Canadian Mom and Pop Shops Vs The Big Box Store


Over the years lots of mom and pops have closed up shop not being able to compete with the big box stores. Some great stores have closed down because of this, but on the other hand some stores that shouldn’t of been in business still; finally closed too.
I find certain items I like to buy at small stores such as flowers including green house plants, and hard to find items. With a recent bad experience at a small pet store (Critter Barn, Exeter Ontario) it has me thinking  there are certain items that your better off buying at a large chain store rather then a small store. Pets at least come with a 7-14 day guarantee where this pet store didn’t care if my turtle died the second I walk out. It was money in her pocket, no replacement or warranty from the time her cash register slammed shut.  Maybe this was just unfortunate luck for me and generally smaller pet stores have more compassion for their animals.

I recently was in a kitchen specialty store (Kulpepper’s) where the owner was very helpful, honest, and even offered me a special order for a Tassimo cup holder. I received a call that evening  letting me know on the status of the order. The owner knows what excellent customer service means and is striving to provide it. If this had been a big box store there would of been little to no expertise and of course the mention of a special order would of had me possibly laughed out of the store.

Honestly, I don’t mind paying a bit extra for a small store that goes the extra mile to provide great customer service and appreciates my business. Of course there are small stores that are just horrible to deal with and aren’t worth your time. How can you tell?
I’ve compliled a small list of what to look for in a mom and pop shop. (feel free to add to my list)
*Inviting atmosphere
*Personal Greeting When You Walk In (Walmart Greeters Excluded)
*Genuine service. Example: they aren’t trying to sell you something you don’t need, and if it’s a specialty store they know their product. They shouldn’t be rude to you.( I just learnt this one, if the owners nasty from the start. Run don’t walk away, no matter how cute their stuff is.)

What do you prefer, The big box or the mom and pop shop? Is there a small store that you’d like to give a shout out too?

26 responses to “Canadian Mom and Pop Shops Vs The Big Box Store”

  1. Stephania says:

    Great post, Sally!

    Unfortunately, you can get bad service at both small/big box stores. So customer service really depends on the staff, and maybe the manager to a certain extent. That being said, I would definitely walk out of a store that had bad service – no matter if their prices were rock bottom!

    I try to find a medium between selection, i.e. which stores carry my item + price + customer service and choose a store accordingly.

  2. Fray Close says:

    I have been a sucker for cheap stuff for too long. Cheap stuff is not good for our economy.
    I have decided that in order to combat some of it, in my small grassroots way, is to try and keep as much of my money as I can out of big corporation pockets.
    Money spent and mom and pop shops tend to get recycled back into your local economy. Money spent at big box stores tend to get sucked out of your local economy. Mom and pop shop in your neighbourhood, buy homes in your neighbourhood, eat in you neighbourhood. Where do wal-mart’s profits go?
    I think we need to start keeping this in the back of our minds when we shop, we can strengthen our own economies if we start spending our little bit of money more wisely.

  3. vibrantflame says:

    I like to shop at so-called “mom and pop” shops but only IF they carry what I am looking for and IF the price is reasonable. Unfortunately my family and I live on a very tight budget so I cannot afford to pay extra for an item that I could buy at the “big box” store for less. But if the price is right, then yes I do try to shop locally.

  4. Skippy says:

    We have a Home Hardware that has been around since the age of horses-No
    Kidding! The exterior was built when there was still farmland here.Inside they have the wooden floors that creak,and that hardware store smell.
    They also have whatever it is you are looking for, and their customer service is excellent.They too will special order for you.
    Fray Close made a good point-Shop locally(even if it costs a bit more)

  5. SuperM says:

    My parents a small Dutch store they struggle to bring in customers. They have a good solid base but have trouble expanding. They hear comments all the time like: ‘I haven’t been here in so long’ or ‘my parents used to bring me here all the time’.

    The reality is that if people don’t shop – the stores we remember will all be closed.

    If you like ‘ethnic’ stores, remember that costs have to be more when items are being imported. For example, the Fanta pop in my parents store are more expensive than the ones at Walmsrt(etc) but 1)THE ARE IMPORTED and 2)THEY DO TASTE BETTER – I was surprised to find that they really do taste different.

