Minding Your Business
Finding that hidden niche… right in plain sight
By Dustin Siggins
There is a story that features a conversation between two gazelles regarding survival. One of the gazelles says to the other, “I don’t have to outrun the lion, I just have to outrun you!” This strategy plays out in business every day. Successful executives realize that they don’t have to serve the two million people in their area or in their industry – they just have to serve the right people. Such an entrepreneur can be the king of this little island because they alone are reaching this niche in a unique way.
In essence, the business owner has “one eye closed” and has become king.
You can be king – or, as the following entrepreneur proved, queen – by having a great brand. Jennifer Lannon is owner of Jen’s Plumbing & Heating, a “Father-Daughter Owned and Operated” business on the island of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Jennifer and her industry veteran father John branded themselves as Cape Cod’s only father-daughter plumbing and heating contractor team.
“I’m not sure what people are more surprised by: seeing ‘Jen’ in pink on the side of a work van followed by ‘plumbing’ and ‘heating,’ or our slogan ‘Father-Daughter, Owned & Operated,’ Jen told me. “Typically, the woman is home during the day. It brings peace of mind to our customers and their families to know that the female plumber is coming over with her father.”
“Being a hardworking woman, led by my father, has enabled us to remove our advertising. Repeat customers are roughly 60 percent of our business,” Jen, the queen plumber on her fifteen-town island, said. She hasn’t just impressed customers; the company won $15,000 from Rockland Trust Bank in the “Small Business, Big Dreams” category for 2019.
They’ve impressed more than customers; the company won $15,000 from Rockland Trust Bank in the “Small Business, Big Dreams” category for 2019 and it was profiled in an industry trade publication.
Another way to be king (or queen) is to invent something. Uber did this in 2009 by exposing gaps in the 20th-century taxicab business model. They capitalized on the gaps by finding customers in them, appealing to those customers, and keeping costs low by having drivers put their own cars on the road.
By targeting young people with cell phones, appealing to them through technology, and saving billions through avoiding car purchases, Uber created a simple and effective transportation process. Drivers and passengers are all linked to the same system, passenger credit card information is pre-processed, and the customer is just a click away from a ride at any time of the day.
As often happens to innovators, the Uber vision wasn’t supported by everyone. The cab industry used government regulations and lawsuits to try and shut Uber down. Uber had employment issues and bad press. Despite it all, their success is clear. Uber is available in every major U.S. city, most towns, and many other nations. Their ninja-like innovations created owner-operators around the country and spawned an entire “gig economy.” And their prehistoric competition is dropping like flies.
A third way to be king (or queen) is to reach existing markets that are ignored by your competitors. The 2018 movie Black Panther did this when it reached African-Americans through an outside-the-box plot, cast, and themes. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Motion Picture Association of America, 35 percent of Black Panther’s viewing audience was African-American, nearly three times the average African-American theater-viewing audience.
Black Panther’s results speak for themselves. The movie won multiple awards, the highest-grossing box office of 2018, and holds the 10th-largest box office showing in movie history.
One of the best things about being the one-eyed man (or woman) on the island of the blind is that you don’t have to be a world-breaker to succeed. As Mark Cuban told me in a recent interview and clarified for this column, the one-eyed man (or woman) merely has to be unique. Uber is the roadmap for kings and queens on the island of the blind because they have made billions of dollars having average people drive average cars for average passengers.
But for the executive of a small organization like Jen Lannon, sometimes your competitive advantage is just that one small difference that puts you in a category of your own.
What’s your island, and how will you be the one-eyed man (or woman)?
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