Creating Your Niche

By Lucy Morris
Photography by Lanewood Studio

The Business Dictionary defines niche marketing as concentrating all efforts on a small but specific and well-defined segment of the population. Not necessarily a small market, a niche involves a specific target audience served by a specialized offering. Niches do not “exist” but are created by identifying needs or wants that are being addressed poorly or not at all, and by developing and delivering goods or services to satisfy them.

The trick to capitalizing on a niche market is to find or develop an emerging business where consumers can be easily reached and no other vendor or supplier has entered the market. With the advent of Ecommerce, niche businesses can now reach a smaller market segment across vast geographical areas easier and with fewer expenses than before.

Niche businesses are usually characterized by high-quality products and services offered by experts who understand their customers’ needs.

Although impossible to include the many companies across the area who have found their niche, what follows are five companies that have built successful businesses based on their ability to provide exceptional products or services to very specific target markets.

Aegle Gear

Founder & Creator: George Brown
COO: Courtney Lewis
Product: antimicrobial health care apparel

When athletic industry veterans George Brown and Uli Becker identified an opportunity in the market, they seized it. “Uli and I wanted to do something purposeful and different. We wanted to disrupt the market,” Brown says. And disrupt they did, launching Aegle Gear, a company that offers special, antimicrobial and fluid-resistant performance gear for health care professionals, in 2016.

The two met while working for athletic giant Adidas before their paths took them in separate directions. Brown headed to Meditract – a company that helps hospitals manage contract compliance – in 2004 (He was named President in 2010.), and Becker was named CEO of Reebok, a company owned by Adidas, in 2008.

Pairing their shared knowledge of athletic apparel with Brown’s experience in the health care industry, the two set out to create a new type of health care uniform in 2015 – one that enhanced performance and “wasn’t bed sheets sewn into pajamas” Brown muses.

Today, the company focuses on educating customers about the features that set their uniforms apart. “It’s not just another set of scrubs. It’s wrinkle-free, built for comfort, and tested to remove 99.99% of pathogens through 100 industrial washes,” Brown explains. “These uniforms protect against harmful bacteria that can grow and spread disease.”

Aegle Gear named Courtney Lewis COO earlier this year, which Brown calls the company’s greatest success so far. “It was always my desire to have a woman run my company. After all, about 80% of clinical health care providers are women. We needed someone who understood both health care and business, and that’s Courtney.”

Today, the niche brand is in full swing. The online store launched at the end of 2016, engagement on various social media platforms is up, and sales have increased around 2000% year to date.

“If you’re going to specialize and enter a niche market, you must be passionate about what you’re doing. It takes patience and perseverance,” says Lewis. “Not to mention,” Brown adds, “You must become an expert in the field. If you’re going to narrow yourself in the market, you can’t fake it. You have to know your stuff.”



Co-founders: Jim Markley and Thomas Lee
Product: lifestyle and therapeutic socks

Friends since 1994, Jim Markley and T
homas Lee jokingly agree that what pushed them to start their own business was “insanity, of course!” The two met years back while working in the sock manufacturing arena, so when Jim reached out to Thomas asking what he thought about starting a new sock company, Thomas was all in. The two launched Goodhew in 2008, receiving their very first shipment in October of that same year.

Goodhew’s products – American-made, custom-wool lifestyle socks in fresh colors and designs – set themselves apart from more typical, everyday socks you might find in big box stores. “Our VP of Branding and Design, Mercedes Marchand, does a tremendous amount of research when it comes to the colors and designs we use and the styles we create. Our goal is to create things you won’t see elsewhere.” According to the duo, “Our target is people who sit, stand, travel, run, and more.”

In 2011, Goodhew recognized the opportunity to further expand, and ventured into new territory, this time launching therapeutic brand Sockwell. “When we looked at the market, we realized it was dominated by medical brands that we would jokingly say had two versions – ‘ugly’ and ‘uglier,’” Markley quips. The therapeutic socks are built to provide moderate or firm compression, which helps to reduce soreness and fatigue for individuals who may be recovering from an injury, or those with sensitive feet.

Today, both lines are sold worldwide under the Sockwell brand, with Goodhew’s lifestyle pairs now known as Sockwell Essentials. Always seeking new ways to reach customers, the company has continued to grow year after year. “When we put people in our product, they instantly understand the benefits and see what we’re trying to do,” says Lee. “We’re marketing towards those who understand investing in a quality product. Once they appreciate it, it makes it hard to go back to the regular stuff.”

For others looking to enter a niche market, the duo shares their best tips. “Never forget the importance of good customer service,” says Lee. “That, and raise enough money,” Markley adds. “There are always unexpected problems that will challenge even the best laid plans.”

Godspeed Company

 Founder: Chris Logsdon
Product: the shop rag shirt

Unlike most, Chattanooga entrepreneur Chris Logsdon remembers the exact aha moment that launched his business, The Godspeed Company. A motorcycle enthusiast living in Brooklyn, NY, at the time, he spent his free hours riding and taking photos of his rides and ultimately, ended up cultivating a major following on Instagram. “I was using my feed to capture the stories and images I was seeing on my motorcycle rides,” he remembers. “One day, while sitting in my office, I took out the red shop rag I usually stash in my back pocket, probably to wipe a waterspill from my desk, and that’s when it hit me – these things were made to take such a beating, why hadn’t anyone else done anything useful with it?” Logsdon began researching the history behind that iconic piece of fabric, and soon after, the idea for the shop rag shirt was born. 

