Develop Your 'Niche Within a Niche'

These days, we hear so much about the concepts of "niche marketing" and "target selling." However, we rarely hear about something equally important the need to choose a niche that matches our sales and design skills.'

At our company, we've always thought of ourselves as niche marketers. One of our niches is selling kitchens, and over the years, the niche of "kitchen" has evolved into several other niches, as well. Both by our actions and our reactions to a changing market, we now find new niches within the kitchen industry which require rather specific skills and attitudes to achieve maximum success.

Some 33 years ago when I entered this industry, I'd be working on an apartment project where cost was significantly important one moment, then I'd be fielding a call from a developer who was marketing track housing, or sitting with a consumer who was remodeling and had high expectations for design and craftsmanship. During that era, it was possible to be a "jack of all trades" this way.'

Today, though, things are different. I don't feel a salesperson/ designer can be expected to move from one niche to the other and do it successfully. At the very least, it takes away your edge and keeps you from being the best you can be.

I believe that developing niches within the industry requires different products, different selling skills, different design skills, different knowledge skills and different people skills. It isn't that one niche is better than another, or even that one requires a higher level of professionalism. Rather, it's that the fastest way to success is finding the niche you function best in.

A business which is successful today will usually focus on one aspect of the market. In some cases, if a business is large enough, it will focus on several areas, but in that case, the sales organization will generally be broken down into segments to focus on specific market areas. This is where I see the need to match skills toward a more specialized market because these different segments each have different skill and knowledge requirements within the industry.'

Today's salesperson/designer cannot be everything to everyone, but you can equip yourself to be everything to a given market segment. Following are several general categories of common niches.'

Four niches

  • Niche 1 Apartment Selling: Primarily about satisfying the needs of potential renters, this niche requires a lot of work in planning rooms, and involves doing a lot of take-off plans. This is often a bidding process where competitive pricing is of major importance. There is limited need for extensive design skills here, but strong personal relationship skills are needed to interface with general contractors, architects and project managers. There is usually no contact with consumers, and compensation is generally comes from high volume with lower gross margins.
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  • Niche 2 Track Residential: Addressing the needs and wants of potential home buyers requires working with present floor plans and creating the best possible design within their limits. The developer is in competition with other developers, and your design skills become a valuable part of your selling skills in that you must showcase how you can make the developer's homes more attractive to the consumer. Little or no contract with the consumer is involved here, since consumers will view the completed model homes and work within the selection offered by the builder. Although this market niche is very price-competitive, the value of quality products, creative designing and a consistently high level of service are also significant factors.
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  • 'Niche 3 Individual Residential New Construction: This niche involves not only addressing the needs and wants of consumers, it also involves the process of building desires and expectations. You will interface with the consumer almost 100 percent of the time, and will also work closely with the builder, as well as with the home designer and the interior designer. This demands a depth of industry knowledge, including up-to-date product, trend and design information. You must also be a great communicator, since you'll be dealing with a wide range of people. The rewards can be great here if the job is done well. However, errors and poor communication can quickly gobble up expected profits and earnings.'
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  • Niche 4 Residential Remodel: This is much the same as individual residential/new construction. The major difference is that you must ensure that the existing property is properly transformed into the expected finished project. This requires the additional skills of creatively blending the new with the old. You must also be able to visualize any trouble before it exists. You'll need solid knowledge of all the elements of construction and reconstruction to do well in this niche. If done well, residential remodeling may be the most rewarding of the kitchen industry niches. However, it also is the most challenging and demanding.'

Take a few moments and review what category you're best prepared to be a specialist in. I expect you'll find you've already ended up specializing in one of these niches, either by design or by accident. I believe in reviewing what you're doing today, even if you're already successful, you'll find there are some skills you need to further develop to be at the top of your chosen industry niche.'

Likewise, you may want to redefine or change niches, or narrow your focus to a very specific part of the industry. For example, your market may support opportunities in the exclusive very high end of the market. It could be that you've found yourself in the very high-end remodel arena, but you're struggling to be successful, and might do better in a different area. It's not unusual for a kitchen and bath dealer or salesperson to be caught in a position where the skills don't best match the "niche within the niche." The challenge you face is to equip yourself with the skills needed to best match where you want to be.

What does all this niche business have to do with closing the sale? Everything. Until you either match or develop your skills to find the best niche "fit," you're likely to struggle along, barely getting by. However, when you equip yourself correctly and find the right chemistry between your skills and the market niche that best suits them, you'll move from being a survivor to a thriver.

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