Niches Without Glitches

Establishing a niche is one way to differentiate a retail operation from its competitors, but developing one isn’t easy.

In Riches in Niches: How to Make It Big in a Small Market, author Susan Friedmann lays out a blueprint for small-business owners and managers that can help them become nichepreneurs. Friedmann, who has more than 20 years of experience in public relations, marketing, and consulting, works with companies, organizations, and conference organizers to maximize their trade show experience. She’s considered such an expert in the field that she’s widely hailed as The Trade Show Coach.

In an exclusive interview with JCK, Friedmann discussed how jewelers can become nichepreneurs and explained some of the advantages and challenges facing small businesses trying to develop a niche.

Why should jewelers and other small-business owners become nichepreneurs?

Nichepreneurs have fewer competitors because they are operating in a much narrower market. They can operate more efficiently because they don’t have to be all things to all people. They are more profitable because they can charge a premium for their expertise, and they have increased visibility because they have created a unique identity that helps differentiate them from their competitors.

How can jewelers become nichepreneurs?

You need to be known for something, to specialize in something. For example, you may have the best engagement ring selection in your market or the best selection of upscale watches, or you may be the colored-stone expert or the best in the business in terms of staff training. You need something you can hang your business on and become an expert in; otherwise one jewelry store really looks like another. Take a look at your market, at your expertise and passion, and find a niche where you can become the go-to expert. When you become that go-to person, your credibility can spread far beyond your market.

How do you establish a niche if you’re operating in a traditional, conservative market or in a family business that has done things the same way for generations?

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the same results you’ve always gotten and never take your business to the next level. Today, people want specialization and are willing to pay more for it. Look at what you’re experienced in; maybe you have an affinity for a certain product category that gets you very excited to sell. Once you find something you really like, look to expand your expertise in this area. This is what will differentiate you.

In your book, you talk about the need to do research when developing a niche. Please expand on this concept.

To position yourself as the expert in a particular niche, you need to stay on top of the latest developments in that niche. Also, you need to take a look at the market, at the customer demographic you’re trying to reach, and tailor your approach to them. For instance, if you’re going after the Generation X customer, you need to know where they go, what they buy, what they read, how much they spend, what they are influenced by, etc. Then you need to go there with your long-term strategy.

What are some common mistakes businesses make when they try to develop a niche?

They haven’t really dedicated themselves to it. You really have to work at it and be willing to take a risk and devote yourself to carving out that niche. You also have to be very clear about the niche you want to establish, and you have to constantly look for ways to reinforce your expertise and association with that niche. Nike is brilliant at this. They have become an expert in each and every sport, and they supply you with all the accessories you’ll need for a particular sport. They have niched themselves into specific sports. Victoria’s Secret is another good example. They took women’s sexy underwear and made it acceptable.

Won’t you lose some business by focusing solely on a particular niche?

Gearing your business toward a particular niche actually makes you more efficient and more profitable, because you aren’t wasting time on things outside your niche, and customers will pay more for the right expertise. Also, developing a niche doesn’t mean you have to stop selling other products and services. You get them in the door with the niche item, and you have a much better chance of selling them other things.

SUSAN FRIEDMANN

Title:
Riches in Niches: How to Make It Big in a Small Market

Publisher: Career Press

Publication date: May 2007