As a business strategy, “niche marketing” can be described as being a big fish in a small pond, as opposed to being a small fish in a big pond. In other words, the majority of your business competitors tend to target the larger markets while ignoring the smaller niches. If you go after the smaller markets, you will be a much more important player in those markets.
The beauty of this is that customers in that targeted “pond” have a high potential for purchasing a particular product or service, which means you have a higher potential for luring them in. Business experts say that niche marketing can be a low risk way to grow your business. Even large corporations use this approach. Hewlett-Packard, for instance, markets all-in-one print/fax/scan machines to the home office market while targeting larger businesses with higher-priced single function machines. Here in our industry, there are virtually endless niche markets to pursue when it comes to selling awards and personalized products.
Part of the key of tapping into new niche markets is to be aware of what’s happening around you locally, as well as trends in society and our culture. Also, be aware of the unique qualities of where you live. If you live in northern areas such as Michigan or Minnesota, for example, there are a host of winter sports activities ranging from “fat tire biking” to snowmobiling that are perfect niche markets for awards and personalized merchandise. If you live in California, there are plenty of award opportunities for activities like surfing and skateboarding.
This article overviews some of those sub-markets that you might not have considered before. Many of these could lead to additional business both in terms of new customers and in terms of selling more merchandise. Selling awards to a yacht club regatta, for example, could very well result in additional business from other types of boating activities in your area. It could also result in sales of personalized merchandise for the club, such as hats, shirts, coasters and other promotional products. Here’s a look at some potential marketing opportunities to consider for your business.
For most climbers, this sport is exhilarating requiring both strength and mental stamina. Today, more people than ever are trying it, often in the controlled environment of a climbing gym. There are two types of climbing: traditional which requires real rocks and placing your own gear into the rock for protection as you go up, and sport climbing, in which routes and protection are already set up and the climber needs only to attach to a rope and begin climbing. Sport climbing often takes place in climbing gyms, which are popping up everywhere. During sport climbing competitions, climbers race up a predetermined wall and are judged on speed and technique. Sport climbing competitions are held in climbing gyms around the country.
Partnering with professional photographers is a great way to sell photo merchandise such as this sublimated tile. Photo courtesy of Marco Awards Group.
Yacht Club Sailing
Yacht clubs are located by oceans, lakes and riversides, so there are plenty to be found throughout the country, and the world for that matter. Yacht clubs are organized to promote the sport of yacht racing and cruising, as well as to provide a social meeting place for boating enthusiasts. Regardless of their size, most clubs have a well-defined racing program that might include local and national regattas in addition to regular weekday and weekend races. Many of these clubs have junior sailing programs as well designed to teach children how to race competitively from an early age. Ken Braswell, the former owner of Braswell Trophy and Engraving, Manahawkin, NJ, says yacht clubs regularly purchased awards from his business, including perpetual trophies and plaques that need to be updated annually.
Personalized Pet Products
The pet market in the United States is absolutely huge and people spare no expense in buying personalized products for their dogs, cats, hamsters, horses, etc. Because pets are so much a part of our families, it makes a perfect market for any personalized pet product imaginable: pet tags, memorial plaques, urns, food dishes, food mats, treat jars, toys, toy boxes, leashes, collars, cage tags, garments, costumes, horse stall signs and absolutely anything a photograph can be put on using sublimation, laser engraving, sandblasting or a framed photograph. Consider a shirt sublimated with a photo of Fido or a return address stamp with a picture of a pet. The possibilities are virtually endless.
You can find customers for personalized pet products everywhere. One of the best ways to seek out new customers is to partner up with businesses and organizations that cater to pets, such as pet groomers, veterinarians, pet shops, dog breeders, animal shelters and organizers of shows and competitions. Another good marketing strategy is to take part in off-site pet events and trade shows such as pet expos (they are frequently held throughout the country). All that is needed is some portable equipment, such as a portable sublimation printer and heat press, and a smartphone for taking and printing photos, and you are in the business of offering personalized pet products while the customer waits. You can also take orders at these events and fulfill them back at your shop (and possibly lure a customer into your business).
Cast Bronze Plaques
Talk about a small but important niche, there are applications everywhere where there is a need to commemorate people, places and things. A few examples would include dedications, memorials and halls of fame for sports celebrities and special interest groups. When a durable, permanent high-end product is needed, the favorite choice is often a cast bronze or aluminum plaque.
This is something many have given little thought to because the work can’t typically be done in-house, at least not without some rather expensive equipment. But there’s no reason you can’t job out this work and capture some of this lucrative business. Cast bronze and aluminum signs and plaques offer a wide range of possibilities. Cast signs and memorial plaques can be large or small and used indoors or out, and they also make great markers for ground-stake installations in gardens, arboretums, etc.
