Friday, December 14, 2012

Lasso that Niche, Pardner

Well, we did it again. Out of all the cities where I could have spent the last 5 days, you know the last one I would chose… yup, Las Vegas. But that's where we were. Actually, if ya gotta go, Cowboy Christmas is a great time to be in Vegas. Cowboys and rodeo stars are everywhere and the whole town goes Western with an added Christmas touch. We got to spend some (hilarious) time with our friends in the Cowboy Cartoonists International and also some of our current clients while we prowled the shows for new ones.

Cowboy Christmas is a part of Rodeo Week in Las Vegas. (It’s actually 10 days). The National Rodeo finals and the associated events are a big production, bringing approximately 50 thousand people and 50 million dollars to the city, and there are five, count ‘em, five different merchandise expos during this time. The Las Vegas Convention Center, The Mandalay Bay Convention Center, The Sands Convention Center and the MGM Convention Center host the four largest gift fairs – more than a thousand exhibitors altogether - and we covered all of them. Along with, according to organizers, over 100,000 of our closest friends.

Even given all that activity, I would not recommend that the average artist attend looking for business unless you know what you are getting into – the dreaded Niche Market.

NICHE (adj.) 1. A distinct segment of the market having specific appeal: A niche market.

Niche markets are highly specialized market segments with a narrow demographic focus. Ethnic, Fantasy, Regional, Religion, Lifestyle and all its subsets, individual Sports, categories of Music (think Heavy Metal) are all examples, and there are of course many, many more. Tricky territory unless you know your subject and the participants well, therefore many artists and manufacturers avoid these segments like the plague. It is important to note however, that some of these markets can be huge, as shown in the cowboy/western example above. Niche participants tend to be loyal customers, so even when there appears to be ample opportunity be aware that it can be tough to displace the established players, and for that reason alone manufacturers are often hesitant to try anything (or sometimes anyone) new.

Most individual niche markets change slowly if at all. The characteristics that define the niche also become the parameters within which you need to work. You are unlikely to blaze a trail with innovative new design, however there is always room for quality design that recognizably fits into the category. These types of markets can evolve, however – the “rock n roll cowgirl bling” look is but one example – but it doesn’t happen overnight.  Many times in these “lifestyle” markets the participants see the niche as part of their identity, so tread lightly with change because anything too far outside of the “rules” will be actively ignored.

Jody Bergsma, Guy Harvey, The Hautmans, Terry Redlin, Wyland - just a few of the recognizable names who have done very well in niche markets. Why not think about adding yours?

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