    Also small stores can’t buy the quantities that larger stores buy so their prices often have to be more expensive. The COST on one roll of imported Mentos for example is often more than buying a roll at Giant Tiger for 50c.

    I am a culprit of saving money too – but keep this stuff in mind for your specialty stores when you think something is too expensive.

    As for restaurants – I’ve always loved non-chain restaurants. The food is often better and the prices are usually better too.

  6. pettyfan says:

    “Pets at least come with a 7-14 day guarantee where this pet store didn’t care if my turtle died the second I walk out.”

    I can say im kinda affended by this. My sister had a Pet food store that she had to close last year.(could not complete with other retailers that opened in her area)

    She offered a Guarentee with all her pets for 3 days. YES 3 DAYS!!
    She had strict rules on this too. She would tell everyone..You must go to your vet to have the animal checked out to validate your guarentee.She would have the customers sign the back of the health warranty, to acknowledge that they would take the critte to the vets ASAP

    Customers would not do this. They would think that well this puppy looks fine,I won’t have problems They would rather take the puppy to the dog park, grandma’s house, the kids would have friends over, all the time not one person would wash thier hands before handling the pup.

    You have no idea what germs you have, and have given it the the animal by petting and playing with it.

    I heard her say quite a few times over the 9 yrs she was in business” Did you take the pet, to the vet?”…if they said yes..she would want to see the bill from the vet… if it was dated within the 3 days..she would call the vet and see what they thought the proper course of action was. Would meds help this pet, whatever was best for the pet, they got it cost to the owner. There were many times people would neglect the vet check, they were on there own from thereon out.

    In some cases, the best thing to would be to return the money to the new pet owners and take the animal back, at the breeder would pick look after it from there.

    A for the case of the dead turtle, who really know’s what happened..If you used tap water, you could have poisened the thing, and not have ever know you did. What healthy for humans, isn’t always good for pets

  7. Sally says:

    I’m not sure why your offended by my post when I clearly put what pet store it is and that I probably just ended up at the wrong one and smaller ones are probably more compassionate then the big box store. I highly suggest you reread my post.
    “it has me thinking are there certain items that your better off buying at a large chain store rather then a small store. Pets at least come with a 7-14 day guarantee where this pet store didn’t care if my turtle died the second I walk out. It was money in her pocket, no replacement or warranty from the time her cash register slammed shut. Or maybe this was just unfortunate luck for me and generally smaller pet stores have more compassion for their animals.”

    If you are going to take offence to something please read the post right before you get mad.

    I dont just use tap water. I had turtles growing up. They are maybe a month old and unfortunately have a higher death rate when they are so young.

  8. Jo says:

    I just HAVE to gloat about my local scrapbooking/stamping store, the Paper Pickle in Chatham, ON. It’s owned by two sisters, who are amazing girls! They carry great product that I can’t find anywhere else, at prices usually lower than the big crafting chains. Some things I can buy cheaper elsewhere, but I prefer to shop there because they have the greatest customer service and are just so friendly! They greet me by name when I walk in the store, and at Christmas they send out cards with a freebie of some sort.
    So many times I have gone in a day or two before one of their big sales start, and they’ll give me my items at the sale price.

  9. adora says:

    I used to like mom * pops even when they usually have higher prices, for they have better knowledge on products. But these days, they are mostly lame and pushy with sales, lying about availabilities and popularity… Some of them are as bad as used car salesman.

  10. Wilson says:

    I live in a small town and love shopping downtown in the small shoppes, but I do most of my day to day shopping at big box stores. With three little ones convenience and price win. But, if i am looking for a birthday/Christmas present I always check out the small shoppes first. I just hate going to small stores and finding the exact same items as big box stores for three times the price – I want unique at the smaller stores.

    I have to say that in the Sarnia/Point Edward area there are a couple of great small stores: The Beanstock and Awe!some Art where you can find some really neat stuff.

    In the small town where I currently live, most of the small downtown stores constantly complain in the media (the local paper) that they are dying because of the big box stores moving into town. But, the last time I went to the independent stationary store in town I received horrible service and refuse to go back – so maybe Staples gets my business now because of that – not because of the fact that it is a big box store.