Customers for these unique products are plenty, including colleges, schools, libraries, hospitals, fraternal organizations, new building construction and more. Cast bronze and aluminum plaques, tablets and signs are available from a number of manufacturers who will custom make them to your specifications, including three dimensional “bas-relief” images of people, places and things.
Clubs and hobbies are prime places to look for niche markets for awards and personalized products. Consider Amateur Radio, also known as “ham radio.” Ham radio is a popular hobby where people of all walks of life communicate with other “hams” through radio technology using their voice, by sending text and images through a computer, and even through Morse code. Hams can communicate from virtually anywhere—the top of a mountain, at home or in their vehicles. They can even talk to astronauts at the International Space Station.
People involved in this pastime all have a common knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and are required to pass an examination for an FCC license to operate on “Amateur Band” radio frequencies. Amateur Radio call signs are assigned to ham radio operators and stations which are used to legally identify the operator or station.
As with any club or hobby, the potential to sell products to ham radio operators that have been personalized with a call sign and/or other messages is great. Consider a baseball cap, mug, water bottle, hitch cover, T-shirt, bumper sticker, license plate frame, clock, ornament, magnet, etc., engraved or printed with “Ham Radio Operator” and the individual’s name and/or their call sign. There are also many ham radio contests held throughout the year and the world which presents an opportunity for selling awards as well.
In order to maintain lifeguarding skills and knowledge, lifeguards must undergo continuous training. As a way to encourage that training, formal lifeguard competitions have been developed that include physical and sometimes technical (medical) events. Some of the physical events include various combinations of running, swimming, rescues, relays, paddle boarding and surf skiing. Try Googling lifeguard competitions in your area and/or visit the United States Lifeguard Association website for more information.
Festivals & Fairs
If you stop and think about the sheer number of festivals and fairs that take place in any given area, you can easily see that this is a prime place to sell not only awards but a long list of personalized memorabilia and promotional items. Festivals are held to celebrate just about everything and anything. Have you heard of the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival? Or what about the Underwater Music Festival in the Florida Keys? It’s true! Festivals and obscure events are common in this country and awards are given out for everything from pie eating contests to winning horses in equestrian shows. In many cases, a king and queen are crowned to add to the festivities, which opens up a nice niche market for pageant-related products such as crowns, tiaras, sashes and scepters.
Wow! Talk about an up-and-coming sport! The incredible and growing popularity of drones, which are typically unmanned small radio-controlled aircraft or quadcopters, continues to soar, and with it comes the virtual sport of FPV drone racing. FPV stands for first-person view or first person video which allows participants to control drones equipped with cameras while wearing head-mounted displays that show the live stream camera feed from the drones.
The technology makes operators feel as though they are the ones flying through the air as they see what the drones see. Racers guide the drones through a set racecourse with the goal of completing the course as quickly as possible. Some 150 pilots competed at the U.S. National Drone Championships in New York last August and the first World Drone Championships took place in Hawaii in October. The growing popularity of this new sport is causing race organizers and clubs to pop up everywhere and with it comes the potential to sell awards and other personalized merchandise such as T-shirts and drinkware. Check out their website for more information about organizations involved in this growing sport.
There are plenty of groups that need to raise money for causes, many times on a continuous basis, and by selling items such as custom ornaments and sun catchers, you can get part of the action. Churches, for example, sometimes sell ornaments to raise money for a new building, a youth project or a mission trip, while schools might use the money to buy library books or new computers. Ornaments are easy to make with a laser, sublimation equipment or UV-LED printer in both large and small quantities which means an organization can order as many as needed without being stuck with 5,000 candy bars they can’t sell. The potential markets for this are endless and include religious organizations, schools, nonprofit organizations, fraternal organizations, class reunions, clubs and many more.
Large architectural companies often build scale models of proposed buildings to help clients see what they are buying. These used to be cut out by hand using a ruler and X-Acto knife, but now most producers use lasers. In fact, many larger companies have incorporated a laser engraver into their art department.
Medium-sized companies, however, don’t typically have the funds for such things. In fact, they may not even have an art department. The art department is often the same person who sells the job, designs the project and pretty much does everything else. But to compete with the big boys, these people also need 3D models made and they will pay a lot to have that done. If you can read blueprints and enjoy modeling, this is a new niche opportunity for you.
In simple terms, bronzing is the process of electroplating an item in a layer of copper (and sometimes other metals) to create a unique and memorable keepsake. The bronzing process is particularly for non-metallic items made of wood, leather and other materials. Bronzing manufacturers, such as American Bronzing Company, Columbus, OH, are set up to bronze items for you and your customers, so there is no investment or inventory to worry about on your part since customers typically bring in their own items for bronzing.
