There are generally two camps when it comes to “specialized” branding: those who believe that going niche limits your potential reach and those that believe that it can focus your business to a group of fiercely loyal customers, thereby setting you up for long-term success in a specific, tight-knit community. If you are a card-carrying member of the anti-niche camp and are open to having your perspective potentially changed, or if the idea of having a specialized slant to your business and branding intrigues you, read on and let’s get niched!*
*not a real word
What is a Niche Brand?
The word “niche” has several different meanings, ranging from a literal hole in the wall to a sort of groove (in the “Stella getting hers back” sense). For the purposes of discussing niche branding, we are going to focus on the latter. A niche brand is one with a strong identity in a specialized area. This identity is crafted to appeal to a specific group, and cultivate a strong sense of belonging. Done well, niche brands command serious loyalty from their clients. If you want a concrete, real life example, look no further than Beardsgaard Barbers, [LINK to ANATOMY]. Every single aspect of this business is geared towards appealing to their target customer—namely, nerds. From the decor to the design and voice of their website, down to the products carried and merchandising of said products (EXAMPLE: that tiny stuffed yeti that “Vanna Whites” a collection of soaps by the front desk that you see below) everything has been carefully cultivated to create a particular atmosphere.
This branding tactic has worked really well for Beardsgaard. They’ve been in business less than two years—in a small town at that—and have an appointment wait list three months long.
What Are the Pros to Going Niche?
As evidenced by Beardsgaard, going niche can lead to a rabidly loyal fan base of clients. This, of course, is great for the long-term stability of your business. After all, repeat business is the cornerstone of any company looking to make serious money—it’s cheaper to get and easier to plan around. In order to encourage repeat business, you need two key ingredients: a great product/service (in the case of salons, it’s usually both) and a brand that your clients identify with. If you can breed a sense of belonging, a community or “tribe” of like-minded individuals that rally around your brand’s ethos, you can sit back and relax. Your days worrying about stable income are over.
The less-discussed upside to cultivating a niche brand is that it’s a way for you to bring a bit of yourself into your business. By incorporating your passions into your business model, it makes it easier to stay engaged and motivated in your work, something a lot of pros struggle with.
What do Vikings, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who and books on physics have to do with barbering? Absolutely nothing. But by incorporating their passions into their brand, Natalie and Tyler Anderson have made Beardsgaard into more than just a barbershop. They’ve created an atmosphere where not only will a client gladly wait 2+ hours for the possibility of a canceled appointment, but that they look forward to spending their long working hours in, every day.
Having a strong sense of passion is never a bad thing for your business. If it comes from a genuine place, your clients will pick up on it and identify with your brand even more.
What Are The Cons?
Just like with cameras, a sharper focus means less subject matter. In the case of niche branding, a more highly specialized brand, the less opportunity for mass appeal. With a niche brand, you have the opportunity to grow to be a big fish in a tiny pond, rather than competing for the masses out there in the ocean of consumerism.
This may sound attractive to a fledgling entrepreneur, but it is decidedly less so to a bank or investor. If you need to raise capital in order to start your business, it will be harder to do the more niche your brand is. Investors look for the broadest earning potential first, when deciding what they are going to spend on. The more your brand speaks to a highly specialized audience only, the less earning potential you have. Let’s look at two examples in the beauty industry, side by side.
A professional color, care & styling product manufacturer with a mass brand appeal.
A professional color, care & styling product manufacturer with a niche brand appeal.
Wella Professionals products are widely used and available at an affordable price point. Their branding is clean, professional and applicable to any type of salon that wishes to carry the products. They have dedicated educational opportunities for their partner salons, a massive stable of platform artists with a wide range of styles and specialities and a strong presence at beauty shows and events, worldwide. Wella Professionals is a “child brand” to parent company, Coty.