    So, in short, I agree with you Sally, sometimes the small stores go out of business for a reason – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try out the smaller ones first!

  11. charisse says:

    shout out to Margolians and Moments in Truro, NS on Englis st!

  12. Brenda says:

    If you are in North Bay and need a hardware store, skip Home Depot and go to Gateway Home Hardware. They are awesome there! Great service – and if you don’t see it, ask, and they will find it for you or order it! When Home Depot came to town people thought that Gateway would close. Nope. I see more people in there than at HD some days. At Gateway, they know what you are talking about – they know the hardware business!

  13. Liz says:

    This post certainly caught my interest as my husband and I have recently opened a scrapbooking supply store in the small tourist town of St Andrews, NB (shameless plug, I know…)
    I LOVE a deal – and freely admit that because of my obsessive thrifty habits I never like to pay full price for anything!

    Never would have thought that someday I’d open my own retail shop and have to CHARGE full price for things! :s

    Anyway…I love big box stores…the cheaper I can buy something the happier I am! …but living in a small town, I also love the friendliness (generally-speaking, of course) and unique products/services…even the charm…of little mom & pop stores. And even though small shops like mine may need to charge higher prices to cover our costs, I like to think that the savings I get while shopping at Walmart with a mitt-ful of coupons allow me a little more financial room to support local businesses and enjoy the best of both worlds!

    As a small business owner, here are some “secrets”:
    -Don’t be afraid to ask a small retailer if there’s any room to move on the price of a particular item. Since the cashier in these small stores is often ALSO the business owner, they have the authority to make such decisions…certainly a perk of shopping Mom&Pop style.
    They may say no, but it’s always worth asking!
    -Ask the store owner if he/she can give you a discount if you pay in cash. Providing debit/credit transactions costs the retailer a percentage of every transaction…paying specifically in cash allows both the customer AND the retailer to save a little $$ 🙂

  14. Jen M says:

    I love small family owned bakeries and small fruit/vegetable stores. If I can, I go there as much as I can. When it comes to every day stuff, I get it from the chain stores, because it is cheaper. Can’t afford to pay extra.

  15. dealsniffer says:

    Great Post Sally! I am interested reading people’s comments because I thought that with the economy that maybe people would not pay extra for stuff in small shops even if they have better service. I do think if it is possible then it is great to go to the smaller shops IF they have better service and a better product. sometimes smaller shops are worse because they think they can make a quick buck and what not and do not care about the customer. they eventually shut down I think. people go where they are treated well I think. I think I am similar to other peopler where the main stuff I get at big stores and unique special stuff that you can’t find in a bigger store I will go to a smaller place for.

  16. sally says:

    Butchers are another one, for the same price I can get a crappy cut of roast at Zehrs, I can get an amazing cut roast for the same price, that dont shrink to nothing when you cook them.

    After having bad meat so many times from Zehrs I have pretty much made the switch to our local butcher, yes it’s another trip but they are fantastic.

  17. abbasgirl says:

    I know it’s silly, but I get really nervous in small stores. I hate having sales people come up to me and ask me if they can help me and if there’s only a couple of people in the store I feel like I’m being watched the entire time I’m there. I’m much happier in big, unfriendly stores, where I have to hunt down a sales associate instead of having them follow me.

  18. Tara says:

    Are you serious about the pet thing? Go to an SPCA they have all kinds of animals that need homes(including reptiles.)and frankly,to me it makes sense not to offer returns on animals. If someone cant take care of an animal and it dies within a week of them getting it (not that its always a case of negligence or abuse,I know.)they sure shouldn’t be getting another one.

  19. Susan says:

    Yes I know that store and that lady can be very rude at times. She can also be sweet as pie when she wants you to buy something.
    I don’t think she is representative of pet stores in general but you have to remember that small exotic pets are very delicate and the smallest thing can kill them. A child could drop it, it could get too cold, ect, ect.
    I raise birds and generally do replace small birds with no problem if something happens within the first ten days but thats just me!
    visit my website,

  20. Sally says:

    Tara, my cats are from the SPCA. They don’t have reptiles here for adoption, I checked into before I purchased. I grew up with turtles. They were hatchlings, my kids never held it, I didn’t poison it, i didn’t abuse or neglect it just died. Stores offer a 7-14 day policy. Simple as that. Esp since it could of been sick in her care, a runt, had problems etc. Its just good business, esp for something that cost her maybe $2. I can’t believe how many people on Facebook have come out with posts about her and her attitude and the fact shes still in business baffles me. I wish I had known not to go there.

