Finding Your Niche - And Branding It

When you find your niche and brand yourself well, you'll stand out in a sea of competition.
When you find your niche and brand yourself well, you'll stand out in a sea of competition.

In today’s retail world, there is a lot of noise: online pop-up ads, non-stop television campaigns, coupons everywhere from the retail store to your smartphone. What can you do to rise above all the clutter and solidify your brand?

First: Know who you are and who you aren’t. 

Say someone asks you to describe your business. What traits do you have that separates you from your competitors in your market? Why should someone shop with you? In a recent survey of retailers in multiple categories, including pool and spa retailers, 90 percent of respondents touted these three areas as their best, differentiating traits:

1. Quality: I sell a quality product that I am proud to have in my store. 

2. Value: The products and services I provide are a good value to the consumer. I am neither the highest priced nor the lowest in my market. 

3. Service: My staff is the best in the business. They are well trained and treat everyone with respect, are very helpful to our customers and represent our company well. 

Since 90 percent of you feel the same way about your business, I dare say these are entry level qualities for all retailers. Shouldn’t we all be offering great service, a quality product at a fair value for all?  

If quality, value and service are the top three traits, it would make sense to go a little deeper and see what comes in as No. 4, 5 and 6. As you identify those characteristics that make your business unique, then you can see how your brand is developed. Remember that our goal is to rise above all the clutter, not accepting status quo as our offering.  

How do you identify your No. 4, 5 and 6?  

Do you focus on training?  Are your team members certified and knowledgeable about ALL of the products you carry? Is your store well laid out? Is there a flow to your store that makes it easy for shoppers to know where to find what they are looking for? Are you current with trends in product selection?  Are you reaching out in social media and engaging customers that way? Do you greet each customer with more than a hello and "can I help you?" Do you have a process for welcoming a first-time customer? Does all of your staff know what to do to welcome a new customer? Do you follow up with them? Do you do what you say will you do in the timeframe that you said you would do it? 

To stand out, start by thinking about your customers rather than your company. Ask what they value most about doing business with you and what services you could add to make their lives easier. Direct interaction with customers gives you an edge in responding to their needs — and that’s the core of a strong small business brand. This is something that big box stores find too hard and cumbersome to make a part of their offering. So they approach the market with value, quality and service….see what I mean? Everyone should do that at a minimum. 

To rise above the clutter, show your customers you understand the challenges they face and the benefits they’ll get by doing business with you. Instead of selling products or services, offer solutions that feel custom-designed to their needs. In other words, give them sparkling, crystal blue water that is ready for all of their events, as well as daily use. Take the hassle out for them. Show them you care.

Good customer service has been defined as: Receiving a product or service that is delivered in the manner it was presented, with an understanding that this transaction is mutually beneficial. Well, I wonder how many customers leave a store feeling that way. And is that noteworthy? Excellent customer service should be our goal when it comes to brand building. Providing an experience that exceeds expectations and makes people want to talk about the great experience they had. You want customers that will be your brand champions by spreading the word about their experience with you.  

Your brand is what people say it is. 

No branding, no differentiation. No differentiation, no long-term profitability. People don't have relationships with products, they are loyal to brands. Brands have a purpose that people can get behind. Brands can inspire people to join a community. For example, when Starbucks was launching their brand, their objective was to create a community. Hence, the sofas, comfy chairs, free wi-fi, etc. People who have a pool often see it as a status/lifestyle item that they're proud to share with family and friends. Creating a community of pool owners in your market could happen as easily as asking for pictures of their pool enjoyment and posting them in-store or online or both. People like to see that they are part of something. Make them part of your store’s community and your brand. 

That’s branding in a nutshell. It’s not your company’s logo, tagline or mission statement. “It’s what people say about you when you leave the room,” says Carlos Martinez Onaindia, Global Brand senior manager at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and co-author of Designing B2B Brands: Lessons from Deloitte and 195,000 Brand Managers. “It’s about perception; it’s about reputation. Everything you do as a business speaks to your brand. Why are you different from your competition?”

What inspires loyalty in a customer? The details vary from one transaction to another, but the unifying thread is always the same: a sense of personal connection and confidence. People rarely recommend an auto mechanic because he was able to fix their car. They say, “He’s always dealt honestly with me. I trust him.” It's the same thing when you talk about a locally owned family restaurant: “The first time we ate there, the owner came to the table and introduced herself. The second time, she remembered our names.” 

Never forget that branding is a team sport

Your entire staff has to be on board with your objectives, your mission and your priorities. They need to be a reflection of you and the values in which your brand is built. 

It comes back to that mechanic you trust and that restaurant owner who remembers your name. Most of us want to feel valued as customers, and most of us prefer to do business with people with whom we share values, priorities and a sense of personal connection. Build your brand to the point that customers think of themselves as doing business with you, not with a company. Treat them the way you’re treated by the vendors and service providers you value most. This seems simple when boiled down to something we all probably learned in grade school. It’s the golden rule. When your whole team values and handles customer relationships consistently and in a manner that rings true, your brand will capture the essence of your business and inspire loyalty.

Remember that everything speaks!

How do you set your pool and spa store apart? Comment with your thoughts. 

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