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.