online shopping options have found ways to set themselves apart. Bess Clark, owner of Coterie Boutique, said personalization is important. “We communicate with our clients on a very personal level,” Clark said. “We listen, and listening is a big thing. If you’re not listening to your clients, it’s hard to give them what they want and have them return.”

Statistics from Forbes show that 68 percent of every dollar spent at a locally owned business stays in the community, whereas only 43 percent stays when spent at a chain store or none at all if spent through an online retailer such as Amazon. Morris and Dacre hope that by refreshing the Shop Local campaign, they can help spread awareness to the community about the importance of endorsing Pasadena-based businesses. The first major event the committee has planned is a Shop Local family festival scheduled for Saturday, June 16, from 10:00am to 2:00pm at Lakeshore Plaza. Visit for details as they become finalized.

“The bottom line is local businesses and professionals employ people, donate to local nonprofit organizations and support other local businesses,” Morris said. “They are eager to serve and appreciate our business.”


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