Lead Your Life

Leadership, Awareness, and Growth

Know Your Niche June 10, 2011

Last night, my husband took me to a phenomenal clothing store called Sophie’s Sister in downtown Toledo, Oh.  Self admittedly, I am not a shopper at heart.  I don’t enjoy the process of trying things on in a cramped, hot dressing room and dealing with the ensuing static cling hair that results from pulling stuff over your head 90 times in pursuit of the perfect fit.

But, I digress.  Retail has changed dramatically.  Retail owners complain that Target, Walmart, and other big retailers like The Gap and The Limited are squeezing them out of business.  In my world of building materials, I hear the same “complaints” about The Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, and other sizable players.  Not to mention the competing threat of the virtual world.  85% of my clothing purchases are made on-line, and I am not an anomaly.  At least not against this measurement.

Sophie’s Sister has figured it out.  And the key is not in their specific solution but in the truth that every company has the opportunity to “figure it out.”  Sophie’s knows their niche, and they play it to the hilt.  They serve wine & cashews while you try on beautiful clothes they have hand-picked for you in roomy dressing rooms with flattering lighting.  They aren’t trying to sell – they are there to help you discover pieces that make you feel beautiful.  They are honest, engaging, and heck, over a glass of wine, fast friends.  And, they’ve been in business for over 65 years.  Thick and thin.  Changing economies, the entrance of mass retailers, and the tipping point of online shopping.  They know who they are, and they have built a killer model, culture, and measurements that honor that.

This opportunity exists for all businesses – retail or otherwise.  Listing off the litany of reasons “doing business” is hard or isn’t like it used to be, focusing on the perils of competing in a shrinking space with compressed margins, or lamenting over the days when customers were loyal just because are all distractions from the process of creating amazing, lasting success.

The more time we spend getting into the lives and minds of our dream clients and designing each micro step of our interaction with them around who they are, what they aspire to, and how they want to be treated, the more sustainable our businesses become.  This process has nothing to do with how a company responds to the “threat” of their changing environment and everything to do with a fierce determination & commitment to be awesome for your clients.  Adding value, making their lives easier & more fulfilling, and connecting with them authentically in a way that makes them feel part of something amazing.

Large retailers have nailed this.  They have no desire to be all things to all people.  They deliver exactly what their target clients want in the way that best suits them.  And shock of all shocks, they are successful at it and continue to grow.  They aren’t worrying about competing against niche players, high-end boutiques, and high touch outfits.  They show up every day with the goal of moving the ball on their model & improving their niche client’s experience.

But any company can do this.  Sophie’s Sister is an excellent example.  It’s a choice that all of us are free to make.

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