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How Niche Players Can Compete Against Big Brands

How Niche Players Can Compete Against Big Brands
Andy Katz-Mayfield (left) and Warby Parker co-founder
Jeff Raider of the shaving startup Harry's.
Image credit: Harry's

If any company can prove that banking on a niche product can return a goldmine, it's Warby Parker.

But rather than designer eyewear for a fraction of the price, Warby Parker co-founder Jeff Raider recently set his sights on something even more niche: men's grooming. With the launch of his ecommerce-shaving-accoutrements store Harry's, Raider is planning on redefining the grooming market, much like he and his co-founders did with eyewear.

As with any highly-specific product or service, Raider had to find a way to angle his startup to standout. What could he change about the men's grooming industry that could make a difference in the eyes of customers? As it turns out, the way men interact with razors is as old as… well, facial hair.

So, Raider focused on offering a unique user experience at an affordable price -- think $2 blades, $10 handles and $8 shaving cream. Plus, it doesn't hurt that he added a socially conscious component -- donating a razor or dollar every time a pack of blades are purchased.

"We felt like we had to take a new approach in established markets to build our differentiated brands," says Raider. "Big name brands at times don't communicate directly with customers, and we've found customers like brands that care about them and exist to try to deliver a great experience."

While Harry's is just the latest niche brand to carve out a new concept in an established market, it isn't the first. Eco-friendly products brand The Honest Company is taking on Kimberly-Clark's HUGGIESwith its organic line. TOMS shoes reshaped footwear with its socially-conscious model and Bonobos is making a name for itself in menswear with an emphasis on fit.

Related: College Entrepreneur Dives Into Niche Business

As a young entrepreneur looking to follow in the footsteps of these successful niche businesses, here are some tips on how to create your own demand by redefining the market:

Identify users' needs.
By disrupting an established market, entrepreneurs can gain knowledge pertaining to what is missing in the current offerings. Listen to consumers on social media and forums for complaints, demands and recommendations. Some of the best inspiration comes right from the horse's mouth, making it easy for you to discover untapped demand. 

Make your product stand out.
If you want to create demand for your product or service, you've got to offer the world something they haven't seen before. Whether it's a new experience, a twist on a popular product or an added service, pinpoint the difference and shout it from the rooftops. Not only should you focus on value creation by identifying your unique-selling proposition but also treat your customers as people first, not dollar signs.

Related: Not Top Dog? 4 Ways to Project a Bigger Brand

Tell a story.
If you are positioning your product to disrupt an established market, chances are you have a distinct offering.  Great. Tell people about it. Consumers love a great story. By providing background information and a little narration, you can set yourself apart from every other company slinging the same product.

Get the word out.
Once you've created a distinguished product or service, manufacture more demand by generating buzz. One low-cost strategy is to build up your brand ambassadors -- the people that can't stop talking about your product. Ask for their feedback, give them sneak peeks into new offerings and provide incentives to spread the word.

Related link: How to Launch a Successful Brand Ambassador Initiative 

What strategies do you use to standout? Let us know your secret in the comments.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Adam Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Matthew, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Phoenix, Ariz.
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