Identifying a gap or niche and taking advantage of it

Kelly Sharp is the owner of the Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction.

In life and business, it's always so much easier to see what's there when we should also be looking for what's not there.

That's because the "what's not there" can make as big a difference for all of us, particularly specialty retailers, as the "what's there." It's important to know that I'm not saying niche retailers should start offering new products or services just for the sake of doing something new or different.

Just the opposite.

Filling gaps has the vital purpose of meeting your customers' needs so they don't go somewhere else. It's about making sure you don't give potential competitors a foothold into your specialty. Identifying new niches is all about complementing your existing experience as much as or more than it is about expanding it.

For example, I've recently started adding my own branded product lines at the Heart of Iowa Market Place because some items I wanted to carry just weren't available. What better opportunity to brand your business than to consider the same approach? (In fact, don't just consider it. If it makes dollars and sense, do it!)

In my case, we'd offered a book with images of Iowa that sold very well, but there were no other books in the price range or style my customers wanted. Instead of losing out on sales, I decided to do something about it. I found a wonderful local photographer, Justin Rogers, and together we've created a beautiful new book that will come out shortly.  

As I look at my store and other new business opportunities, I try to find that niche or gap in the marketplace. It's much, much easier to be successful if the pool of competitors is smaller and you're filling a real market need.

Always ask yourself, "What are we missing? What are we not seeing that we should be seeing? What are we not doing that fits with who we are? And, what can we be doing to improve the customer experience, build our brand and make us more profitable?"

Asking those questions on a regular basis will not only help you identify dangerous gaps and promising new niches, it will help you take advantage of them in a big way.

Event day survival kit




Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

So your big event day is looming on the horizon. The sense of excitement and suspense overwhelm you. All of your hard work is reaching a culmination! What’s going to happen? Will people like it? What if it’s a total flop?! Never fear, if you are prepared and organized, your day will be a success! To ease some of those "day of" jitters, make sure your “Event Survival Kit” is packed the night before. Here are a few items to take with you come event day that will ensure the event runs smoothly.

TOOL BOX: Every good event planner has a bag of tricks that lives in the back of their car and is present at every event. These boxes might include: tape (of all kinds), scissors, votives, lighter, Tide stick, walkie-talkies, Sharpies, string/twine/fishing line, batteries, checkbook, safety pins, glue, tape measure, zip ties, phone charger … and the list goes on. This is always a box-in-progress where different items make their way in and out, depending on the event type and scope. The key to success when packing your box is to choose versatile and functional pieces that can jump in when something logistical goes awry. 

VENDOR DETAIL & CONTACT LIST: You should always keep an organized list of all event vendors. This list should include the company name, what they are doing for the event, contact person’s name and phone number, and when they will be on and off venue site. Make several copies of this list and distribute it to all those involved with the event planning and management. If possible, a pre-event meeting with all of your major event vendors should be held to ensure everyone is on the same page. The clearer the lines of communications between all parties, the smoother the event will run.

DETAILED TIMELINE & SCHEDULE KEEPER: Your event should always have a schedule (broken out by minute) that details the sequence of events. Your schedule will start with the setup of the event and will end with the breakdown. The success of this tool rests largely on the diligence of the person who keeps it. Always have a designated event scheduler, who intimately understands and adheres to said schedule. This document should also be distributed to the entire event planning and management team.

What are some of your Event Survival Tools? The folks at Blink Events would love to know!


Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at

Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website  

'Your Business Is Important to Us' (NOT)

MLBshop CaptureTom Vander Well, executive vice president of c wenger group, is a recognized customer service authority in the contact center industry.

A month or so ago I ordered a clearance item from I have ordered things from the site in the past, though it had been a while. While checking out I entered my credit card number and billing address. I did not realize, however, that the shipping address on file was an old address. I honestly forgot about the order until a few weeks later when my package hadn't arrived. Tracking the item from the website I discovered that it had been rejected by the local post office for being a bad address and returned to the shipper.

