How Lorren Barham Launched a Niche Business in an Almost Unknown Industry
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- Player: Lorren Barham
- Company: Pet Wellness Worx
- EST: 2014
- About: Lorren Barham is the owner and operator of the hydro underwater treadmill and therapist-in-the-pool facility of Pet Wellness Worx. The business specialises in the health, wellbeing and rehabilitative care of pets.
- Visit: petwellnessworx.co.za
Certain business ideas are obvious, others aren’t. In a world where many founders are looking to create ‘the Uber of this’ or ‘the Uber of that’, a company that offers rehabilitative care for pets might seem like a niche lifestyle business.
But Lorren Barham’s Pet Wellness Worx has seen fantastic growth over the last three years precisely because it is so niche. Lorren identified a relatively unexploited niche and owned it.
In the modern business world where all the obvious opportunities have already been jumped at, success lies in finding that small but promising industry that is ripe for growth. Not that launching a start-up in this sort of space is easy, mind you. Chances are, you’ll need to educate consumers and grow your company slowly, but if you get the basics right, you can establish a sustainable operation with excellent long-term prospects.
How did you identify this unique business opportunity?
I did not have a background in the field, but I’ve always had an intense passion for animals, and because of my own pets, I knew about auto immune disorders like degenerative myelopathy, neurological spinal prolapse and hip dysplasia.
Over the years, some of my own animals had to deal with these issues, so I understood that there was a need for a facility that could assist with rehabilitation. So, going into the industry wasn’t a purely tactical business decision — I had a real passion for the work. I think that’s important.
You can’t pursue a business idea simply because you think there’s an opportunity in it. You need to be passionate about it. When times are tough, it’s your passion that’ll keep you going.
What is your background?
I have a corporate background. I started out as a personal assistant, and over the years, I furthered my education, completing courses in fields like bookkeeping and business administration.
When I opened my own business, I found that the knowledge and experience I gained in the corporate environment was immensely useful. Procuring expensive equipment, for instance, was less intimidating because I knew how to deal with suppliers and negotiate a fair deal. You don’t need an MBA, necessarily, but you need some basic business knowledge. You could be a great specialist in your specific field, but running your own business is something very different.
As an entrepreneur, you wear a lot of hats, and you have to manage every aspect of the company — you have to manage employees, balance the books and do the marketing — so you need to educate yourself on the basics of running a business.
How did you prepare for the launch of the business?
I did a lot of research. I spent months figuring out exactly what sort of services I should provide, and how I should structure the business. Importantly, I had a goal and a mission. It helps to know what your ultimate goal is. Figure out what you want to achieve, and then do plenty of research. Take your time. Solid research will prevent you from making mistakes that can be costly down the line.
How did you market the business in the early days?
We focused on qualified veterinarians. Not only could they refer clients to the business, but it was also clear that in order for the company to succeed, buy-in from them was necessary. So, I spent a lot of time at veterinarians’ offices. I had to show them that I was running a legitimate business that could do real good. Whenever you operate in a niche area, you need to realise that some education will be necessary.
You need to explain the value that you bring to potential customers, and to other important decision-makers in the field. As the company built a solid track record, and I could show vets the improvement brought on by our rehab work, we started getting more and more clients. I truly ascribe a lot of our recent success to the fact that the vets embraced us.
What other marketing strategies have worked for you?
It’s very important to know exactly who you’re targeting. We’re very targeted in our approach. We go to animal shows and events, and we run adds on websites like showdogs.co.za, since these are places that we know we’ll find our target audience. Facebook is another great place to showcase the work that we do. Another strategy that has worked for me has been to write articles for publication.
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to educate potential customers, and a great way to do this is through editorial. I’ve written articles for magazines and websites, and media companies have generally been willing to run them. If you write an informative article that’s suitable for publication, you can get your name out in that way.