Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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Niche Departments, Niche People

Creating departments that feature your employees

Niche marketing.  Isn't that the buzzword in the retail industry in recent history?  Add anything: any number of specialty products or services, things to make a profit, or draw customers into your store, ways that will help to distinguish you from the other retailers, whether they be other retailers, discounters, or big boxes.  This is niche marketing.

To develop a niche department, retailers have usually seen the idea at another retailer's location, seen it at a trade show, or read about it in a trade magazine.  In addition to creating a niche department, there are special services that you can offer, or different ways of promoting your business that will set you apart.  Services such as free gift-wrapping, free delivery, or discounts to seniors or non-profit groups, help you to become separated from the chains.

That is why most retailers attend trade shows and industry events; so that they can hear this constant exchange of ideas and improve their store.  The idea for this story came from a new member of our team during our years as a retailer. A young female employee asked this question after a couple of weeks on the job, "Whose job is it to take care of this particular task?"  A valid question, whether it be ordering merchandise, stocking merchandise, sweeping the floor, or any of another hundred tasks in a store.  Her niche may be display, organization, or simply neatness.

More often, a retailer has returned from a trade show with an idea for a niche and upon introduction of the idea in a staff meeting, someone was assigned to carry out the task and develop the idea.   In our travels, we found many stores that have developed their trademark niches because someone wanted to do something special. 

A hardware retailer had their paint department grow from being just an average department to being the second largest, and fastest growing because of a part time employee.  Paint was this employee’s special talent.  After many suggestions from him, and watching him sell paint, the owner of the store could see that he had a leader.  The department tripled its sales with only a 40% increase in square footage.  The employee also demonstrated leadership ability that developed to be a strong asset.   Like the lady in our business, this employee asked who was in charge and decided he could make a difference.

We met another retailer that had an employee that had previously worked in the advertising industry.  This employee took what was a coupon insert to 300 statements, and created a six-page newsletter that was mailed to over 2,200 customers.  The newsletter became the focal point of this retailer’s advertising.  The newsletter even had profitable months as they sold display ads to their commercial customers.  This extensive advertising background became a tremendous asset as he took charge.

A retailer that we visited frequently began to show signs of a remerchandised sales floor.  The arrival of a new employee brought the necessary talents.  As he reset his entire store, it had been this employee that came to the front, showing his merchandising skills.  Another of his skills that was most obvious to other team members, was his work in coordinating sales circulars and the early ordering of these items.

A retailer that was more known for his salesmanship than his financial management skills was fortunate to find a talented organizer on his sales floor.  This person had previously worked seasonally for a tax preparation service.  This employee is now working in the office and has spent many hours streamlining the office procedures as well as doing an excellent job of overseeing cash flow.  Most customers and team members see little of this employee, but the management team knows of her behind the scene work.

This brings us back to the first employee and her question.   Hopefully in many stores, she can begin to answer the question herself.  Where does she fit in?  What talents does she bring to the team?  How can she make the store more valuable to its customers, and more profitable?  It may take several weeks for a retailer to see the answers.   The answer might entail her taking over the duties of another team member so that they can focus their energy in another area.  Everyone benefits.  The store continues to grow.  And the team member gets the satisfaction that does not occur in most jobs.  They have made a difference.  If they were not there, there would be a big hole. 

There have been numerous surveys that we have read, that note that the salary is not the most important part of a job to an employee.  Sense of contribution and value are usually at the top of the important factor list.  If a person's presence on our team does not make a difference, then that person is probably the one that is most easily replaced. In training our new young team members, we stressed that a strong work ethic included a determination to make one's presence felt by the efforts that were put forth. 

In stores that have large seasonal swings in their business, a person that is unable to create a niche for himself is probably the team member that would be laid off for the off-season sales period.  Is niche marketing important?  It sure is.  It is crucial to our success.  It is right up there on the important ingredients list - right next to niche people.

Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site:

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St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
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