Find a Niche and Get Rich

February 24, 2010|

New businesses sprout up almost weekly in metro Augusta, however, the ones that stick around long enough to renew their lease are the ones who find their service niche and their customer market. I have identified several local businesses that have found an interesting new angle to market, and in each the concept is almost absurdly simple and grew out of the passion of the owner.

Experts agree that one should never consider starting a business because they think they have an interesting concept people will buy. After all, people will always buy ham, but not everyone wants to spend 60 hours a week slaughtering hogs.

Lori Simmons is not the kind of woman you would find slopping pigs on a farm. Just the opposite, Ms. Simmons likes Victorian elegance and can explain the differences between afternoon and high teas. During a trip to San Francisco, she visited a tea salon called Crown and Crumpets and walked out with an idea she brought back to Augusta.

“That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard of,” said a friend of mine who shall remain nameless. My friend is male, with only one child who is also male, so when I explained the concept of Tea with a Duchess, it went right over his head. Actually, Tea With a Duchess is a brilliant and oh-so-simple business plan. Five year old girls love to play dress up. They love royalty and finery and this business concept caters directly to those made of sugar and spice and everything nice.

Imagine for your daughter’s birthday, she and her friends get to dress up like ladies-in-waiting. Tea With a Duchess provides monogrammed cup cakes and special handmade party hats. Food for the party is catered and each child gets gourmet candies and party favors. The tea, or lemonade if desired, is poured into Rosenthal white bone china for the dainty little gloved hands to hold and it all takes place in a Victorian atmosphere. The only thing missing is a spa treatment afterwards. And the price is right as well. A birthday party for 10 children at any location will cost around $200 and it doesn’t include fine linens or monogrammed cakes.

The reason why this idea works so well is that the concept is not only an extension of Simmons’ personal tastes, but the location in which she chose for her business is the perfect spot. Tea With a Duchess would never work at a strip mall location in Columbia County. Part of the ambience that is being sold to the young ladies-in-waiting is the Summerville neighborhood experience. On the way to the tea, the expectant partygoers pass the historic elegance and the towering mansions until they arrive at the Monte Sano Avenue address. This is a fine example of finding the right consumers, providing the right service, offering the perfect location and having an owner who has always dreamed of actually having tea with a duchess.

Another local business that has slipped all the right keys into the slots and unlocked success is Flying Colors of Augusta. Co-owner Bill Brown has always loved cars, especially the classics. As a teen, he dreamed of restoring an old Chevrolet Belair or Ford Fairlane. So, naturally, Brown decided he wanted a career working on cars. He started out working for Flying Colors years ago when it was basically a one-man operation, however, again, the concept was simple: offering spot painting and dent repair to used car lots when they received traded in vehicles.

At first, the business remained small, but Brown had an idea that would expand the operation and decided to save up a nest egg and buy the company. The idea added additional vans and made the service available to everyone, not just the local car lots. The idea found traction immediately. Rather than make an appointment, take time off from work, worry about needing a rental car, and be forced to sit in a grimy waiting room reading back issues of Sports Illustrated waiting for a minor collision repair, customers can simply call Flying Colors. The paint and body van goes to the customer’s location and a technician fixes the dent, mixes paint to match, and spot paints the vehicle. By the time the customer gets off from work, the paint job is dry and complete. Bill Brown has not yet restored his classic dream car, but his business that began as a tiny upstart may finance the early retirement time necessary for such a project.

The stranglehold on today’s financial market by lenders is opening the front door to business opportunities. There have been a number of those pricey $700-1,200 per month apartment complexes popping up in West Augusta and Columbia County. The primary location of one of the benefiting entrepreneurs is not in an apartment, but in cyberspace.

Listingtank.com followed in the wake of the dotcom crash with an idea that works based off, you guessed it, simplicity. Listingtank.com is a search engine for prospective apartment renters that offer a cash reward to them for signing a lease. The property manager sets the reward which can be anywhere between $100 to $1000, and pays Listingtank.com a flat $100 commission for each signed lease they generate. In the CSRA, about 30 apartment complexes have signed up to market their spaces through the web space on listingtank.com

Again, this cyber-company doesn’t worry about web ads, they simply generate a list that is easy for prospects to navigate and a cash register chimes every time someone finds a new apartment through the service. Only time will tell if the concept survives, but it seems like a sure bet.

According to financial expert Clark Howard, the downturn in the economy has given plenty of people the incentive to start their own businesses. Sometimes it is due to a layoff or people realizing that the industry they work in no longer provides the long-term stability they are accustomed to, and they jump off into self employment. However, there are pitfalls.

One of my dear friends has worked in the media for decades and suddenly found himself a casualty of the economy. Since his work was specialized, he decided to take his “brand” with him and started his own business rather than apply for employment at other media outlets. While he continues to do the reporting he loves, he is also now in charge of the advertising end as well. The same man that always complained about the “advertising sales weasels” now has an appreciation for people who sell ads because it is not easy no matter how well your name is known in the marketplace.

His story is similar to people who learn the art of candle making and enjoy selling their wares at festivals such as First Friday. They then take their idea further and open a shop only to find that the hobby became a job and there were facets to the job they never expected. Thankfully, my media friend realized his limitations and took measures that are putting him back on the road to success, but he is an exception. Businesses that do not have all the right pieces in place usually end in financial disaster for someone.

Upstarts like Tea With A Duchess and Flying Colors of Augusta are two examples of taking an idea to the next level and ending up with a potential gold mine. Hopefully, if you are so inclined, yours will be the next small business I get to brag about.

(Scott Hudson does not endorse products or businesses and this column should not be viewed as an endorsement unless you have a five year old girl with a birthday or need your car spot painted. Scott also does not endorse Three Squares Diner even though he loves their pork chops and cabbage. Seriously, Scott was not paid to mention any of the above businesses.)

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