By Jeff Sheets
We live in a competitive world with many people in any given profession doing essentially the same thing. In the OPE business, you have different colors of equipment which identify different vendors, but the equipment that each manufacturer creates does essentially the same thing. The question is: Why would someone choose your business over every other business that sells or services the same equipment? The answer is: Finding your “niche” in the marketplace. A good definition of a niche in business is: “A small but profitable segment of a market suitable for attention for a given business.” That definition is a very broad one that can be applied in hundreds of different ways, but it is very important for any business to stand out in some way from all of the competition. Finding your niche could be the one thing that makes your business so much more successful than others and allows you to continue to survive and thrive while others fail. I italicized the word “profitable” in the definition of “niche” because that is a key factor in considering it as beneficial for your business. If it is not “profitable,” then you need to look for a new strategy to find a niche that is profitable. Here are four questions that you need to ask yourself to help you discover your niche.
#1 What is it that I see as the greatest accomplishment in my business?
Generally, if you are excited about a certain part of your business, it probably highlights a successful area that you have already identified as your “niche” but haven’t really noted it as such. For example, you might have been an owner of a landscaping business before becoming the owner of an OPE dealership (a very common story) and know how hard that business is. You may have a number of commercial customers just because of that expertise. It may have developed organically, but you know it is where you have been able to help others in a tremendous way. This is a niche, and you should be thinking about how you can reach more commercial customers who need your help. You may need to construct your business so that these customers can drop their equipment off easier and train your technicians to be more responsive as well. Other dealers may not even be interested in this business, but you have found a way to make it profitable and it falls into your area of expertise easily. If this has already happened, then make sure that you’re finding ways to reinforce what you’re doing. Sell add-on items that commercial landscapers are in need of and keep finding new ways to serve these customers. Make this part of your business even stronger, so that you can take a “niche” and possibly turn it into a foundational part of the business.
#2 Who values my services, and what are they?
Sometimes, you have to look at your customers and see who keeps coming back time and time again (because they want to come back). Sometimes, you don’t even realize you have a “niche” until you take a step back and look at it. Let’s say that you have a very efficient service department that always gets equipment repaired and back to customers faster than any of your competitors. You don’t realize it until customers tell you how much they appreciate your service department, you review your numbers, and see that your number of repairs has increased dramatically. This is definitely a niche that you can develop and continue to grow because having a service department that customers desire to come back to can be an incredible advantage in the OPE business. Whatever it is that customers tell you that you do well and if it happens to be profitable, then keep focusing on making it even better. Once discovered, a niche like this should again be nurtured and marketed to increase your success even more.
#3 Do customers ask me if I provide a product or service that I currently don’t offer?
There are underserved markets out there in your community where there really are few alternatives. If that is the case, then you need to make sure that you’re evaluating this when people ask about your products and services. Obviously, it would help if the product or service would somehow relate to the OPE business in some way or allow you to use your facility in a better way. It also should not distract you significantly from what you currently do. A good example of this might be renting equipment that you already sell to your customers. Renting a chain saw or a mower, along with other outdoor power equipment, can be very profitable and bring in customers who may have never thought of coming to your business. You would need to really analyze that market and make sure that there is a “profitable” business opportunity before jumping in. But if the need is great and the market is underserved, then it gives you an opportunity to expand your business or tweak it, so you can reach the underserved market. If your customers are asking you to do something, make sure that you listen to them and think about the opportunity; don’t just dismiss it without giving it any thought. Sometimes, a hidden niche is right there to be grabbed, and you just have to listen.
#4 What do I not like to do?
Sometimes, as an entrepreneur, this is the most important question you can ask yourself. You can get yourself going in directions that you have no interest in going just because you sense an opportunity. You need to always be asking yourself, “Is this worth my time and effort?” If the answer is “no,” then you need to stop being involved in, or get out of, whatever it is. When developing a “niche,” it should be something that if it grew, you would want it to be an integral part of the business. If you are working at a specific part of the business and do not really know why, then you should question why you are doing it. No passion equals limited or no success when looking at developing a niche. I have been in dealerships where I could easily tell that the owners had gotten into a product they regretted because it was located at the back of the store in the deadest area possible. When I asked them how they got into that specific area, they said the same thing: “I really don’t know why I did it, but it was a mistake!” Make sure that you ask yourself this important question before pursuing any niche opportunities.
Your goal as a business is to be as attractive as you possibly can be and separate yourself from the crowd. Sports Agent Leigh Steinberg once said, “Very narrow areas of expertise can be very productive. Develop your own profile. Develop your own niche.” Your niche can be as small as your local market area or as big as the largest market possible, especially with the Internet capabilities these days. But no matter how big the market, you need to be consciously thinking how you can find your own niche. I think back to the 1970s when Wal-Mart came on the scene. K-Mart owned the discount market and probably never thought Wal-Mart could develop a niche by going into small towns, but it did. Sam Walton said it well when he stated, “If everybody is doing it one way, there is a good chance you can find your niche by going exactly in the opposite direction.” Ask yourself the four questions that I have discussed in this article, and see if you can find your own niche. Your business will thank you for it.
Jeff Sheets is the founder and owner of OPE Consulting Services. Whether a business is thriving or struggling to survive, Sheets’ rich experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors allows him to partner with business owners to customize unique strategies for their needs. For the past nine years, he has worked extensively with hundreds of outdoor power equipment dealers to create best practices in business structure, personnel management and financial profitability. For more information, he may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (816) 260-5430. You can also follow him on Twitter @opeconsult, connect with him on LinkedIn, and visit his website at www.opeconsultingservices.com.