May 16, 2014

Dry Bar

The dry bar - a super niche salon concept. Credit: Mallory Noe-Payne / WGBH News

Sometimes the trends that really take off aren't built on ground-breaking technology or obscure science. Sometimes, they focus on transforming an old idea — and editing it to perfection.

Enter the super-niche business. The pickle store. The cheese market. The yoga studio. Think of super-niche stores as anti-Wal-Marts.

You've probably heard of Etsy, the online shop (and possible pinnacle of nichification) where you can find anything from Elvis Presley pillowcases to hedgehog wedding cake toppers. But niche business are taking up more and more brick and mortar space as well. Spinning studio chains like Soul Cycle and FlyWheel have been rapidly expanding around the country. And they've managed to developed a cult-like following by focusing -– unlike traditional gyms — on one kind of room, one piece of equipment, and just one class.

Part of the appeal of these businesses is how they make you feel, according to Renee Gosline, assistant marketing professor at MIT Sloan.

"I think there’s an element of luxury here. And that’s often the feeling that people try to have with niche products," notes Gosline.

Spin studios are lit by candle, have customized playlists for the workouts, and eucalyptus towels waiting for you at the end of class.

Drybar is another company that's grown fast by sticking to a single concept and capitalizing on the desire for luxury. It offers professional blowouts for $40, with no sign of hair dye or scissors anywhere in their salons. The company started in California and has already grown to 35 locations in the U.S., with plans to expanding internationally. 

Beyond the feeling of luxury, though, these kinds of business offer their customers something more important: a story. A business with a clear narrative - this is where we come from, this is what we do, this is who we cater to — is one that's likely to succeed.

While there have always been specialty shops and experts in different fields, the rise of digital media has been a big catalyst for the recent trend of mega-niche.

“People like to be able to say, hey, you know where this came from, or you know who made this, or there’s a really cool story behind this” says Gosline. And social media allows these kinds of stories to spread much more quickly than any time in the past.

At the end of the day, people want something that they can add to their personal narratives – and niche businesses provide a part of that story.

Business, Culture, dry bars, Cristina Quinn, salons

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