Trying to find a phone number to call Customer Service was a veritable clicking adventure. I eventually tried chat, but after waiting far too long for a human being to answer the chat, I gave up and continued my clicking adventure until I found the customer service number. After some time in queue, I spoke to a pleasant young lady.

I've spent a quarter century in Customer Service, and I know that my problem was fairly simple. I hadn't updated the shipping address on my account. I simply asked for my address to be updated and the order resent. I was assured that it had been done and that I would receive an order confirmation in 1-2 days for the replacement order. I was also given $10 provisional credit for my trouble. Awesome. Just send me my order, please.

After 3-4 days I hadn't received anything. Customer Service was closed when I wanted to deal with it, so I decided to email through's customer service portal. My inquiry was very simple, but the portal wanted to continually send me back to Frequently Asked Questions to try to self-serve rather than actually send an email. I spent some time running the gantlet they required and fired off the email.

I received a response a few days later confirming the correct shipping address and saying that the order would be placed and I'd get a confirmation. Again. This time I did get the order confirmation and an expected delivery date.

The delivery date came and went, so I checked the tracking number. Once again, it had been rejected by the post office as an invalid address and sent back to 

When I finally called and got a hold of a CSR, I explained that I was really frustrated and told my entire sordid story. The young man on the phone patiently investigated the situation, placing me on multiple holds. He finally confirmed with me that the replacement order had been sent to my old address despite being told (twice) it was being sent to my correct address. He asked if I wanted a refund.

"No!" I said. Why would I descend through the seven rings of customer service hell you've put me through just to get a refund? I just wanted the item, I explained to him.

The young man said, "Oh you're in luck! There's ONE left. Let me add this to your cart (insert 15 second pause). Oh shoot. We missed it. The item is no longer available." At that point I questioned whether he was telling the truth, or was lying the whole time knowing that the item was no longer available. Don't know which is more painful.

"What about the one that was sent to me, rejected by the Post Office, and is being sent back to you?" I asked. 

"Well," he said. "I don't know. It may go back into stock, but maybe not. You'll just have to keep checking the website to see if it shows up there again."

Really? You can't flag that return with the carrier or the returns department to be re-shipped to me? Guess not.

To recap ...

I made one simple mistake in ordering: I forgot to change my ship-to address.

I put forth every (frustrating) effort to try and rectify the situation:

I tracked and self-served.
I tried to find the phone number.
I tried to chat.
I called once.
I emailed once.
I emailed a second time.
I tracked and self-served.
I called a second time. dropped the ball several times:

They said they had updated my ship-to address (they hadn't).
They said they would re-ship the order (they didn't).
They confirmed that they had my ship-to address correct (they didn't).
They said they finally re-shipped it to my new address (they didn't). did give me a total of $20 in provisional credit, which I didn't consider worth my effort, frustration and ultimate disappointment.

In all of the communication with me they repeated a standard phrase: "Your business is very important to us." I've learned in my years measuring customer satisfaction and service quality that mission statements, value statements and catchphrases are easy to copy and paste. What's difficult is delivering on the promise. Our customer satisfaction research regularly reveals some common key drivers of customer satisfaction: 

  • One contact resolution ( failed).
  • Ease in finding the phone number ( failed).
  • Correctness of answer ( failed).
  • Timeliness of follow-up ( succeeded with auto-replies, but failed in addressing the real issue).
  • Courtesy and friendliness ( had courteous CSRs who repeatedly failed me as a customer).

     (Note: Key drivers of customer satisfaction are variable depending on customer population.)

My experience as a customer of is that if things go right (which I'm sure they do most of the time), then you'll have a decent, if unremarkable experience. If things go wrong, then there are systemic problems with's service delivery system that may make communication and resolution frustrating. They may say my business is important to them, but not important enough to invest in the things that would truly satisfy me as a customer.

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