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Lend a brand

How lesser-known brands help win customers' trust

Brands like Nike and Adidas might get customers in the door of Kiddles Inc., a sporting goods store in Lake Forest, Illinois, but it's the brands no one has heard of that keep customers coming back.

"After a while, you don't fall in love with the razzle-dazzle of the big names," explains owner Jay Shlifka, 52. Instead, he's impressed by the better quality and service some smaller manu-facturers offer, such as a sock company that once "sent a representative to drive overnight to fix a mistake on an order."

Plus, the lesser-known brands are often more flexible on pricing, says Anne M. Obarski, executive director of Merchandise Concepts, a retail consulting firm in St. Louis. That can mean better prices for customers--and more profit for you.

"If you have a big-name brand, you're in competition with everyone else," Obarski explains. "Educate the customer about a brand that's better, and you're creating value."

Obarski says retailers can do this by merchandising lesser-known brands near better-known counter-parts or offering samples. Supplementing an inventory of well-known brands with unique items from small manufacturers can also set your store apart.

"Use signage that says, 'If you like this, then you'll love that,'" Obarski suggests. "By offering a better product at a better price, you build trust."

Gwen Moran is a writer and consultant specializing in marketing.

This story appears in the June 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »