Creating a niche is knowing your value

Understanding what your customers want is the secret behind offering the service that keeps them coming back, writes Leslie Kossoff.

Leslie L Kossoff on creating a niche - image: HW
Leslie L Kossoff on creating a niche - image: HW

Whether your garden centre is the size and scope of Dobbies or you're a one-site operation, you have to create a niche for yourself. Something for which you're known. Trusted. Counted on.

Some of it comes from your product offering and prices, but, just as much - and in this oh-so-global economy, often more so - it comes from the service you provide to your customers. The way you make them feel and the reasons you give them to come back.

So let's take a look at it from both sides - product/pricing and service - to see what you can do to solidify your position in the niche you establish for yourself.

Finding your niche

If you look up 'niche' in a dictionary, you'll find that one of the definitions is, "a position or role that suits you". That's the one you want to work with.

It's not about establishing a "market niche." That comes second. First, you have to figure out what position or role your centre fulfils. That way, you will have already identified an audience of people who want what you have to offer. Then, as long as you make it easy to find you and use your services, you'll have the customer base you need - online and on-site.

It can't be that easy

No. It's not. But it can be made easier by asking some very simple initial questions to identify the niche which works best for you. Here they are - with the usual annotations:

- Why do you get repeat customers? What are the trends and themes in what they're buying? In effect, you are quantifying who likes you and why.

- What brings in your new customers? What have they heard about you that led them to visit? Don't think in terms of immediately following advertising campaigns or in the run-up to holidays. You want a much broader view so that you can build and grow year-round success.

- When your salespeople are interacting with customers, what are the most typical questions, comments, issues and problems that are raised? On this one, you want to find out as much about what you're not offering as what you are - and that's good.

- Of your offerings, which products or types of products sell the least? Again, don't think holidays here. You're looking for year-round trends.

- In looking at the other retailers of all kinds in your area, with which are you competing for foot traffic? Don't limit your thinking only to other garden retail centres. If you offer gifts or cut flowers, the customers could just as easily be going to another small business or supermarket in the area for the same things.

- What's the demographic of your area and your customer base? These are two different numbers, in most cases. Chances are there is a much bigger younger demographic out there that you're not yet getting in your doors.

- What, geographically, are the hot topics for your area? These are driven by the urban/rural divide, age groups and cultural backgrounds of the area in which you're located. Think in broad strokes - from sustainability to education to politics to the NHS.

If you don't have the answers then start doing your homework and gathering these data - both quantitative and qualitative - and plan on continuing to collect.

Because, if you haven't figured it out yet, this is how you identify what your customers have defined as your niche - whether it's the one you thought you had or not.

Products and pricing

The product/pricing equation should become much simpler when you focus only on what you know, what sells and what your customers want.

Think about it. There's nothing wrong with becoming the go-to locale for a specific type of product.

If your people are the most knowledgeable and you offer the best brands of that product and you are known as the answer to all questions for that particular specialty area, you can charge a heck of a lot more than your customers would pay elsewhere. They'll come and they'll keep coming.

Focus on service

When all is said and done, it's not about products and pricing. It's about the shopping experience.

Nothing in your centre's product offerings is sacrosanct. It can't be.

But the quality of service you offer has to be inviolate because that's how you create your niche in your customers' minds.

When you demonstrate - in every transaction online and on-site - that yours is the organisation that can be trusted, your customers will place an ever-higher value on what you have to offer. That's why they'll pay what you charge.

You can't compete on price. You don't have the economies of scale.

But you can create a niche that truly suits you - by suiting your customers to a tee.

CREATING A NICHE - HOW TO DO IT

1. Think about what you want to be known and trusted for.

2. Think about what your customers like about you.

3. Think about your demographic and competition.

4. What sells? Is pricing or range the most important factor?

5. Service is the most important factor.

6. Make sure you do everything to suit your customers.


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