Tired of competing on price alone? Perhaps all you need to do to build your bottom line and get out of the rat race of discounting is to carve out a niche for yourself. Rather than trying to be all things to all customers, your path to the next level may lie in focusing on a particular market segment or adding a new category of products or service. Advantages typically include increased margins, less competition, more visibility and a clear marketing message and channel. In fact, the customers may come to you!
For example, Member Bob Carpenter of New Service Concepts in Zanesville, Ohio provides linens for local university summer camp programs. His involvement with two local schools led to calls from across the country. His is an example of niche marketing done tremendously well – so well, in fact, that prospects are indeed coming to him.
How do you know what niche is going to add up to success for you, though? Lynda Falkenstein, author and expert on niche markets and making customers seek you out, advises using a process to identify a good niche.
1. Make a Wish List.
With whom do you want to do business? Be as specific as you can, says Falkenstein.
Universal Unilink Member Richard Moran, owner of Bradenton, Florida’s Spectrum, is a pilot who loves to travel. As we detailed in our profile of him in an earlier issue of The Advantage, Spectrum targets government and banking clients in areas he loves to visit, from Bermuda to Belize.
As noted in that piece: “…in Barbados, he assisted a large bank in designing their lobbies for better customer flow which resulted in mat orders for 300 branches.” Working the Caribbean beat? Follow in Moran’s footsteps and start your own list now!
Clarify what you want to sell, remembering that a) you can’t be all things to all people and b) smaller is bigger, Falkenstein advises.
On pages 13-14 of this issue, we profile Universal Member Mary Ellen Bailey, owner of Gaithersburg, Maryland’s Logorific. Bailey focuses on the construction industry and government contractors, two frequently overlapping categories that are a nice fit for her company. This has, interestingly, led to business with the very narrow category of recruiting within the nation’s nuclear power plants. What specific areas of experience do you have that that you might unite and focus down into a niche?
3. Describe the Customer’s Worldview.
Step into your customers’ and prospects’ perspective, and you can identify their needs and wants.
Longtime Universal Member James Gardner, owner of Carpet Rentals in Statesville, North Carolina, added some new niches to his portfolio of business after having a moment of empathy with his customers: “They all want one thing: fewer people to deal with, not more. So we added jan/san – which at the time was a strange move for a mat company – and then we later added first aid.”
These moves made business sense for another reason: “We always felt Cintas knocking at the door,” Gardner says. “The more things we could do, the more we could keep Cintas out.” Read more about Gardner, who is celebrating his 50th year in business, in this article.
At this stage, your niche should begin to take shape as your ideas and prospective customer’s needs and wants coalesce to create something new. Step back and ensure that your niche conforms to your long-term vision, is in demand from customers, has a well-thought-out structure behind it, is truly the “only game in town,” and provides room for growth, allowing you to develop different profit centers and still retain the core business, thus ensuring long-term success.
At this point, you may also want to consider what emerging technologies and/or market trends might impact your choice of a niche. For example, printed apparel experienced tremendous market growth in 2015 and continues to climb this year, driven by the trend toward creating new brands and “hyper local” niches. Whether it’s a tee or a tote with a theme appealing to a focused group of similar people, new brands are finding success.
Member Jeffrey Cohen at Charleston, South Carolina based Image Apparel and his design team capitalized on this trend and created an online brand called Printed Faith to target the faith-based market. Printed Faith has become one of the fastest growing parts of Cohen’s company
Once you have a match between niche and product, test-market it. Falkenstein suggests providing your target audience with the opportunity to actually buy your product. “Not just theoretically but actually putting it out there,” she adds.
6. Go for it!
It’s time to implement your idea.
Ready to get started? Universal Unilink’s Preferred Suppliers are your go-to team for niche marketing expertise. For example, want to step away from “me too” products? Companies like Charles River, Vantage and Dunbrooke can point out products selling by the thousands in online stores. Think that means the products aren’t suited to corporate programs? Think again: Members are posting exceptional growth in these products to existing customers in transportation, manufacturing and other categories.
Jason Greenberg, of Universal Preferred Supplier Universal Overall Company (UOC) handles unusual needs of uniform customers nationwide. As such, Greenberg and his team are presented with a design challenges ranging from the everyday to the highly unusual. “Most of the time, we’re taking our garment and making it without pockets, making it without snaps for the foodservice industry – things like that,” says Greenberg. “Sometimes, however, we do get that strange order – such as the time we manufactured a coverall for a client who had General Dynamics as a customer. They needed a coverall with a built-in harness so their workers could be pulled out of a tank if need be.
“The way we got into a lot of these niche products is that we’re contacted by the laundries who have customers asking them for a garment that performs a particular function or meets a particular need,” he adds. “So, we take a look at our line, see what’s the closest, and go from there.”
On the direct sales side, meanwhile, BIC is a terrific place to start for niche marketing tools. They produce a Vertical Markets Guide each year that profiles individual markets with key competitive information like size, while also including a handy thought-starter full of ideas for BIC promotional products that are a fit on a market-by-market basis. Logistics is another great resource for those thinking of expanding into niche markets. From Harley sun or safety glasses for the public safety or uniform distributor to first aid or jan/san, they are a single source with products to help you test the market in dozens of niche categories.
Ready to go from “all over the mat” to a focused strategy? Niche marketing is for you.