The unique aspect of this market is that items that wouldn’t normally be considered for awards can and do make some of the most treasured awards and gifts after bronzing. That’s because the items that are typically provided for bronzing already hold some personal value to the recipient. What better way to create a truly personalized and meaningful gift or award than to use an item that has some value or importance to the person who will be receiving it? For instance, how about bronzing a favorite pen or unusable laptop for a writer who just had her first book published? Or maybe a bronzed white board eraser, marker or plastic apple for that special teacher? Bronzing items such as combat boots, baseball mitts, footballs, ballet shoes, wine bottles, bow ties, hats, helmets, a company’s products (Pringle potato chips were once bronzed for Proctor & Gamble sales awards as were Pillsbury Doughboys for Pillsbury’s anniversary awards)—the list goes on and on. The beauty of bronzed products is that the award or gift is only limited by the imagination—and it’s definitely something outside of the mainstream when it comes to personalized products.
The Funeral Industry
There is great potential for personalized products and services in the funeral industry that you can tap into. In partnership with community funeral homes, you can offer a variety of merchandise such as engraved urns, memorial plaques, keepsake boxes and commemorative jewelry. Some communities are growing a tradition of having close family and friends attending the funeral wear a T-shirt or button with the person’s photo on it to honor the deceased. Photographs for gravestones are another possibility. These can be created by engraving outdoor weatherable metal or plastic for marker posts or laser engraving onto a shaped piece of granite which can then be inlaid into the headstone or even engrave the headstone itself if you have a machine with that capacity.
The beauty of perpetual awards is that they bring continuous business. This perpetual plaque is from Marco Awards Group.
Plaques and other awards are sometimes designed to recognize multiple recipients over a long period of time, often years. The idea is that individual names are added to the award to recognize achievement as part of an ongoing award program. Is this something you’ve perhaps overlooked in your business? The beauty of selling perpetual awards is that the customer returns to you regularly, e.g. monthly, yearly, etc., to have an additional plate engraved or name added. More importantly, the customer typically relies on you to supply individual awards for each recipient that is also part of the program. In addition to the perpetual plaque or trophy, individual awards are often smaller plaques, trophies, clocks, etc.
The other attractive aspect of selling perpetual awards is that there are many, many customers for these recognition products—virtually any business or organization with award programs in place is a potential customer. Consider organizations that have sales programs (Salesperson of the Year), safety and productivity programs, and award programs based on “best/most/highest _____ of the year/month/term.” Restaurants, hospitals, hotels and other businesses in the service industry typically have these types of programs. Just about any group or organization that presents awards can use perpetual awards to unify an award program.
Personalized Kitchen Products
Today, the most popular room in a house is undoubtedly the kitchen. Now consider all the items that are used in the kitchen, and then consider how many of these can be personalized: cutlery, cookware, cutting boards, glasses, cooking utensils, utensil caddies, aprons, coasters, dishes, serving bowls, backsplash tile murals and more. These items are easy to personalize and very easy to sell, especially if you can show them on your website and/or in your showroom. Personalized kitchen products make excellent gifts for just about any occasion, including holidays, weddings, birthdays and more.
Cookware, like this sublimated pan from Laser Reproductions, Inc., can be personalized for many different gift occasions.
Groundbreaking ceremonies and ribbon-cutting ceremonies are prestigious events in any community, so not just any old shovel from a garage or pair of scissors from a kitchen drawer is suitable for celebrating such an event. Instead, there are several prestigious items manufactured specifically for these occasions, including full-sized groundbreaking shovels, hard hats, ribbon-cutting scissors, hammers and ceremonial keys. Like many niche markets, the beauty of this one is that there are plenty of opportunities to sell ceremonial items. Potential customers include any business or organization involved in a construction project or special event such as universities, government, construction firms, nonprofit organizations, fair boards, downtown developers, schools and businesses.
Working with professional photographers on a wholesale basis can be a very profitable niche avenue. Make up a series of sublimated, UV printed and/or laser engraved product samples and let the photographer offer them to his clients. You do the work for wholesale and let the photographer charge what he wants. These relationships can be extremely profitable, especially if you work with one who does school pictures, prom, wedding, baby and other special occasion photographs.
Take a look around you and you are sure to find niche markets that you can sell to. Niche markets are often very close to you. If you are a churchgoer, one of your niche markets might be related to churches. If you are a hunter, it might be hunting or some other outdoors activity. If you are a pet lover, it might be pet related. There are literally thousands of niche marketing opportunities out there—start looking for yours!