Business Smarts: Finding Your Niche - National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Business Smarts: Finding Your Niche

When you work in your niche, it’s easier to sell work and the work is more profitable as well. You might think that selecting a niche for your company limits your ability to grow, but this focus can actually help you overall.

“Every company needs to be able to differentiate themselves if they want to grow and be profitable,” says Neal Glatt, managing partner of GrowTheBench. “If you’re not growing and being profitable it’s probably because you have not defined what you are as a company.”

Why Niches Matter

The whole goal of the niche is to be the only person in an area delivering things the way that you do because that’s how you’re going to eliminate competition.  

“Being in a niche by definition is just less competition,” Glatt says. “You’re specialized. So, if you’re going out there and you’re generic and same as everybody else, then you become a commodity. Then it’s just about price.”

Having a niche also allows you to sell to the right customer and allows for better long-term relationships. 

“By focusing on your strengths, what you do best, and working with those people that you mesh with the best, that increases quality, communication is better, clarity is better with the execution of jobs, whether it be maintenance or installation,” says Fred Haskett, LIC, head harvester with The Harvest Group. “You end up with a better product and a better result and either a referral or retention. Also, it helps with morale. When you’re focused on the things that you do well, it affects all the people on your team in a positive way.”

What Makes a Niche

While niches are about lowering the competition, it doesn’t mean you have to avoid working in competitive markets. You simply must find a way to disrupt them and differentiate yourself from other businesses.

An example of this is if you offer lawn mowing services, perhaps you provide hyper communication where you contact a customer four hours before you arrive, so they know to turn off their sprinkler system.

“Landscaping and many niches within the scope of landscape services are very competitive,” says Andrew Dickson, director of success with LandOpt. “If it is a non-competitive niche that may mean you will have a more difficult time to convince the client to adopt the new type of service.” 

No one specific thing defines your company’s niche whether it be the services you offer, the geographical area you’re in or the customer base you serve. Instead, it’s often a mixture of these components. Dickson adds to make sure you can also attract and retain employees who can deliver that niche.

“Look at repeat customers. Whatever they are asking you to do a second time is validation you are doing something right. If that customer asked you to do several different types of work, your niche may be customer service.”

– Andrew Dickson, director of success with LandOpt

Being a full-service can be part of a niche, but that can’t be the only thing that defines your company. You have to go beyond the term full-service and know what value specifically you have that no other full-service company has, whether it’s a geographic area or a way of communicating with clients.   

“The point of being full-service is you own that relationship,” Glatt says. “You better be able to provide as good as anybody else every service I call you for as a customer. Otherwise, you’re not really meeting the needs of that niche.”

How to Find Your Niche

When deciding where to focus, ask yourself what clients do you like working with the most, what service lines have the best return on investment from a profitability standpoint, as well as where you get the most personal satisfaction.

“Number one, your market area determines that to a certain degree,” Haskett says. “The second thing is it’s a personality thing. What I see is most people come into this industry, they’re either an ops guy or people guy or gal. They’re either oriented toward establishing relationships with people and are oriented toward a sales type of process, or they’re hands-on operational type people.”

Haskett says that operational-focused people tend to eventually move toward commercial work where it’s more business-related. The people with good customer service and relationship skills prefer to stay in high-end residential work.

“If you just go by the numbers, you’re going to hate your job,” Haskett says. “You have to do a little bit of both.”

One of Haskett’s clients tried to go the commercial route, but it didn’t suit their personalities of being very friendly and personable, so they switched to focusing on high-end residential.

“Look at repeat customers,” Dickson says. “Whatever they are asking you to do a second time is validation you are doing something right. If that customer asked you to do several different types of work, your niche may be customer service.”

When coaching companies, Glatt conducts an exercise and has them identify their favorite/most profitable type of client. They will build client profiles for these customers and see what they have in common.

“If we can build this ideal client profile and then we say, ‘Is this a big enough market?'” Glatt says. “‘Are there enough of these types of clients to sustain us for how big we want to be?’ Then that becomes our niche and we forget everything else. That’s how that process goes.”

“When you’re focused on the things that you do well, it affects all the people on your team in a positive way.”

– Fred Haskett, LIC, head harvest with The Harvest Group

If you are wondering if your company has already found its niche, Glatt has a target market statement on GrowTheBench. If you can fill in all six blanks, and that description does not match other local companies, then you have found your niche.

When to Develop Your Niche

As for when to truly develop your niche, there will obviously be a period of time where you are figuring out what services you like and which you are good at. While most companies start on the lawn care side of things, Haskett says typically companies start to diversify around the $150,000 to $200,000 mark.

Around the $750,000 to $1 million mark, most people start to run out of bandwidth without hiring a number two guy. Haskett warns against basing your niche entirely on your own bandwidth, as this will limit your company’s ability to grow to the next level. He says developing people who are suited to running different parts of the business can help overcome this issue.

“That’s a measure of success for any leader or any owner is when they start to understand what they’re good at and then the next thing is understanding what you aren’t good at,” Haskett says. “Success is developing people around you who are compensating for your shortcomings.”

Even once you have settled on where you want to focus your efforts, your niche should not be set in stone.

Glatt says defining your niche is a continual process that evolves along with the market. Dickson agrees that for most companies your niche is an evolution.

“You should always be trying it out and always at least annually re-evaluating what’s working best,” Glatt says. “Clients push you into other stuff. An opportunity comes up, you end up trying something new as a new staff member and they’ve got new ideas or new experience. You try something else out, and then all of a sudden you may discover something that’s even easier, more profitable or better.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.

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