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Competing Against Big Box Stores for Employees

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 09/12/2019

competing against big box retailers
As a small or mid-sized retailer, you know that competing against big box stores for employees is difficult. They may have more money for advertising. They may have HR teams. They may offer higher wages and benefits. And they likely have greater brand name recognition to help attract job candidates. So what can you do?

Table of Contents

As a small or mid-sized retailer, you know that competing against big box stores for employees is difficult. They may have more money for advertising. They may have HR teams. They may offer higher wages and benefits. And they likely have greater brand name recognition to help attract job candidates. So what can you do?

Battling big box stores for employees is a David and Goliath situation. So it’s good to remember that being smaller is not all about disadvantages. It’s about getting out your slingshot and playing to your strengths.

Be a Sleuth: Find Out What the Big Box Stores Offer Employees

The first step to effectively dealing with a larger competitor is to know what they offer. Luckily, you can find out a lot of that online. Just go to the big stores’ websites and look at their career pages to see what they’re saying and offering. Most career pages won’t list wages, but you can quickly discover:

  • How they write job descriptions and describe employee requirements
  • How they talk to their candidates and describe their culture
  • What training, advancement opportunities, or other perks they offer

Since most companies don’t publish their wages and benefits you need to do some detective work to find out what your larger competitors pay. You can research their hourly pay online using,, and others. However, these searches will typically give you a pay range for various positions, not an exact amount.

A little stealth helps you uncover what the big chains pay. Talk to other smaller merchants to find out what they know. Or run your own online survey, asking participants about their experiences working for large stores, including wages and benefits.

Offer Benefits that Cost You Nothing but Make Your Company Attractive

Not all big stores offer more than minimum wage, and many don’t offer health benefits to lower paid workers. With much larger staffs, they have their own budget restraints, too. So you may be competing with them on job and life quality issues, an area where smaller stores can shine.

Workers care about job quality, as well as pay. So set your hourly pay levels at the optimum level for you and your employees. Then concentrate on – and market – other value added benefits that you can offer your job candidates.

Some great examples of no-to-low-cost benefits are:

  • Flexible schedules and/or flex days off
  • Employee appreciation days (make sure everyone gets their day)
  • Free food days (not every day, or it will become an expectation)
  • Commuting assistance
  • Employee discounts (within limits, so it doesn’t overly impact profits)

Let your job candidates know that you provide these, and any other special benefits that you dream up. These value-added intangibles can make wages a less important part of the package.

Treat Job Applicants Like Valued Customers

Smaller companies have something that big box stores strive for but can’t replicate – personality. Big box stores, by their nature, are involved in mass marketing of huge product lines, and this approach tends to flavor their hiring practices as well. Often, the experience of applicants at a big store can be impersonal. Candidates are processed in larger groups. They deal with managers, not owners.

Your team is smaller than a big box staff, has fewer managerial levels, and often has more of a family feeling. You may provide a higher touch experience that big box stores can’t match. That can be a big advantage.

You can create an experience that tells your candidates that they are valuable from the start. Meet with them personally and show the same interest in their questions and interests that you would extend to a valued customer.

Take them on a brief tour and explain what customers love about your store, including your product line(s). An advantage of this approach is that you’ll be able to quickly see if they have people skills and an affinity for your products.

If you have a great, trusted employee, who loves what your company provides and enjoys conveying that to customers, let your candidate talk with that person. They’ll get a first-hand confirmation of what it’s like to work with your team, while you can get feedback from your employee on what they thought of the candidate.

You Can Be More Nimble and Make Quicker Decisions Than Large Corporations

Larger stores often have a regimented, tiered process for hiring. While you should follow best hiring practices as well, as a smaller storeowner, you don’t have their decision-making layers. That means you can often give a quicker decision to your candidate, an advantage that may help you nab a good employee who is still waiting for a hiring decision from the big store.

Highlight the Training Benefits Your Store Offers

One of the difficulties that small to mid-size stores face when hiring is that they often don’t have as many advancement opportunities as the big chain stores. However, there are ways to flip this negative into a positive. Small teams are generally more flexible than large teams; job descriptions are less rigid and workers are less pigeonholed. So your employees may get broader exposure to more responsibilities than workers at more regimented stores.

Explain to your candidate that, while you may not have as many advancement opportunities, you offer cross-training that gives them a varied skillset that will help their future opportunities. And let them know that, when an advancement opportunity does arise, your preference is to promote internally.

Be frank with them; tell them that you understand that they may want to move on some day, and that working for your company will help fill their resume with valuable experience and skills.

Treating Employees Well Is Your Best Employment Marketing

In this digital, social age we often forget that word-of-mouth is still one of the most powerful forms of marketing. Your employees have friends, and their friends have friends; all of them share life stories with each other. Creating an attentive, caring company culture that values employees as people can be an understated advantage.

Treating employees well is the best marketing for new employees that you can have, since your employees will share their experiences with their peers. They may even suggest friends that would want to work in your store. It’s also absolutely free.

Big does not necessarily mean better. As a smaller retail store, you can be quicker, more personal, and flat-out more fun than your large competitors. Armed with all these advantages, David suddenly looks less like an underdog and more like a formidable contender.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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