Thinking about expanding your niche? Think twice!

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Sometimes it’s tempting in a slower economy to try to be everything to everyone but it could be your demise. If you’ve been successful in a particular niche, you are likely thought of as the  expert in that specific area and that’s what attracts your customers or clients to you.

This was never more evident than yesterday when I visited a glass gallery that has for nearly thirty years been one of the premier glass art galleries in the country. They had a strong following both on and off line with great tremendous loyalty from both the customers and artists they represented.

The merchandising in the  gallery was exactly as it should be in a tourist area. A few items priced in the thousands were sold infrequently but necessary to draw attention. Serious collectors purchased the many medium priced items. Then there were lots of smaller, affordable pieces that were the galleries bread and butter. The gallery carried only handmade, American glass. Nothing else. They were THE go-to place for American glass art.

A couple of years ago, the gallery was purchased by a long time employee. She saw business slow as it had a number of times over the years as the economy dipped. The previous owners successfully rode out several economic slumps, probably selling more of the less pricey pieces and held in there until the next recovery. The new owner, however, has tried to compensate by stocking  wood, metal and other fine craft. (note: I will go into more depth in a future post about the mistakes new business owners often make when they purchase an existing business.)

In a village with numerous galleries featuring multi-media, the once renowned glass gallery now blends in with all the others. The gallery is obviously suffering slow sales and low cash flow. They built a reputation over many years as a specialty business with a very specific niche. Why would they want to blend in and become “generalists”?

In your own business, does fear of not having something for everyone tempt you to broaden your specialty and become more heterogenous? Are you tempted to diversify so that you appeal to a wider audience? If you want to grow your business, or compensate for sluggish sales, what can you do to maintain your own niche so that you are still known as the expert in your specific area? Can you provide other products or services to the same customer group? Wouldn’t you rather be known to have the best selection of products and services in your own specialty niche than have a little something for everyone? When you are tempted to diversify, be careful not to become too general because blending in can mean becoming invisible. If you’ve found a niche that works when times are good, stay true to it and things will be good again.

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