With a built-in customer base of motorcycle aficionados in his Instagram followers, Logsdon knew he had a market that would know the rag and be interested. Unfortunately, setbacks hampered him in the beginning. His first four prototypes of the shirt didn’t evolve as he had envisioned. “Certain technical aspects, for instance incorporating the iconic Merrowed-edge into a men’s shirt, had never been done before.”

Fortunately, a friend of Logsdon’s introduced him to Allan Glanfield, another devoted motorcycle fan working in fashion. “After letting me rant his ear off about the shirt, I showed him the prototypes and he immediately got it.” The two partnered up, and the potential of the shop rag shirt was quickly realized.

Entering a niche market was an obvious choice, considering the strength of the target and the dedication to the Made in America movement. “Somewhere north of 400 years of manufacturing is built in each shirt,” Logsdon explains. The thread, buttons, and fabric are all sourced in the United States, and the very sewing machine that practically invented the shop rag, the MG-3DR, was built by the Merrow Sewing Machine Company located in Fall River, Massachusetts. “You’d be hard pressed to find another shirt out there with such a rich history,” Logsdon notes, “and that’s what will continue to lead us down this path of innovation.”

Electric Bike Specialists

Co-owner: Chandlee Caldwell
Products & Services: electric bikes and servicing 

Having lived in China where electric bikes not only exist, but also serve as one of the most popular forms of transportation, Electric Bike Specialists co-owner Chandlee Caldwell knew there was untapped potential for an electric bike shop here in town. “My family actually got into the business pretty spontaneously,” Caldwell remembers. “My dad saw electric bikes for the first time when he was visiting me overseas and he was immediately enamored. When he returned, he and my brother opened the shop, and I took over in 2012.”

As early adopters, enduring the first few years at the shop was difficult. Caldwell explains, “The reason the shop survived the early years was because 90% of our customers were coming in from bigger cities like Nashville, Knoxville, and Atlanta. Now, people have become more aware of the products, and our clientele is probably more evenly divided between locals and visitors.” He also says the target has expanded over the years. “Certainly our biggest market is still baby boomers, but we now have people in their 30s and even 20s purchasing bikes.”

Today, the shop focuses primarily on Class 1 bikes. These impressive vehicles can travel up to 20 miles per hour, with the help of a motor that amplifies the power the rider puts into it when pedaling. “A common misconception is that you’re not getting exercise with e-bikes,” Caldwell says. “In actuality, we have users who are able to pedal up Lookout Mountain using the extra kick from the motor.”

Electric Bike Specialists has worked “nose to the grindstone” to carve out its niche in the marketplace. “This year has probably been the point when we’re feeling strongest,” says Caldwell. “Our inventory turns are higher, and inventory itself is probably triple what it was three years ago.”

Positive word of mouth coupled with the team’s amusing and informative Youtube series has helped distinguish them as true experts in the field – a position they don’t take lightly. “Being able to utilize the shop in the way we have, that’s where we feel we can make the biggest difference,” says Caldwell. “We’re excited to see the positive impact e-bikes can have for the health of our city.”

Olive Chattanooga

Co-owner: Josh Ferguson
products: olive oil, aged balsamic, spices, salts, olives, candles, soaps, lotions

Decades of working for others in the food industry armed Josh and Pam Ferguson with the extensive knowledge and business prowess necessary to own their own business. So when, in 2014, Olive Chattanooga went up for sale, the pair jumped at the chance to purchase the shop located on the city’s NorthShore. After all, it was one they saw had near limitless potential for growth.

Josh Ferguson had become familiar with Olive Chattanooga during his time spent as the grocery manager at the now closed Enzo’s Market on the Southside. “We were sure purchasing Olive Chattanooga would be a good investment. I knew the product well, and saw opportunities to enhance the number of varietals and offerings,” said Ferguson.

In their first year as new owners, the Fergusons more than doubled the number of oil and vinegar flavors they carried, and they added more than 55 imported varieties to their inventory. Today there are more than 200 items for sale in store and online. (They ship nationwide.) They also expanded the hours of the shop and tasting room– they’re open seven days a week now. “We’re really proud of the tasting room,” says Ferguson. “It’s a fun, unique, no-pressure atmosphere where customers can try four or five varietals. It can even provide that ‘aha moment’ for people who are new to the products.”

And it’s those aha moments that drive this niche business. “We rely primarily on word of mouth for marketing. If we can ‘wow’ every customer and they tell one person…that’s the best kind of marketing,” Ferguson says. That word of mouth can travel quickly too, given the number of local partnerships Olive Chattanooga has forged with other local companies. It provides products to area businesses like Niedlov’s, Good Dog, and Bread & Butter, and Olive Chattanooga sells The Rustic House candles made inside recycled olive oil bottles.

Ultimately, Ferguson understands that, with such unique and sometimes unfamiliar offerings, educating customers is key. “Everyone comes with different expectations, but it’s that curiosity factor that keeps us thriving.”


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