Thought Starters

NICHE: Not just for breakfast anymore! What’s YOUR favourite?

On a recent visit to John Buscall’s blog I was lucky enough to listen to a conversation he had with Ryan Opus about his emergence into the wine industry in Europe. They touched on a series of topics and settled in on Ryan’s approach to using the internet to build his business. Ryan has an interesting approach and if you have a few minutes I highly recommend listening to the podcast. There is some great insight there for any form of business.

There was some discussion on the podcast about Ryan’s niche in the business world.


Is the wine industry niche?

Niche is a subject or attitude that has been of interest to me for some time. This interview between John and Ryan got me back on that particular bandwagon again.

In this context, niche can be defines as:

Relating to or aimed at a small specialized group or market.”


By that definition only selling Rioja in Spain would be niche.

See what I mean?

So, the wine industry isn’t niche in itself, is it? If you feel it is what then defines an industry as a niche industry? When is a business within that industry categorized as a niche business? When it is focused in on a particular approach, product or service and never veers away from its core business regardless of the other opportunities that might exist.

It is a clear choice to narrow focus.

The guy selling Rioja in Spain can certainly also sell other varietals couldn’t he? Our fictional wine merchant chooses to stick with the one grape and hones his knowledge and expertise to a point where he becomes the leading authority on the particular type of wine in his particular locale. Pretty damn niche in a big, big industry.

Do the following represent niche attitudes toward business?

  • Pinpoint brand presence.
  • Cutting edge.
  • Lean.
  • Stronger focus on design, product or service.

So, what about niche in the Architecture & Design industry?

The general sense I get is that in the world of business the Architecture & Design industry still seems like a niche unto itself. When the words small, specialized and market are applied to it then the sense of niche disappears quickly, however, the industry alone, when considering the GDP of a country, is miniscule. Then again, in that context, that applies to pretty much any professional services business.

There, I have just labelled the economic impact of Architecture & Design on the Canadian GDP as the factor by which we define whether it is a niche in the business world.

The services across the industry are broad, the saturation of the markets (where I have worked) are bloated and the size of some of the firms that practice Architecture & Design lead me away from the notion that my industry should be considered a niche yet when someone asks me what I do the general reaction is usually one of curiosity. The general public, it seems, does not have a good understanding of the Architecture & Design industry on the whole. It makes me feel like I am part of a rare species.

A stranger in a strange land.

That just seems to support the notion that Architecture & Design is truly a niche industry.

However, global giants such as Gensler with 42 locations worldwide, DEGW with 14 locations worldwide and NBBJ with 10 locations certainly make the Architecture & Design niche seem pretty damn big.

Hey Architects! Don’t shoot me for picking just these three. I know there are other giants of this industry that may suit this point as well if not better.

As a member of a mainstream service provider in the industry the question that interests me is can the generalist large scale national or international firms devote segments of their business to niche pursuits and compete in the market with the true niche players?

Gensler, for example, offers off-shoot services such as Brand Strategy and User Research divisions that compete directly with the Thinkspace type of companies of the industry.

Albeit not Architects or Designers there are several global commercial furniture manufacturers who have created consultancies to address specific end user needs that do not involve the sale or procurement of office furniture which compete with Gensler’s User Research division. Would you consider that a niche within the realm of a major industry player too?

In the context of scale niche is not such an easy thing to define then, right?

The big boys can offer niche services on a broad global scale and the true niche firms like local Toronto favourites Berdifelik, Munge Leung or Giannone Petricone can play in the local waters offering similar services and there isn’t a real difference between both as niche when considering sectors or market.

Both have built success in their niche, both are known for their specialities and both market their niche well and are recognized authorities in their chosen field of work. It simply seems to me that niche remains scalable regardless of the industry and does not necessarily mean small any more considering the access we all have to global markets.

Specialised? Yes. Small, well, not necessarily so much anymore.

Are you part of a niche business or are you a niche unto yourself?

  • Blogger?
  • Branding guy?
  • Public Relations professional?
  • Marketing chicka?
  • Business Coach?
  • Financial Advisor?

You may be small. You may be part of a big, big industry but you still have a niche. You might work for one of the giants and have a specialty within the generalist fold of the business.

Over to you: What is your niche and how does it fit into your industry?



About this Author: Ralph Dopping (199 Posts)

A quirky sense-o-humour coupled with an indelible sense of stylish sarcasm makes it difficult to take the world too seriously doesn't it? My faves: fun, passion and hard work. I work here everyday:

Ethical Behavior Boy
Ethical Behavior Boy

 @rdopping I believe almost any category can be made into a niche.  Many people drink wine, but there is a small group of people who collect wine and they are more serious about wine than I will ever be.


You made a good analogy of how to make any niche into a small category.  thanks


My niche?


Well, I am going to say that's blogging and personal development (I write about both). As with defining niche, I don't know. It is indeed hard to define, especially when you consider all the "niches" that are available for us to write - we must be all inclusive ;)


As with specialisation, I think we need to be specialised - of course, we are already specialised in presenting and developing things in our own voice (but, in an industry so big, voice isn't just going to yield the results - we need something substantial, the content I mean).


Over the long term, specialisation in doing a certain thing helps us to survive in the niche (but, of course, we need to go out, experiment and learn new things, because over time these specialised jobs will become unskilled work with invention of new technological wonders).

Latest blog post: Contact Us


Such a great topic. I like your take too. As for niche, I am definitely "pro", because it makes you more specialized in what you do and specialization translates into better than average. Well, at least that's how I see it. As for blogging, I agree with Hajra that your voice and personal approach makes it unique and niche. As long as we don't copy others and do it our own way, it's going to work just fine. I was thinking about what my niche is before starting my blog and then I decided to just go for it and let it develop naturally. And in a way it has. 


