Q: My partner and I are getting started with a small business selling golf equipment and diecast collectible cars. We have a retail shop and sell on eBay and at flea markets. We have branded ourselves as a "sporting goods and hobby shop," but we need to know: How do we grow this business to become extremely successful? With all the competition, how do we find our niche market and obtain a piece of the pie?
A: My immediate reaction to your question--before even considering how to grow your business--is that it sounds like you are doing two very different things: selling golf equipment and selling diecast collectible cars. For a retail store, this could be confusing: If someone is in the market for golf equipment, is that person going to be interested in collectible cars? And even if they are interested in both, are they likely to purchase both at once? Perhaps you are in a situation where someone comes in to shop for golf equipment and happens to look at (and maybe purchase at a later date) your cars, and vice versa. But my instincts say that if you are going to keep growing, you'll need to separate the two businesses.
The reasons to separate the businesses, either by creating two different retail concepts or by eliminating one of the concepts altogether, will become clear if you sit down and write a detailed marketing plan. This plan is what is going to help you grow and build your sales. You are likely at a point in your business where you have a steady stream of loyal clientele, but to go beyond that and reach new customers, you need to give yourselves some clear direction about who exactly that customer is. (Take a look at our How to Create a Marketing Plan guide for assistance in writing your plan.)
Think of it this way: If you go into a hardware store, you are probably going in to buy something very specific. Any browsing you do will be minimal and will be related to the one or the few projects you have in mind. If there were, say, an auto-parts store connected to the hardware store, while you might sneak a peak, you probably aren't going to buy. Likewise with the auto-parts customer--they're not interested in the hardware store (at least not at that moment). You have two different customers shopping in one store. If you keep trying to market to both of them, you are going to exhaust yourself--and your budget.
Separating these two businesses will give you the freedom to focus on one niche at a time. Assuming you don't have the resources to open an entirely new retail store at the drop of a hat, my suggestion would be to pick one or the other for the brick-and-mortar location. Use your marketing plan (and perhaps a revamped business plan) to determine which concept will bring in the most revenue. Alert your existing customers of the imminent change--and make plans to sell one or both types of products on eBay.
My instincts again tell me that a brick-and-mortar golf store would bring in more money than a collectible-car store. They also tell me that it makes sense to sell collectible cars on eBay, where collectors love to troll about, looking for rare treasures--not to mention it's much simpler to ship a small collectible car than a set of golf clubs. I did a search for "diecast collectible cars" on eBay, and I only came up with two results--which could mean you have the potential to carve out a nice niche on eBay, if you market your product correctly. (Refer to the eBay seller guidelines for more help on properly selling your product.) But don't take my word for it--do some research. And remember, you can sell both types of products, but I'd recommend easing into these changes to your business--for your sake and your customers'--rather than doing everything at once.
As for the flea markets, take a look at how much money you are actually bringing in from them. Evaluate whether it is worth it to spend a Saturday hawking your wares to people who could wind up being one-time customers--or whether your time and money would be better spent on cultivating the relationships you have with loyal customers. In the long run, those people are more likely to bring in the dollars you need to grow your business--and get you a piece of that proverbial "pie."
Karen E. Spaeder is editor of Entrepreneur.com and managing editor ofEntrepreneur magazine.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.