    Susan, your animals are absolutely beautiful,and well cared for. My friend had been inquiring about birds and I will bookmark your page.

  21. Onshopper says:

    I live within driving distance of 2 Home Hardware – one, my local is 5 minutes away but I do not shop there – never have the sale stuff, rude, items priced incorrectly ( always higher )etc. The second one is 20 mins away – friendly, items correctly priced and more than helpful to re-order anything that was on sale but now sold out. People respond to courtesy and being treated fairly no matter who owns the store.

  22. Katie says:

    I always promote shopping locally! These are real people in your community who care about it and are looking to provide products and, even more so, service that you won’t get elsewhere. I know about trying to save money, but most of these stores have seasonal flyers etc or just deals that you will find if you frequent them semi-regularly. Plus, with the cost of gas these days why leave your small town and drive an hour+ to a bigger centre? Shop locally!

  23. Emmy says:

    As much as I enjoy collecting Air Miles at Rona and using don’t-pay-for-a-year promos at Lowes and Home Depot, my first stop is always this local lumber store. 9/10 they have what I need at a better price (and if not you can most definitely negotiate) and the quality & service by far beat the big box competition hands down. And I definitely agree with Onshopper, people respond to courtesy; last year I was looking to buy shrubs for my new home and I “found” a private garden centre where the owner was more than happy to take the time to teach this newbie about landscaping and gave me a few tips. Even though I could probably score some great deals at Home Depot, I was so impressed that she is now my go-to for anything green 🙂

    We’ve all gotten used to jumping on the deals that the bigger stores can afford to advertise, especially if you can buy online (it’s just too easy). I do find that the one-day-deal sites like Groupon are opening the playing field to the smaller stores.

  24. Bytown says:

    Katie says…March 22, 2011 at 9:10 am…”I always promote shopping locally! These are real people in your community who care about it”

    SuperM says…March 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm…”Also small stores can’t buy the quantities…The COST on one roll of imported Mentos for example is often more than buying a roll at Giant Tiger for 50c.”

    Fray Close says…March 21, 2011 at 5:26 pm…”Money spent and mom and pop shops tend to get recycled back into your local economy. Money spent at big box stores tend to get sucked out of your local economy. Mom and pop shop in your neighbourhood, buy homes in your neighbourhood, eat in you neighbourhood.”

    OK lets think about the following:
    A mom and pop shop will maybe employ 5 to 10 people. A big box store will employ hundreds of people. These people also live in the same community (they don’t fly them in and out from China every night.
    These same “real people” earn an income which they spend locally in one form or another (houses , restaurants…)
    These stores have economies of scale that small stores don’t have. That didn’t just happen overnight. I’ve seen smaller stores get together and create co-ops in order to improve their economies of scale but still remain independent.
    These big stores are greatly involved in the communities. Don’t believe me, check their websites and see how much they donate in time and money to local charities or events. Were talking in the millions. Yes even Giant Tiger.

    A lot of these stores started as mom and pop operations. The differences…a good business plan…no trying to blame everyone else for their failures.

    P.S. I support any store that earns my business regardless of size.

  25. LES says:

    An important part of the issue is the quality\durability of the product stocked and sold . For example I chose to buy an excellent though somewhat more costly chain saw because I want reliability and want to own it for the long haul . When I was in the store purchasing mine (a smaller family
    business ), there was a customer bringing in his low- priced chain saw bought at a big box store. He lamented that his never works that well , and he has had to have it serviced & repaired various times .He swore he’d not buy that make again . Quality, if fairly priced , usually trumps cheaper products

  26. Bil Bird says:

    I lived on the Air Base at Centralia in the late 50s!! Visited Exeter many times. Great memories of being 11-12 out there.


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