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The riches are in the niches

By Holly

“Ooh that’s a bit niche”. When someone says that to you, is it just me or does it sometimes take everything in you not to just turn around and say, “Well so is your face”?! 

Yes it’s niche and how bloody brilliant is that? Niche is interesting. Niche is big business. And you know what else? Niche sells. 

The name of this article was inspired by a lady called Babita from Wooden You Love¹; a small business selling handmade wooden gifts created using the art of Pyrography (which in itself, is a touch unusual). She made this comment on an episode of SME: SOS — the riches are in the niches — and it stuck with me because it’s right. 

Don’t believe me? Ask Guinness. Imagine pitching that to a buyer all those years ago. “Um, yes, we do only do one flavour and it’s a bit of an acquired taste to be fair and you have to wait at least two minutes to pour a proper one, but trust me, one day it’ll be one of the most successful alcohol brands worldwide, brewed in almost 50 countries, and blow me, if 10 million glasses aren’t enjoyed every single day around the world.”

Niche. Have you found yours yet?

At Holly & Co, we love small businesses. That’s our niche. We love everything about them. We could’ve loved everything about travel or about restaurants or frogs maybe, but we found our niche elsewhere. And it’s pretty easy to find yours too when you know where to look. It’s probably on the walls of your home or in what you choose to do every day. You probably dream about it from time to time. When you go out into the world, it’s the thing you’re  most curious about: the subject you are drawn to. The golden thread running through your life, that if you walked around the globe it would be trailing behind you everywhere you go. It’s the personification of your essence — and what drives you — and if you choose to set up a business around it, it soaks it up and brings it alive and then attracts anyone else who shares this passion like a mahoosive magnet. That’s your niche. 

Yes it’s niche and how bloody brilliant is that? Niche is interesting. Niche is big business. And you know what else? Niche sells. 

I have long adored this word actually. Did you know it means ‘nest’ in Latin? It makes sense when you think about it, as it’s the kind of specific business specification that serves a narrow yet unmet need for the customer and somehow makes them feel like they’ve come home. If you’re into something incredibly specialised and then find others who are into it too, it makes you excited and like you’re in exactly the right place all at once — and as a customer, that’s a pretty compelling offer. 

Inspiration from some niche small businesses

Look how well some of my favourite niche businesses have done. There’s Colour Makes People Happy²: a paint shop with a twist in that as well as that, they sell art, prints, cards and more, in the most creative way possible, in colours intended to buck the expected trends. Their manifesto says things like, “You’ll get more inspiration from a vegetable stall than a swatch book.” and “Regency colours won’t turn your suburban semi into Mansfield Park.” You see, niche is often associated with creativity and that’s what makes it popular.

Mean Mail³ creates beautiful cards with brutal words. They’re inspired by the way that true friends talk to each other. You’d think it might be difficult to rival the success of places such as Clintons and so on, by selling cards that say things like ‘Nobody cares about your Instagram’ or ‘Maybe it’s time for Botox’. Yet since launching in 2017, they’re now in over 100 stockists internationally from Liberty in London to Compendium Design Store in Australia. Founder Vicky Simmons says, “We’ve created cards for Nike London, Candy Kittens and Shisiedo and have been featured by the likes of The Sunday Times magazine, Stylist, Cosmopolitan and on BBC Radio 1Xtra.” Not bad for someone so… niche. Being different is the road to being dazzling.

Willard Wigan MBE became the creator of the world’s smallest micro-sculptures, some of which are now owned by the Queen and Brad Pitt — niche. Listen to his truly one-of-a-kind story on how and why he got started down this path on my Conversations of Inspiration. People love original ideas and businesses that are truly specialised. So stick to your guns as you might well find that others will soon join you, too. 

What you sell doesn’t even really need a purpose. You just have to love it so much that other people do. The York Ghost Merchant⁴ makes little ceramic sculptures. I absolutely fell in love with them and even now use them as Halloween place settings but truly, what are they for?! You’d think these might be pretty niche too, yet try getting into his shop at the weekend and you’ll have to queue for at least an hour. Gloriously, wonderfully, superbly niche. And the possibilities are endless. Think what their permission is within that area. They’ve got a shop but you could see them having a ghost museum and more on top. It’s permitted within their niche and people will support that, so the more you do the more they’ll love.

Fumbalina’s⁵ founder Jodie Cartman makes the most incredible headpieces and accessories (she made my wedding day one in fact). You can’t imagine many people would be brave enough to pull them off which is precisely why I love them — and this in itself is a good lesson. Never presume. Find out if there’s likely to be an audience for your product or service and just try it out. Will there be a market for it, even if it’s an expected one? As founder of Howies, The Do Lectures and Hiut Denim, David Hieatt said, “How do you get people to love your business? You have to love it the most first.” Embrace it and others will, too.

The trick is to focus on the focus

It’s important not to spread yourself too thin by trying to be all things to all people. This all comes back to the idea that there is a magical coordinate for your business and you’ve got to determine what that coordinate is and then just fucking own it. So once you’ve found what it is, it’s time to go nuts within that niche. It’s like putting your pin in the map. If I then use google to zoom in on it and then zoom and zoom some more, you notice how enormous that place where your pin actually is, is. You realise it’s actually hundreds of kilometres wide.

Think of Knoops⁶ hot chocolate (if you don’t know them, hear founder Jens’ incredible story on my podcast). He put a pin in the map and zoomed in and then saw he was able to open twelve shops and would have people writing articles about them asking, ‘Is hot chocolate the new coffee?’.

People love original ideas and businesses that are truly specialised. So stick to your guns as you might well find that others will soon join you, too.

Own it — because if you own it, you then become Mrs Embroidered Jacket Lady (Daisy from Denim and Bone⁷) or Mr Etched Glass Man (Andy from Vinegar & Brown Paper⁸). I always think that when you can start labelling someone in this way, that is 100% what they are, whatever it is, and they’ve then become known for their niche. And that’s when you find success. So if you’ve got an idea you want to try but are worried it’s too niche, do it, but go all the way. Because if you don’t somebody else will and as it’s now apparent, the riches are in the niches. Never forget that it pays to be niche.

Businesses mentioned that have nailed their niche: 

  1. Wooden You Love
  2. Colour Makes People Happy
  3. Mean Mail
  4. York Ghost Merchants
  5. Fumbalinas
  6. Knoops
  7. Denim and Bone
  8. Vinegar & Brown Paper

The golden thread throughout successful brands

In this special round-up episode, Dame Stephanie Shirley, Nadiya Hussein MBE, Bobbi Brown and more explain the commonalities behind their success.

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