Two paint cans with small woman figurine holding sign no niche is too small if it's your niche

Why niche products sell: the riches are in the niches

Product & Innovation
By Holly Tucker


What are niche products? They are very specialist products within a certain category, that stand out for being different and are often highly sought after by those who love them. They're my absolute passion. Let me share why…

Selection of mean mail cards in pastel colours

What are the benefits of niche products?

“Ooh, that’s a bit niche”. When someone says that, it’s sometimes used as a bit of a put down but is it? I want to say, “Yes it’s niche and how bloody brilliant is that?!” Niche is interesting. Niche is big business. And you know what else? Niche sells.

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 a comment that the riches are in the niches on an episode of SME: SOS — and it stuck with me because it’s right.

What is an example of a niche product?

Just ask Guinness. Imagine pitching the drink 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.”

What is the meaning of ‘finding your 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.

How do you find your perfect niche?

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.

I want to say, “Yes it’s niche and how bloody brilliant is that?!” Niche is interesting. Niche is big business. And you know what else? Niche sells.

What does niche mean?

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.

Niche small businesses: some inspiration on their niche products

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 paint, 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 a hundred 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.

Jodie Cartman sitting wearing decorative headpiece
Yorkshire Ghost Merchant

From Willard Wigan MBE to the York Ghost Merchant: why it’s good to be unique

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.

Do what you love and others will follow

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 unexpected one? As founder of Howies, The Do Lectures and Hiut Denim, David Hieatt (who also appeared on Conversations of Inspiration) said, “How do you get people to love your business? You have to love it the most first.” Embrace it and others will, too.

With niche products, 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.

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.

A niche business example

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?”.

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.

Why niche products sell: key takeaways…

Here are three main points to remember.

1. Gain confidence from niche brands like Guinness:

They had a drink they loved that was unlike any other and they sold millions. Remember, niche products sell.

2. Find your niche by rediscovering your golden thread:

What is the most ‘you’ thing out there? What are you most passionate about above all else? What do you really wish existed? Start to build ideas around that.

3. Never forget that it pays to be niche:

So throw yourself into it 100%. Find your one specific area, zoom in and explore every part of it. You’ll soon create unique products that tap into a niche that others truly love.

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