If you feel like you hear the term ‘niche marketing’ a lot lately, you’re not alone. With the digital revolution giving pretty much anyone with a smartphone and a few bucks the ability to build a website and start selling products online, everyone is trying to find their own little corner of the universe to set up shop and start turning a tidy profit.
As much as we would all like to blanket the entire apparel market with our line of products, that’s not really possible – not even for Nike.
Understanding what a niche market is, why they are important, and how to go about finding and managing a few for your business are all keys to establishing long-term success as an apparel decorator.
What is a niche market?
A niche market is a subset of a larger market that focuses on a specific type of product and a specific audience. For instance, creating a new line of cell phones would be a very difficult industry to get into and gain any sort of market share when you’re competing against the likes of Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android).
But there are companies that create cell phones specifically for senior citizens who don’t want to be able to do anything other than make phone calls and text. They make these phones with overly large buttons that are easier for older people to see the numbers as well as manipulate with their hands. This is a niche market that has a very specific target customer base and is narrow enough to not have to worry about overt competition from the big, established players in the industry.
For a great example of a niche market in apparel, go to any souvenir shop in a beach town in the United States. In pretty much every nook and cranny inside you’ll find screen-printed T-shirts, embroidered hats, and other pieces of apparel with maps of the town, clever beach sayings, lots of ribald phrases concerning consumption of alcoholic beverages, and so on. These are shirts that appeal specifically to tourists visiting this town. They can’t get something like this back home and while it is probably available online, buying the shirt on vacation is part of the experience, as well as a reminder when you get back home of the fun you had there. They are the perfect apparel for the market created by the souvenir shop in the vacation destination.
Niche marketing vs. broad marketing
There’s nothing tougher to swallow than having a great product and realizing most people aren’t all that interested in it. When you’re in the early days of your business and have that first sure-fire hit that you want everyone in the world to wind up wearing, you’ll find that the truth hurts.
Trying to blast your product to every person imaginable tends to be a waste of time, money, and effort when you consider how many people are simply not looking for what you’re selling as well as those who are locked into brand loyalty with another company.
A big mistake a lot of apparel professionals make is not realizing the size of the market they are trying to sell to or what characteristics define the type of person they are trying to sell to – i.e. gender, age, income level.
A few niches are better than just one
Having one niche that you are the slam-dunk leader in is a great thing. But what happens to your business when that niche dries up for reasons beyond your control?
Let’s say you have a mutual friend who represents a local upcoming band. When they hit it big and take their first tour, you get the deal for their direct-to-garment world tour T-shirts and accessories. It’s a can’t-miss profit opportunity and you pour all of your funds and effort into making everything picture perfect. Then trouble hits and the tour is postponed, then canceled. You might sell a few shirts or hats to dedicated fans looking for collector’s items, but otherwise the well just dried up faster than you could blink.
The often fickle state of the apparel business is the leading reason why you need to find a few niches to drill down into, not just put all your proverbial eggs in one basket. Not only will you be in a hole financially, but you’ll also have to go back to the drawing board in terms of doing research to find a new niche to go after and start establishing contacts and mockups all over again. That’s the kind of nightmare situation where you might end up running out of money before you can find a new niche to settle into.
Dude, what’s my niche?
This is the $1 million question, isn’t it? If you’ve ever written an essay for school, you can think of finding a niche much like the ‘inverted pyramid’ method of writing. The broad base is at the top of the pyramid – that’s where the entire market exists.
From there, you need to start scraping away to make your view more and more narrow until you’ve hit upon the exact niche that you’re going to try and serve. A big factor in what your niche is should be producing an item that you like. If that’s using sublimation printing to make really cool patterned clothing for working moms, that’s awesome; if it’s making Little League baseball T-shirts via heat transfer, batter up!
As with any business, doing something that you like and are passionate about goes a long way to being motivated and always doing your best.
From there, peg down your market more. Start with a geographic area – is it your state? Your city? Your subdivision? Figure out about how large your target audience is. Pick an age group you’re selling to, a gender if it’s prevalent, and the interest level of that group to determine not only what the product looks like, but what about it appeals to that target audience.
When you’ve narrowed it all the way down, check out the competition. Google is the great equalizer for entrepreneurs. Without paying a dime, you can search the parameters you just described and see what other businesses are trying to sell the same product to the same customer base. If there are more than a handful, this might not be the spot for you. You will have to measure your product against their offerings and see if you have an advantage to press, such as price, quality, selection, or something similar to give you a leg up.
Remember, research is only going to make your decision smarter and easier.
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