The Niche Suicide 30 Comments

forked road

How do you want to die in the cut-throat world of business? Seems like most of us prefer the “familiar” blade.

Think about it, how many Ethiopians /Africans have access to the internet?

An Ethiopian lawyer limiting her client base to just Ethiopians is committing suicide. The same theory applies to most businesses that cater only to a niche clique. Nonetheless, we persist on that same tried & true road. Why? Perhaps it’s comfort; the negative perspective being fear. Most of us prefer the model of staying within our own – those boundaries drawn long ago & cultivated by similar culture, language, race etc… – tides that bind. Very few of us venture out side this territory. Why not try “the road not taken” by most?

“I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference!” – Frost

Now, admittedly, there are both advantages as well as disadvantages to staying within the Niche. The obvious being, who we are is indicative of what we do. If we market and work close to ourselves, it evidently makes us better in what we do. A sales man can sell better than a plumber. A painter is more creative than a doctor.

That is a stretch but the formula can keep going till we reach the destination; a niche market is an easier market to target. If the target is close to home then its makes sense to infer, ‘it’s easier to hit a bull’s eye.’

The problem in our case is that we are comparatively small. Any major city in the Midwest of the US has enough Ethiopians to support a business catered to Ethiopians. Hence, we see enough Ethiopian restaurants in most of these cities. And the fact that it’s an Ethiopian operating an Ethiopian restaurant makes it a better Ethiopian business because an Ethiopian is making the Ethiopian food as well us marketing the business to Ethiopians. There are advantages; it’s as niche as it gets thus somewhat easy to manage, relatively speaking.

The Suicide

The fact remains though; a Jamaican bar in Mississippi run by a Jamaican man in Mississippi is not going to do as well as a regular bar run by a Jamaican man because the target market is small. No matter how close to the center you hit the target by honing your marketing and business resources, it’s not enough to balance/overcome the reality that there aren’t enough Jamaicans in Mississippi.

There is another variable to this, and that is a niche product is not only liked and used by the niche consumer but it eventually culminates into brand loyalty. Thus, the next obvious step is to widen the niche product’s grasp to a wider audience. Had I the fortune to attend the Wharton MBA program, I would know what the exact phrase is to explain this phenomenon. But I would assume it would be something analogous to “widening your target market.

Your local Chinese take-out is a perfect example. There are a million Chinese run Chinese restaurants in the US not because the food is authentic Chinese cuisine but because these restaurants predominately target a huge market. They cast a wider net, vis à vie to almost all people in any neighborhood.

Niche vs. Wide

bullseyeCertainly the dilemma is neither clear-cut nor easily decided; for instance, the various money transfer businesses in the DC metro area. Let’s say there is one good Ethiopian owned money transfer corporation about 30 miles from where I live. It’s cheap, somewhat reliable and they specialize in sending money to Ethiopia.

The problem is that there is a Western Union within walking distance from where I live. Yes more expensive and plus, I am not sure how an American company notifies my second cousin who doesn’t have a phone and lives in the service room of another house in Shashemenie. At least with an Ethiopian company I can tell them to contact my second cousin located “Dej Azmatch Desta bet jerba.

A niche product in most cases regardless of quality is not necessarily as profitable as a general product; for instance a ford focus makes ford a lot more money than a BMW Z4 for BMW, just because more people can afford it.

In the same manner, a breastfeeding blog will have more traffic than a news website for Ethiopians because there are more breastfeeding mothers with internet access than Ethiopians with internet access throughout the world.

Additionally, the Ethiopian news website is competing with a lot more general news websites as opposed to breastfeeding blog that only competes with a few articles in various sites. Contrary to popular belief, country centric news website will give better and more detailed information specific to that particular nation; again generally speaking. Newsweek will is not going to bother with the Ethiopian Millennium celebration per say.

The challenger; it doesn’t necessarily mean that a general product for a general market is the best option. If you don’t find a niche market for the product or service you present, you will most probably fall short. Most newcomers who wish to do business often market to everyone that is accessible with the expectation that everyone will do business with them. This is the same as shooting at the target blind folded and hoping it’s in the vicinity.

The question everyone should ask is if there is sufficient demand for the product or service.

The point is just that, too much niche is suicide; and lack of niche too general. Let’s balance it a little bit better. Carry a few more products in your Arab Suq. Think about starting a website in your professional field before starting one on the country you are from. This is not to say I agree with obtuse idealist notions such as ‘opening our eyes to the world, socializing outside our circles. i.e. get to know Apu from next door; but that’s another topic.

