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Finding a Niche for Your Business

I’ve often wondered how it happens. How does a person or business become known for specializing in a particular product or service? Does the idea come from within, or the consumer? Is it random, or does it occur by a more organic nature? And the most important question: Can a decent living be made through a niche profession? As always, I think the answers are many and the road to a niche is a winding one.

Finding a Niche for Your Business

By Shon Roti, Sublimation Consultant, Graphic Designer

I’ve often wondered how it happens. How does a person or business become known for specializing in a particular product or service? Does the idea come from within, or the consumer? Is it random, or does it occur by a more organic nature? And the most important question: Can a decent living be made through a niche profession? As always, I think the answers are many and the road to a niche is a winding one.

I tell my clients or potential clients that, through my promotional product wholesaler channels and/or my own abilities and equipment, there are few services or products that I cannot secure for them. Which, so far, is mostly true. My elevator speech goes something like this: “I provide products that range from business cards to barbeque grills (Figures A, B). Whatever the client wants, I find it and deliver it with a logo on it.”

 

Figure A

 

Figure B

Which is why I continue to get asked to imprint products that are completely off my radar.

A kayak with a logo on it? Sure.

Custom wheel hardware for a vintage Ford hot rod? Why not?

A stage backdrop for local concert? I’ll give it a shot.

The more I think about how a niche industry occurs, the more inclined I am to believe it occurs when a person is willing to think beyond the traditional goods and services of an existing business model. I believe having a wide scope of abilities and products is a good first step to finding a niche market.

 

When I started my business model to provide promotional products, I believed this would probably include T-shirts, coffee mugs, fidget spinners, and other similar products a business would give away in some sort of marketing campaign. I also thought that I should try to become a one-stop shop for such items. But the public is so predictable. I’ve learned that in order to be the go-to, I also needed to accommodate some odd requests. Once I say “yes” to the project, I follow through using all the resources I have available. If the transaction is successful and all parties are happy, word tends to spread.

Supplier Support

Being able to say yes to a range of requests comes from confidence in my abilities, but also confidence in support of suppliers and equipment dealers. I’ve spent 20 years working with and surrounded by sublimation, lasering, and sandcarving. But when I went out on my own, I knew very little about vinyl. Knowing that I could contact my local provider, ask questions, and get onsite installation was a big bonus. I’m still just a beginner in the vinyl world, but having the support and getting a crash course in the application helped me deliver several Stoli-branded kayaks to a client (Figures C, D).

 

Figure C

 

FigureD

The more familiar I am with my equipment and its capabilities, the more confidence I have for producing a wider range of products and services. I have learned there is no way one person can know it all. If you want to fill a niche, lean on the skills and knowledge of your dealers, suppliers, and vendors to find solutions.

Networking

An oldy but a goody. Networking doesn’t always have to be a chamber mixer or referral group meeting. Get to know your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and clients. Ask questions. The simple skill of listening and being approachable can lead you places. I learned through hosting a neighborhood Christmas party that one of my neighbors was a skilled metal fabricator. He put me in touch with a welding shop he works with. One of their niches is custom fire pits that they had templated for easy construction. This business helped me create some custom fire pits for one of my clients (Figure E). Through mostly word of mouth, this led to other custom fire pit orders coming in from other clients as well.

 

Figure E

I didn’t know custom wheel hardware décor was even a thing. But getting to know a former co-worker and his hobbies led to an opportunity to get some bling on a ’37 Ford (Figures F, G). In my experience, car collectors love to talk about their cars. John, my former co-worker and hot-rod owner, is by nature a good conversationalist. This project will likely give me the best word-of-mouth advertising I could ever hope for. Are custom wheel hubs a niche? Yes!

 

Figure F

 

Figure G

Traditional networking works, too. It doesn’t hurt to look into becoming a Chamber of Commerce member or a part of a referral group as well. Either way, meeting people and building relationships are the foundation to networking.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

I don’t know why good ideas come when the easiest ideas are not available, but that happens frequently with me.

As a board member of a local poetry and music festival, I am often tasked with design and merchandise. Our yearly festival is growing larger, so we decided to create a more professional-looking stage for the music talent this year. Some sort of printed step and repeat logo on a banner material was the go-to idea. I had resources to fall back on for that. But an 8-ft-by-24-ft banner needed more lead time than what we had. Again, going back to understanding my equipment’s abilities and some creative thinking led to a more DIY project. A local fabric store offered part of the solution—a bolt of muslin, 9 ft by 24 ft. Next, I used my laser to create some stencils from the club’s logo using some 12-by-18 chipboard pads I had left over from another project (Figure H). A little spray-painting and some measuring was all that was needed to produce the final product for this event (Figure I). We also saved hundreds of dollars going the DIY route. This helped to fund the rest of the merch (which I was happy to create).

 

Figure H

 

Figure I

The benefit for a business in having a niche is that customers will seek you out rather than shop online or visit the business down the road. Is my business heading for a niche? Hopefully it is. My advice to you, the reader: If you would like to be known for supplying a unique product or service for a distinct market, have the confidence and the ability to say “yes” to an odd idea or two.

Shon Roti is the owner of 9th Street Designs, a sublimation & graphic design consulting & promotional products business. A graphic designer, Shon has spent more than two decades working as a production artist and instructor in the awards and promotional products industry. In 2014, ARA named him Speaker of the Year. You can find him at www.9thsd.com or contact him at shon@sublimationconsultant.com.

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