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Finding your niche7/30
As it is getting harder to compete in the wood sector, I was wondering if you all could post a story of finding a niche. Finding business even though you were not the cheapest/fastest/highest quality. What did you offer that set you apart?
My recent niche is wholesale end tables to small "mom and pop" furniture stores.
Almost all of them dont care that I am more expensive than the imports. They dont have to put them together and they know they are better quality. Plus, I have virtually zero competition.
My investment, materials wise, is small, and ROI is big. Of course the downside is you have to sell a lot of tables.
So lets hear your them.
After the last recession when I had my small shop I started doing a lot of laminate repair work for doctors offices and medical groups. This would lead to remodeling work for the medical group and even high-end residential work for some of the doctors that worked there. The repair work was not glamorous but it billed out hourly and was steady work.
If you can call it a niche, ours is the ability to turnout curved work of all types. As a local contractor said, "you're the only place we can get everything for the job no matter how odd." Curved casework, thermoformed solid surface, curved moldings to match anything, arched door jambs, custom rosettes, vacuum pressed curved veneered panels, machining large sheets of aluminum that are too big for the typical machine shop, machining honey comb aluminum panels for aircraft interiors, injecting the resin and then machining it to take the hardware, 1000's of bundle boards for the printing industry .... it might be that no one else is dumb enough to take on all the odd work. Ask around, see what you can do that others prefer not to. Maybe you can increase your sales to existing customers by seeing what else they may desire.
I didn't set out to make a niche of all this stuff, it just happened as we got requests. We don't advertise. It just finds us, somehow? I'm sure it is a poor way to run a business.
Like Larry, we are known for not being so straight. I started in a curved stair shop, and have built over 40, but only 12 straight stairs. Our niche is the better Architectural work. Exterior and interior doors, specialty windows, historic repro, shutters, louvers, veneer work, mantles, and furniture. About everything that no one else is doing. The niche was to make doors, and that is fine, but once they saw the capabilities, then they wanted something non-door-like.
We have found a local niche in historic windows with repair and replication. We rarely have direct competition and do not need to spend much in marketing and sales.
I think it best to think in terms of niches finding you rather than the other way round. It's the confluence of need and the means to satisfy it. It's not easy to predict if that odd ball request will lead to an attractive niche market.
I think this year's IWF will be interesting. There will be a lot of high dollar automation on display targeted at the high volume, mass market manufacturers who need volume to justify that level of capital investment. The good news is that this approach leaves unmet needs that the small shop can meet. However, I wouldn't want to be stuck in the middle: too big to make niches work and too small (or unwilling) to keep up with the level of capex needed to drive unit manufactured cost (UMC) down.