In a business climate where the only constant is change, organizations must be ready to adapt to meet ever-shifting market demands and customer needs. During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s America’s Top Small Business Summit: Ready. Set. Scale, Mark Estomin, Owner of Calgo Gardens, and April Peterson, Co-owner of River Rock Outfitter, discussed how their small businesses found new ways to fill market niches and create value for consumers in a panel discussion with CO—’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeanette Mulvey.

Estomin's and Peterson’s tips for successfully pivoting include looking for unique opportunities missed by large corporations, connecting with a community of consumers, and embracing the flexibility and agility afforded to small businesses by their size.

[Read More: Missed the Summit? Catch the replay here.]

Small businesses can stay relevant by specializing

Estomin and Peterson, two finalists for America’s Top Small Business 2023, both discussed their businesses’ stories of how they found niches that had been left unfilled by larger corporations and pivoted to remain competitive.

Estomin described how chance interactions with customers and employees helped Calgo Gardens find areas where the company could provide value being missed by big-box stores and household names.

“We had always been doing landscape design, and we specialized in art in our designs,” Estomin said. “People really enjoyed it, so we decided that we would move more into the artist merchandise, and … we brought in a lot of artists to do workshops.”

[Read More: How Calgo Gardens Brings Nature, Art, and Community to Monmouth County]

Peterson shared a crucial piece of advice her company heard early on: “You can’t out-Amazon Amazon. You can’t out-Target Target. So, what a small business needs to do is figure out what your competitors can’t do and what they won’t do.”

For River Rock Outfitter, this meant “whiteboarding” sessions to identify their competitors and gaps in the market. With this, Peterson and her team landed on a key tenet of the company: providing hands-on, personalized service.

By identifying key areas where small businesses can provide unique services and offerings that larger corporations can’t, or aren’t interested in, providing, small businesses can stake out territories in highly competitive markets where they can excel, and differentiate themselves from larger brands, she added.

We had to pivot really quickly and redo our business model based around the idea that we had to build our customer base. We had to teach our community. We had to build our community … [and] show them that we have an outdoor recreational economy in our community.

April Peterson, Co-owner, River Rock Outfitter

Small businesses can connect with communities to meet their needs and solidify their brand

Whether it’s in person or online, connecting with customers and their broader communities is often the key to small business success. For Estomin, this meant working to solidify Calgo Gardens’ brand identity and finding the right channels to showcase it to their audience.

“People sometimes don’t associate … a garden center with wellness and art and events that we have on-site, so when we started to do advertising, it was always hit [or] miss,” said Estomin. “Social media [has] added a new … venue to reach people.”

Similarly, Peterson described how engaging with communities — local, professional, and hobbyist — helped her business to find new markets where it could offer personalized services and provide new value to consumers.

“We had to pivot really quickly and redo our business model based around the idea that we had to build our customer base,” she explained. “We had to teach our community. We had to build our community … [and] show them that we have an outdoor recreational economy in our community.”

[Read More: River Rock Outfitter Helps Customers Find Adventure]

Small businesses can change, innovate, and experiment more easily than their larger competitors

While many people assume that larger businesses always have more opportunities because of their budget and resources, small businesses can leverage their size to their advantage. With smaller teams, lower overhead costs, and greater flexibility, smaller businesses can outperform larger competitors.

Additionally, it’s easier for smaller businesses to have more direct relationships with their customer base. This more intimate, personal connection between a business and the market it serves can allow smaller companies to capitalize on trends faster, and more easily, than a bigger company.

“Our superpower as small businesses [is that] we are able to pivot and be flexible … on a dime,” said Peterson. “And if we’re always really honest with ourselves and we’re checking in with our customers and … staffs, we can really identify … those things that our customers want and need.”

[Read More: America's Top Small Business Awards Gala 2023]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.