30 Responses to “The Niche Suicide”

  1. 1 toothpick

    In the same manner, a breastfeeding blog will have more traffic than a news website for Ethiopians

    LOL. I love this.

  2. 2 justme

    “Think about starting a website in your professinal field before starting one on the country you are from”

    ohh how many of us got this true!true
    everything start from small….and then will grow!!

  3. 3 Baheilu

    It is very good, thanks.

  4. 4 masinkomelody

    Great post Nol.

    The question everyone should ask is if there is sufficient demand for the product or service.

    I certainly agree. I once had a debate with an instructor on whether the first step in conducting a business research should be to find out how much it would cost to produce the product or whether you have demand for it. She was inclined towards the former, whereas for me it made much more sense to find out if there is demand for your product first. Why would i waste time gathering information on production costs before i determine if people are interested in what i have to offer? Of course, once it is established that there actually is demand, then research can be conducted on price levels that correspond to increasing or decreasing sales.

  5. 5 ÜberMan

    Thx Nolawi – Yet another great post. Unfortunately, we Ethiopians only seem to know how to COPY one another (One opens a restaurant – 10 more pop up). Nothing original develops in our community. Hope some take your advice to heart & take the “road less traveled by.”

    The U-Man!

  6. 6 Balbo

    Another great article Nolawi,

    My problem with the habesha Business is not that they target a very niche market, its that they ignore the need to fulfill the demand of that small niche… many restaurants/ shops/ service business have you been taken for granted for, though we are the reason for their existence as a business, boy do they not understand the need to take care of us. i.e. the problems of service, professionalism etc.

    I know we are not the best of customers neither “Gulit mentality” Nolawi

    So unless they are able to satsfy the demand of a very small niche market, how will they be able to meet the demands and expectations of a larger market?

  7. 7 wudnesh

    well said Balbo! But I find that the habesha (owned)businesses serving a larger market usually provide top of the line service….it’s when it comes to serving their own community the ‘aweqkush naqkush’ surfaces.

    Nol, so, is this article an indication of Bernos planning to widen its products’ grasp to a wider group of customers? Just wondering.

  8. 8 Dinich

    That is what I think unless Nol says otherwise….

    Nol, so, is this article an indication of Bernos planning to widen its products’ grasp to a wider group of customers? Just wondering


  9. 9 Nolawi

    Well, for bernos its been part of the long term agenda to move out of the Ethiopian/ abesha market for a long time….

    There are two variables here… one is just because the Product is Ethiopian it doesn’t mean the market is ethiopia.. you see roughly 20-25 percent of our sales have gone outside that niche…

    the other is if our concepts are more african we would have a wider appeal…. and wider market… and that brings us to be more postmoderm which is wider appeal would mean more general stuff…. in our case more african but general… not carrying super specific concepts like a mask from northwestern cameroon etc… and being general has its own problems..

    are we going to do more specific concepts from different places in africa…or more general concepts that thouch everyone in africa…

    we are moving very slowly because we just don’t have the work force to do these thing in the short term… but this article was not to about bernos persay but things I was thinking about in general


    I agree that both the customer and the business person has issues… but mostly its the customers fault because a service and or a product no matter how bad is only sustain by demand….

    and no business is perfect….

  10. 10 Sky

    Nice Business101 lesson Noli!!! Thanks.
    I agree with Dinich and Wude. I was expecting your conclusion to say “with that Bernos is going to……” but a very good idea and business stratege at least for Bernos to expand to all African concepts.

    “are we going to do more specific concepts from different places in africa…or more general concepts that thouch everyone in africa…”

    Happy Thanksgiving every one!!!

  11. 11 Austin

    This is a very interested read! I couldn’t help but grin with this statement as well:

    In the same manner, a breastfeeding blog will have more traffic than a news website for Ethiopians

    Very good read.


  12. 12 Dimson Hastings

    I concur with Austin. haha that statement is jokes.

  13. 13 elline

    i love your blog. it is a very intersting subject you choose. the reason i belive most people tend to stay with their own nich as you said is becuse the comfort level. as you know we ethiopian do not care about what is going on out of our on community and we tend to market to and compete with our own. i belive that comes from a luck of education within our community about the outside world.

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