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Articles by Jim Heaphy
for Kitchen & Bath Design News

Niche Marketing For Small Fabricators - March 2004

Every business must struggle to differentiate itself from its competitors in order to make a positive impression on potential customers and make the sale. Niche marketing is a powerful technique that small businesses can use to carve out a market segment in which they can excel and succeed.

Defining your niche is a process that begins with a frank assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your business in comparison to your competitors, and also an analysis of the broad customer base. Once you have identified a potential niche, research it more intensively. Do any competitors now target that specific market? Are their efforts effective? Is the base of potential customers growing? Are there enough of them to be profitable?

Your goal is to focus on a narrowly defined group of customers that your bigger or older competitors don't really want to bother with. Then, you have to focus on their specific wants and needs when you communicate with them, and craft your message so as to convey a compelling reason to do business with you.

Finding Focus
Often, the most difficult part of niche marketing is the nagging fear that you are losing sales by over-specializing. It is important to realize that you cannot be everything to all potential customers. And, as a small business, you have a limited amount of money to spend on advertising and marketing. It is far better to spend those dollars delivering a well-thought-out message to a focused audience than to take a generalized, scattershot approach. When you have defined your niche and decided to pursue it, you have to learn not to worry about lost customers outside of your niche.

Let's assume that you have decided to target the "face-lift" remodel market those customers looking simply to replace an old or worn countertop, for instance. It would be a mistake to advertise in a fast-growing suburb consisting of homes that are less than 10 years old. It would be wiser to advertise in an older, genteel neighborhood with homes built 40 to 50 years ago. It would be a mistake to get involved as an associate member of the local association of homebuilders. Instead, consider participating in a remodeling fair.

Convey a consistent message in your advertising and your sales literature. In this example, you would be sure to use "before" and "after" photos that show your countertops installed on attractive but unchanged cabinets. After all, it is the countertops that you are selling, not the cabinets.

Talk to your customers about their needs, and what motivates them to decide to do business with a company. Emphasize the things that matter most to customers in your niche group. Successful niche marketers offer exceptional product depth in their defined niche area.

Commit to improving your quality and your service, and communicate that commitment and your achievements to your potential customers. Your ads, brochures and Web site content must be written in an engaging, relevant style that communicates a consistent message. People don't respond well to generalized marketing talk. They respond when you speak directly to their individual needs.

Study your competitors, read their ads and their brochures, and visit their Web sites. Have they defined their own niche market, either explicitly or implicitly? Don't try to copy them, but emulate their successes. Chat with mutual suppliers about your competitors and the state of the local market. Read every available publication that deals with remodeling in your community, and as many of the national publications as you have time for. Can you discover an undiscovered niche in your local area that is now unfilled? Can you fill it and succeed?

Customer KudosOne of the most powerful tools in niche marketing is the endorsement of a satisfied customer in the niche group. You may receive a few unsolicited endorsements in the form of letters of thanks. You will multiply that number many times by asking gently for a written comment on your performance.

The best time is upon completion of a job. Inspect the final installation along with your customer, and present the customer with a simple form to sign, confirming that the project has been completed to his or her satisfaction. Underneath the signature line, provide a space for optional comments about your workmanship and service, and mention that when you ask for their signature. Soon, you will have many favorable comments on file. When selecting which comments to use, look for those that speak to the specific characteristics of your marketing niche, and quote those often in your marketing materials.

Another effective tool is marketing to your past customer base. Unless you have recently made a drastic change in your marketing approach, past customers are the core of your niche. Mail a brochure on vanity tops to all of your past kitchen countertop customers. Or, mail a brochure describing the benefits of a simple "face lift" kitchen remodel to customers who've purchased vanity tops or wet wall installations from you. Enclose a discount coupon and encourage your past customers to pass it along to an interested friend or relative. Your past customers are the most likely to know other people who fit the characteristics of your defined niche.

Seek out and develop friendly relationships with companies that offer related products and services to your niche market. Real estate agents often advise people thinking of selling a home to upgrade a shabby kitchen. Let the local agents know that you do that sort of work.

Cabinet shops often get calls from people wanting countertops. You may often get questions about cabinetmakers. Agree to refer to them in exchange for referrals to you.

The niche marketing concept may seem like a clich'. However, a niche is not a rut. The marketing plan must be constantly reevaluated and modified to adapt to changing market conditions. This concept is an effective tool that, when carried out properly, enables small businesses to thrive among much larger and better-financed competitors.
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