Anyone who has started a business knows how challenging it can be to know if a product or service is filling a void or responding to some unmet need. If you have a business that does something others do, you need to think about what is special or unique about what you will be offering. If you choose a product or service that hasn’t been available before, there is the question of whether there will be enough customers for what you will provide.
I’ve done business with three companies on South Whidbey that really have found a niche, filled it, and built awareness to the point that all are thriving (albeit, also a bit weary from working so hard):
Just about everyone on South Whidbey seems to know about drewslist. “I saw it on drewslist” is one of the most common expressions heard nowadays.
Drew Kampion published the regional “Island Independent” from Langley every other Thursday for three years (1993 – 1996). He couldn’t get enough off-Whidbey advertisers to make it work, although he was aware even then that there was a definite need for a local community “bulletin board.” He noted, “As the world moves in the direction of globalization, the last bastion of individuality is bio- and cultural regionalism.”
Two years ago, he came up with the idea of creating an email list that would provide basic information about goods, services and events on South Whidbey. Through word-of-mouth (one of the best marketing tools on Whidbey…and many other places), his list of subscribers grew, and today he is approaching 3,500 and is looking for more ways to serve his micro-local market. He currently makes his money through donations from subscribers, businesses and sellers using his service.
Island Concierge Services, Inc. 360-320-0744 (Billy’s cell phone)
Billy Ducharme had worked for Useless Bay Country Club for several years when they informed employees in 2007 that the business would be closed for a major remodel that might take as long as six months.
At the Club, Billy would hear people complaining about people they hired to do jobs who didn’t show, or who did less-than-satisfactory work when they did show.
Billy needed a job, and he saw the possibilities for becoming someone who could create a new way of doing this type of service business. In 2007, he opened “Island Concierge Services” with an old pickup truck and a plan “to do everything a concierge does.”
Billy attributes a good share of his success to finding an excellent person to handle the business aspects. Connie Duddridge has been handling billing, statements, banking, payroll, fielding calls and dispatching the work from the early stages of the business. Connie says she loves working for Billy because, “His integrity and concern for our customers is inspiring.”
Today, Island Concierge has 10 full-time employees, an office in Freeland, four trucks, three trailers, a dump truck and lots of other equipment. He and his staff are ready to take on just about any job they are asked to do.
Timbuktu Java Bar & Café, 18205 SR 525, Freeland, 360-331-1504
There are many places on South Whidbey to get an espresso, but Timbuktu has become a distinctive welcoming place to stop for an espresso and lots more. Lauryn Taylor, who shares the ownership of Timbuktu with her husband, Chris Jacobs, says that the niche they fill comes from “a passion to immerse the customer in a total sensory food and beverage experience.”
Timbuktu has many regulars who come for the delicious foods, made from scratch: Frittatas (that are the “talk of the town”, baked blueberry peach french toast, other delicious pastries, and an extensive menu of gluten-free foods.
Lauryn and Chris always extend a warm welcome to anyone who comes through the door. They describe their coffee drinks as “artisan-crafted espresso drinks.” And, to add to the ambience, Lauryn, who is a highly regarded artist, uses their establishment as her art gallery and invites other local artists to display there as well.
So, what does it take to find a business niche and make it work?
- You really do have to have the confidence to know that you are selling something that is special or unique;
- You have to have a good sense of your target market, the people who will want your product and service; and
- You have to use the right marketing tools so that those most likely to become customers will know what your are providing.
It takes a lot of courage and creativity to develop a new business. If you can find a niche – a product and/or service that is desired by a specific market – and, if you can get the word out, you have the ingredients for a successful enterprise.