MSQC Series: 1. Growing a Niche
The Riches are in the Niches
Almost everyone in business starts out with the idea that every potential client should be won and every effort bent to satisfying their needs. After all, isn’t that what they pay for? If I can do it, I should do it. Right?
That’s what I call the “anything for a buck” phase of business startup. Every business seems to go through that period. One of the signs of growing business maturity is the realization that you simply cannot do anything anyone asks you to do, regardless of the money offered.
Mike Michalowicz has written a book on this topic called the Pumpkin Plan. In the book he asks the question, “How do pumpkin farmers grow those huge, 900 pound pumpkins?” Then he proceeds to answer it.
Seems that most successful pumpkin farmers follow a plan. They plant only the best seeds known to grow large pumpkins. Then they carefully study the vines that grow and identify the individual pumpkins that develop. As the development continues, they remove pumpkins that don’t have what it takes to become great. And then they concentrate every effort to support and benefit those remaining super-pumpkins.
In business, those super-pumpkins represent our very best customers. You know, the ones who we like to work with and who like to work with us. These are the customers who “get” what we are trying to do, and appreciate our efforts to do it. And for us, these are the customers that we want to bend over backward to please.
And that is the very definition of a niche. We specialize in doing or making or selling something that our best clients want and thereby grow our business around our best clients. We aren’t looking for everyone with money in their hand. We are looking for more clients just like our best clients. And they want to tell the people they know about us just because we make them so happy.
Seemingly, the more specialized the niche, the better it is. There are many, many niches is just about any category of business you’d care to work in. Consider: realtors, realtors who deal only in commercial property, realtors who deal only in commercial property in communities less than half a million, realtors who deal only in commercial property in communities less than half a million on the west coast. And in this collection of niches, you would find people willing to pay you for your specialized knowledge and service if you were an accountant, an attorney, a sign maker, a carpet cleaner, a parking lot paver, a remodeling contractor, an architect, an electrician. You see, now you have niches of niches.
And that is the magic of the success of the Missouri Star Quilt Company (MSQC). As I mentioned last week, they are the gold standard for quilters in all areas: quality, availability, training, customer service, efficiency. In every category I can think of, they are an example of success.
Jenny Doan took up quilting as a hobby when her husband’s forced retirement left her with time on her hands. She enjoyed finding ways to do things easier and better, so she started doing YouTube videos to share this knowledge. Some of her early work is not as polished as her latest work, but it caught the attention of other quilters who wanted new and better ways to practice their hobby, even their profession.
It was this core of fans who liked Jenny’s instruction that became the core of the MSQC’s business. It was already an Internet community, so selling fabric and accessories online was a natural move. And packaging bundles of pre-cut squares to make quilting easier and less time consuming was the hook that got customers to buy from MSQC instead of their local fabric store.
Moreover, the company continues to develop and change their business to satisfy the needs and wants of their customers. They ask what people want. They keep track of what people buy. They respond to this information by making changes. So they get more customers. But, they are not going to become a general store. Their responses all develop from the needs of the quilter community.
No, MSQC is not Amazon.com. But it is not intended to be. And your business is not intended to be either. It takes huge investment and massive advertising to create Amazon. It only takes word of mouth shared among a group of like-minded individuals operating in a specific category to create your super-pumpkin.
So, how do you create your niche? We can do a whole series on just this topic. But for today, just let me share a simple way to get started.
Write a list of all your customers. Identify the five or six best based on cooperativeness, compatibility, implementation, feedback and don’t forget revenue. You are looking for the people who you wish you had more customers like.
Now call all five of them and simply ask two questions. First, “What is it about my industry that drives you crazy?” And, second, “What would you like to see more of from my industry?” Pay attention to their answers, because they will tell you how to create a niche of raving fans just for your business.
Make sure you are not doing what they say drives them crazy about your industry. That’s why you don’t ask specifically about your business, but about your industry. They’ll respond to the more generic question. Don’t tell them what you are going to change, just do it.
Also, explore ways you can do the thing they want more of. The new things you can do make you different, and difference is what sells.
My challenge to you is to make those calls and share the results. Start growing your niche.