How Niche Businesses can Co-operate to Outside Custom
One of the problems with running a niche business is that it can sometimes make you feel very isolated. It can be difficult to bring in sustainable profits from local custom alone, which means you have to be able to attract customers from further afield. Even for a niche marketing expert, this can be hard work. But by getting together with related businesses in your local area, you can make that area very attractive indeed to your target customers, bringing in better business for all.
Strange BedfellowsUsually the prime rule of business enterprise is that you don't make arrangements which benefit your competitors. When you're a niche business, however, things can be different. Ideally you'll find businesses to work with which sell products complementary to yours within the same niche market, but if there are two few such businesses available then you'll often be better off with your competitors than on your own.
The reason for this is that travelling to visit your business requires an investment (of time, transport costs, etc.) on the part of the customer. If they don't expect to find anything else of interest in your local area, they're less likely to make that investment - and if they don't, you won't get their custom at all. If there are two or more businesses like yours close together however their investment becomes more worthwhile, and even if they buy something from your competitor instead, they will at least see your stock and advertising. Next time they visit, you might be the lucky one.
Co-operative CompetitorsWhen you're co-operating with somebody who would normally be your competition, it pays to be on friendly terms. Discuss the products or services you're offering and try to make sure they're as different as possible, even if they have a substantial overlap. If a customer can't quite find what they want when visiting your premises, direct them to your competitor. This may sound risky, but, if your competitor is willing to do the same for you, you'll soon hear about it, and the friendly impression you give in this way will appeal to customers.
Because it will encourage customers to make that initial investment and travel to see you, it can be worth mentioning your competitor in your advertising materials, but if you do this then you'll want to make sure the favour is returned. Essentially co-operation between businesses like this works on a tit-for-tat system, but you should be aware that you both stand to lose if relations disintegrate.
Getting NoticedBecause two or more niche businesses being situated close together is unusual and has strong appeal for special interest customers, it can be a great way to get the attention of the press. If, for instance, you have a shop which sells camping supplies, the press will ignore you, but if you acquire a neighbour which sells mountaineering supplies, specialist magazines will be interested and can be persuaded to recommend a visit, and even the mainstream press will be interested if you pitch the situation effectively - for instance, through a press release which talks about how local people are becoming interested in the great outdoors.
When neighbouring businesses offer similar products and services to yours, you can use group niche marketing techniques like holding festivals, at which you get together to promote the opportunities offered by the area to niche customers, and you offer special sales and discounts. Festivals can often get into the newspapers - even, sometimes, the national press - especially if you can relate them to a story such as the growth of a related hobby or subculture, or an important anniversary on the day they're being held. You can present an image which focuses on your joint cultural contribution rather than on your commercial interests.
Competition may be the usual rule of business, but when it comes to niche marketing, rules are made to be broken. Don't miss out on the great opportunities that teaming up with your neighbours can offer, even if they are after the same customers.