Davines is a “naturalceuticals” company with a strong brand aesthetic. This look is carried from packaging to marketing materials, digital properties and even the collections put out by the companies artists and main Artistic Director, Angelo Seminara. The level of attention paid to these branding efforts imparts an artisanal feel that only works for certain types of salons. The company puts on its own event, every other year (Davines World Wide) and has little participation in other industry events. The products are only available at small, independent distributors at a high price point and the company is family-owned.
Both Wella Professionals and Davines make the same types of products, for the same customer base. They are both successful, highly regarded brands. The main differences lie in their respective audiences, price points and how the brands are positioned.
Davines will likely never grow to the extent that Wella Professionals has. This is due in large part to the fact that Wella Professionals brand is highly accessible to salons and stylists of any level, while Davines aligns itself with salons and stylists of a high level of expertise and (let’s face it) earning potential. However, a salon would be more likely to convert from Wella to Davines than it would be to abandon a relationship with Davines in favor of converting to Wella. So much of the salon’s own identity would be tied to the Davines aesthetic/philosophy that they would essentially have to change their entire brand and decor just to carry the new product line.
Owner Burnout & Alienation
As wonderful as it is to incorporate your passions into what you do for a living, niche branding does not exactly lend itself to teamwork. The more specialized your focus, the less likely it is that someone else will truly share your vision. It can be very difficult to work with a partner in a niche setting and that presents two possible negative outcomes:
Burnout. Since you are the only one who sees your creative vision in all of its niche-y glory, you insist on doing everything yourself which means long hours and tons of work, everyday….forever. This is not exactly conducive to a creative professional life and you’re setting yourself up for major burnout. For owners of a niche brand, it is incredibly difficult to learn that every aspect of your business needs to be filtered through the question: Do you want it done or do you want it done your way?
Additionally, working in the same strong aesthetic every day for a long stretch of time lends itself to creative burnout as well. Depending on how strict you are with your brand’s ethos, if you try to control a finite point of your niche in every single conceivable way, eventually you will max out in how far you can take it, creatively. There is after all, only so much you can do with a Vintage Pin Up Girl-Meets Roller Derby-Meets Godzilla vs Mothra in a 4-chair salon in south suburban St. Louis, anyways.
- Dilution. If you opted to safeguard yourself from someday wanting to chuck the whole thing in the toilet because you’ve been working on it so closely and for so long that you can’t stand the sight of your own logo anymore, much less muster up the enthusiasm to walk through the door and work on clients all day, it’s likely you decide to take on a partner (or partners). While it’s a great strategy for circumventing burnout, if you don’t chose wisely, you are going to dilute your brand. Heck, even if you do choose wisely, you are going to have to compromise, as no one and I mean no one is ever going to see your brand the way that you do. You will never get the exact outcome that you were envisioning, but a slightly watered-down version. Which may be a good thing, honestly because we are about to discuss…
A lot of times, that sharpening of focus can cause an owner to become a little…over enthusiastic. Fine-tuning your brand to the point of obsession can breed a sense of exclusion that not only cuts down on your earning potential but also breeds negative feelings about your brand.
Matty Conrad, owner of Victory Barber & Brand, Lab Salon and Saint Frank’s—all of which share a strong brand aesthetic that caters to a very specific “vintage manly-man/dapper gent” niche—shared this analogy with us when we were discussing niche branding with him:
“It’s like car enthusiasts, right. You’ve got vintage car guys and then you’ve got the hot rod guys. The hot rod guys are so into hot rods, it’s such a specialized niche, and they’ve formed kind of an exclusive club. Now, if you’re not a “hot rod guy,” you don’t even feel comfortable looking at them at the shows. It’s this mentality of ‘I know the most about this particular thing, so you don’t deserve to be a part of it.”
This is a real problem with highly specialized niche brands that can affect your bottom line and brand identity, in a very negative way.
Going niche with your brand is not for everyone. It takes an enormous amount of focus and dedication and a clientele that is comfortable paying more and taking more time for their services. It takes attention to detail and a deep knowledge of not only yourself, but your clients wants and needs, as well.
Are you thinking of going niche? Let us know your thoughts and questions below so that we can develop a game plan just for you!