I was going to say something smart and then I read @Danny Brown 's comment. He really had to go ahead and type the most awesome comment ever.....


I think as bloggers, it just boils down to what you think your niche is.... in your head of course and how you go ahead and give it your unique voice and work on the personal connect. I see a lot of bloggers writing awesome stuff but they end up being so mechanical about it that it is as of you are reading out of a text book. Whatever your niche is, what ever you want to do, whatever you want to say... say it like it came out of a human; that will be your identity..


I'm a marketing chicka....that's pretty specialized for me......


Insurance; now that is an industry that is pretty broad, huh? And there are plenty of 'generalists' appealing to the masses which a lot gravitate to.


I guess I'm somewhat of a 'general specialist.' I don't target specific industries per se, but the size of your company will dictate if you are an ideal target customer for our business model. I can learn your specific business and there are very, very few businesses out there we don't know something about. It won't take long to identify the 'threats' to your profitability and that is how we will approach putting a stewardship program together so we can measure and quantify our efforts. The actual cost of the insurance policy is only about 50% of your total cost of risk; it's all those soft cost items that don't have a line item in the balance sheet that are being frittered away is where you make the most impact on 'helping' a program. That is why it has to be the 'right' customer who understands this. Otherwise, they might as well just have a vendor and buy their coverage online......


Whoa, too much insurance talk, huh? That's my world and that's how I roll...........:). 


Just flying by: loved Danny's comment. Will be back again later...promise:) Cheers! Kaarina

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Damn, what a great topic! Niche is such a hard thing to define since, like you point out, it can cover a wider area or (as most folks see it), it can cover a small area.


For me, I'd go with your take - selling wine from a particular area only is niche, as opposed to being an LCBO outlet with hundreds of brands.


As bloggers, I think our niche are our voices - no-one writes exactly like you do, and that's an immediate niche you have. Here's to being small. :)

rdopping moderator

 @Ethical Behavior Boy Ha! Awesome there EBB! Michael right? I see that you know a few of my friends too @Hajra  and @AdrienneSmith40 which is great. You know, I agree. That was partly my point. Every industry can have a niche and can be seen as niche dependent on your angle.


Thank you very much for dropping by. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. Hope to see you here again Michael. Cheers!

rdopping moderator

Hey  @Jeevanjacobjohn  haven't seen you around lately. Hope things are well. You are making me work hard for this one, huh? Great thoughts on specialization. I wonder if that's just another word for niche anyway. I agree that voice and great content give you the authoritative opportunity in a niche. Well done.


Not sure if technology will render any of it redundant. At least I certainly hope not. I suppose it depends what you refer to as unskilled work. Anyway, thanks for coming. Your thoughts are always welcome.

rdopping moderator

 @sophiesignin Very well said. Let it develop naturally. I wonder at times if it is beneficial to look at niche as a process or organically. if it is done like you suggested then it seems like a way or process can develop that is unique and thereby create a niche unto itself.....hmmmm. That seems a little heady. 


Just glad you had time to stop in and give your 2 cents. i do appreciate your point of view and your positive confidence. Thanks Sophie.

rdopping moderator

 @Hajra   @Danny Brown Been away for a few days, Hajra. Just getting back to the great comments today, Monday (Labour Day). Danny did make a great point but you make one also. The personal connection is a big deal.


No one wants to read a mechanical blog post. @Gini Dietrich said it best. Blogging is conversational but needs to be on point and on topic to your niche.


Thanks for dropping in. Appreciated as always. :-)

rdopping moderator

Hey @bdorman264 So, thesis my second attempt to respond to you using my smartphone. Hopefully it works this time. At the cottage 2.5hrs north of Toronto either no internet access but with mobile service only. I am replying using my smartphone which seems to be having trouble accepting my comments via Lifefyre. Anyway, I still think you are in a niche within the insurance industry as you are not selling insurance to homeowners are you? Yiu're sermon to be focused on a particular line of business and certainly not all businesses which to me defines a niche. Regardless, you seem to know your customer bade so good for you. Have a great weekend sir. I am hitting 2 of my fave courses this weekend so it will be stellar. Enjoy yours chicka. Talk soon. Cheers!

rdopping moderator

@KDillabough Testing with a mobile phone. Lifefyre doesn't seem to like my comments poster that way. I will have to wait until Monday. Have a fabulous weekend.

rdopping moderator

Thanks @Danny Brown for stopping by. With respect to flogging I agree. That is a great way to put it. We are indeed all unique in our voices and flogging is exactly why I chose this topic to discuss. By last count there are 450mil blogs out there and the question really is can flogging be called an industry? Regardless, each blog whatever industry it is in has a niche when you consider the definition and the word specialized. The point here was moreover to challenge the notion that many loggers have said that avoiding a niche is better for business but personally I just think that attitude is wrong and frankly obtuse. Always appreciate you dropping by my friend. Cheers and enjoy your long weekend.

Ethical Behavior Boy
Ethical Behavior Boy

 @rdopping  @Hajra   @AdrienneSmith40 I do know them and Hajra is one of the main reasons I switched over to this comment system.  You will see me more often, I am trying to find blogs with this system.  I was very glad to see your blog.  I found your blog by looking at your profile on Hajra's blog.


 @rdopping Perhaps it depends from industry to industry. Thanks for the kindness. 


 @rdopping  The phone is a biyatch to respond on.


I'm playing Disney; the Magnolia, on Monday.