The Birth of a Niche Site

by Rob Spiegel

How one niche-based Web business started with an unfilled need.

Often a Web business starts with an unfilled need. Dreamsoap.com began when its owner went to replenish the Rêve-de-Provence French soap and bath products that she purchased regularly at a store in Connecticut. She discovered the store had discontinued the product line. She found the company's address on her last bar of soap and contacted them, asking where else she might find the soap in her area. Company representatives told her they no longer had a distributor in the U.S.

Sensing that she may not be the only one interested in the French bath products, she decided to take on the U.S. distribution, using a Web site. Dreamsoap.com was born. Whether the company succeeds depends on how she markets the site and whether the products produce the same loyalty with her customers as they produced in her. Whatever form of advertising she utilizes, the success of her Web venture will depend on her ability to create repeat customers.

A quick search of sites selling French soap produced a wide range of companies selling specialty bath products. Most offered a wide range of products, suggesting that Dreamsoap.com might be wise to diversify from one manufacturer's handful of products. Some sites offered other French items such as soap holders and glassware. Others expanded on the soap theme, presenting a range of herbal and foreign-made bath products.

The choice on how to expand a line of products depends on your customers interests. Do they buy French soap because they love everything French? Or do they buy French soap because they love everything soap? The best way to determine this is to simply ask your customers to fill out a short survey after purchasing their products. Offer an inexpensive benefit for their time such as an extra soap item to be included in the order.

The answer to the expanded-line question can also come from your marketing efforts. If you are use affiliation programs that put you on sites that sell French products, your customers will likely respond to additional French items. Likewise, if you affiliate with sites offering bath products, an expanded bath line is appropriate. The best approach is to work affiliation programs in both directions and see which programs deliver the best response and follow that direction.



Dreamsoap.com is a new site, so I wasn't surprised there is no email newsletter available. Oddly, I also didn't find email newsletters at any competitor sites. This means Dreamsoap.com has the opportunity to sticky-up its site by creating a flow of information to customers. Chances are the French manufacturer has information on the benefits of its bath products and other information useful to customers.

A couple of questions on the customer survey could quickly produce the germane editorial mix for a weekly newsletter. Do customers want to know about new products as they come into distribution? Are they concerned with the health benefits of specialty soaps? Are they primarily interested in bath products or French goods? Would they respond to occasional discount offers? How often do customers want to be contacted by Dreamsoap.com? Would they purchase holiday gift packs? An email newsletter can be designed to meet customer needs. Pursuing customers for feedback on product mix and the editorial content of an email newsletter will result a site that is entirely responsive to customer needs.

Another opportunity that was undeveloped at Dreamsoap.com and its competitors is a sense of customer community. None of the sites carried references or links to information resources. None carried testimonials from customers who treasured the products. Nor did any site carry suggestions on product use. Few carried detailed information on the products ingredients or manufacturing process, both of which would probably sell value and exclusivity.

Dreamsoap.com is an excellent Internet launch concept. Once it is fortified with an expanded product line, strong product information, an email newsletter touching on customer needs, and links out to sites of relevance to customers, this niche site stands a chance at becoming a regularly-visited favorite for its customers.

Rob Spiegel is the author of Net Strategy (Dearborn) and The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to Internet Start-ups (St. Martin's Press). You can reach Rob at robspiegel@comcast.net

 
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