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How to Start a Kid-Focused Business

Niches Business by Business

Following are some niche possibilities for each of the five types of kids-related businesses. Keep in mind, however, that children's products and services already constitute a niche market. For some of these business types, further specialization may not be practical.

Kids' Party Planning
You already know you'll need to make yourself stand out in kids' party planning by establishing some kind of niche, but where should you look for one?

Probably nowhere, at least not immediately. Instead, you should try different types of parties to see which work best for you and which offer the best market for you. This strategy will also help ensure that you don't wind up without enough parties to plan..

Even once you're better established, be careful not to restrict your market too much. You can become known for, say, tea parties and yet still produce other kinds of children's, and even adults', events. In all but the biggest, most affluent markets, too narrow a niche is a problem in children's event planning.

With the understanding, then, that perhaps only about half your business may be in a niche market, here are some possible ideas:

Tea parties: Usually these are dress-up parties at which "tea" is served and often a little etiquette lesson given. These are popular for girls in the 4-to-9-year-old age range. With the proper marketing and adjustment of activities, the age range could probably even be extended beyond 9.

Spa parties: Any kind of "pamper me" party is popular with girls 10 and up. Hair, makeup, manicures or pedicures, facials and any other pampering activity are good entertainment ideas.

Holiday parties: Christmas parties are the most common, but any holidays are possible. You'll need to target a geographic area with high levels of disposable income.

Bar or bat mitzvah parties: These can be a good bet in areas with a significant Jewish population. "About 40 percent of my business is bar and bat mitzvahs," says event planner Beth Shubert, owner of Glen Rock, New Jersey-based Evention Inc.

quinceñera (age 15) parties: In areas with relatively higher Hispanic populations, this is a good niche possibility. Overall, as the U.S. Hispanic population increases to a projected 25 percent, this niche will get even better!

Sweet 16 parties: So far, this type of party is prevalent only in the trendiest, wealthiest areas. But that could change.

High school-related parties: Prom, homecoming, winter formal, senior breakfast and graduation can provide a niche market in areas of the country with large schools. Currently, California seems to be the main market for professionally planned school parties, but the market may expand.

If you decide to try a niche, keep in mind that what's trendy or popular in one area of the country may not be in another. How do you find out this information? One way is by interviewing professionals in related fields. Photographers, florists and caterers know what types of events are popular in their areas. They may even have suggestions for site personnel (such as hotel managers, for example) you should talk to.

In addition, interview prospective clients in affluent households. Doctors' offices and law offices are good places to start. Also, joining local business organizations can put you in contact with businesspeople with high levels of disposable income. If you say you're conducting market research and then keep your questions to a minimum-four at most-people will usually cooperate.

Kids' Gift and Bath Products
Creating a product to fill a need that you have in your own life is one good way to find a niche. When Nicole Donnelly, for example, wanted her baby to go diaperless for a while to clear up a rash, she needed a way to keep the baby's legs warm and her knees padded for crawling. "I cut up a pair of my socks and made little baby leg warmers," she says. The idea was an instant hit and she sold 100 pairs in two weeks. She launched her company, BabyLegs, in Seattle in 2005.

The following are some possible niche ideas for children's gift and bath products:

Craft kits: scrapbooking, knitting, sewing, woodworking, jewelry

Accessories: handbags, totes, backpacks, hats, scarves, gloves, hair décor

Storage containers: hat, jewelry, trinket or treasure boxes

Jewelry: dress-up, casual, "best friends" sets, backpack décor

New baby/sibling items: blankets, T-shirts, photo albums

Bedroom or locker accessories: photo frames, memory books, wastebaskets, desk accessories

Personalized items: Just about anything above could fit into this category!

Ethnic/world culture items: dolls and other toys from around the world, ethnic dolls, world games

Organic bath products: shampoo, lotion, body scrub, bubble bath

There's no substitute for getting out there, doing the legwork and finding out what's available. Check out any trade shows or consumer gift shows you can find. While the main trade shows for the gift industry are in major cities like New York, Atlanta and Dallas, many cities across the United States host consumer shows.

Kids' Educational Toys and Games
Whether you're selling ready-made toys and games or those you produce yourself, it's a good idea to remember that educational toys and games already make up a well-defined niche. However, if you're starting up with low costs and you have an expansive reach (such as by using direct mail or the internet to get the word out), you could specialize in one or more of the following ways:

Age group: baby, preschool, primary, tween, teen

Skill type: motor skills, alphabet, reading, hand-eye coordination, cognitive skills

Activity type: toy, game, puzzle, enrichment, sports, dress-up

Play medium: paper, game board, manipulatives, keyboard

Kids' Plus-Size Clothing
Although the children's casual plus-size clothing market may be well enough served, it seems clear that plus-size clothing for teens and young adults is a good niche opportunity. When LeRona Johnson launched her teen and young adult plus-size clothing store, MerriBella Fashions, in 2006 in Chicago, she knew how hard it was to find fashionable clothing to please her own teenage daughter. For her 15-year-old, the Lane Bryant retail store wasn't an option. The styles and fabric types were different from what her friends wore. And she had another objection. "She doesn't want to shop where her mom shops," says Johnson.

Department stores are problematic, too. Those that carry junior plus sizes are few and far between, and selection is limited.

In her store, Johnson stocks the types of styles her daughter wants to wear. Customer response to MerriBella's trendy, youthful style selections has been enthusiastic. "It makes me feel good to hear customers say they've been looking for a place like this," says Johnson. One of her customers lives in Iowa. "She comes up here once a month and shops with us because she says she can't find these types of things for her daughter."

What's the secret? Doing something different, according to Johnson. "You really have to have that niche," she says. "You have to pretty much be doing something no one else is doing, or the competition, the bigger stores, will kill you every time.".

If you plan to sew custom clothing, your avenues for eventual specialization might be wide open. According to veteran pattern maker Sarah Doyle, who spent several years collecting measurements of plus-size children, current standard industry plus sizes are often not "plus" enough. Although clients are unlikely to pay custom prices for some basic kids' clothing items like T-shirts and shorts, there are other items Doyle says they will pay more for. These include the following:

Formalwear: bridesmaid and prom dresses, suits

Casualwear: fashionable tops, skirts and pants

Underwear: slips, sport bras

Outerwear: coats, jackets, snow pants, sweatshirts

Nightwear: pajamas, nightgowns, robe

Kids' Cooking Classes
This type of service is novel enough that making parents aware of it, and getting them to pay for it, should be a greater priority than looking for a narrower niche market. A further challenge is that most children are in school much of the day.

You can be creative in structuring your classes, however. For example, what about offering a cooking class that focuses on foods inspired by popular kids' book characters like Harry Potter or American Girls? Talk to parents of prospective students (starting with your friends and acquaintances) and see what kinds of classes interest them.

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