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Ask SCORE - Strategies can help startups find niche

December 14, 2008|By BOB POOR

By BOB POOR

Local SCORE education coordinator

Q: My partner and I are planning a startup small business and we would really like to focus on a "niche market." Are there guidelines on just how to do that?

A: A market in its entirety is usually too broad in scope for any but the largest companies to tackle. The best strategy for a smaller business is to divide demand into manageable market niches. Here are some suggestions on developing niches from our friends at the Small Business Administration.

· Study the market. There should be particular products or services that you are especially suited to provide. Study the market and you will find opportunities. One company focused on medical instruments and found out that hospital operating rooms must carefully count the instruments before and after surgery. The small firm met that particular need by packaging its instruments in pre-counted, customized sets for different forms of surgery.

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· Do a market survey. Determine where there might be an opening for your product or service. Study the competition to learn where your opportunities best lie.

· Find the niche. Try to find the right configuration of products, services, quality and price that will ensure the least direct competition.

· Create a good database. A well-designed database can help you sort through your market information and reveal particular segments you might not notice otherwise. For example, do customers in a certain geographic area tend to purchase products that combine high quality and high price? If so, consider focusing on being a local provider of high quality goods and services.

· Make sure you're consistent. If you do target a new niche market, make sure that this niche does not conflict with your overall business plan. For example, a small bakery that makes cookies by hand cannot go after a market for inexpensive, mass-produced cookies, regardless of the demand.

· Ask SCORE. The Hagerstown SCORE chapter has more than 20 small business counselors available to assist you with free small business one-on-one counseling and low-cost seminars and workshops. Whether a startup or an established business, you can benefit from the services of SCORE. Contact or call them at www.scorehagerstown.org or 301-739-2015, ext. 103.

Robert A. "Bob" Poor is a small business counselor and a regular contributor to the Ask SCORE column. Questions may be e-mailed to him at r.poor@myactv.net or by mail in care of The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD 21741, ATTN: Ask SCORE column. The Ask SCORE column appears every second Sunday of the month.

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