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Is Niche becoming Obsolete?

Mark Twain is credited with writing “the rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.” No matter today’s buzz, the same is true for niche companies.

I visit manufacturers of highly engineered equipment around the world. Whether large global conglomerates or smaller regional companies, all express great pride in their heritage, people, facilities, and products. But there are also many differences that make each company truly unique.

As larger companies continue growing through acquisition, they swallow many smaller niche players. The long-term success of an acquisition depends upon the purchaser’s vision and how well the assimilation is handled. Inevitably, even in the best cases, the entrepreneurial spirit and niche expertise is somewhat diluted. In the worst cases, the spirit is destroyed, valuable niche tribal knowledge lost and the business unit broken.

I am in awe of CEOs that oversee large corporations and the incessant fickleness of their shareholders. I also admire CEOs of small niche companies that year in and year out successfully compete with the titans in their industry. Simple human nature means that those driving large corporations envy the nimbleness and “can do” thinking of their smaller rivals, while niche leaders long for the resources of their large competitors. Each tries to figure out how to become the other, without sacrificing who they are…. Not an easy proposition.

Every one of us strives to meet our customers’ requirements. We may use different sales methods, and offer variants of products, but we all want to communicate to our customers that we understand their unique business requirements and have a great solution for them. Whether niche player or international conglomerate, the company that does the best job at this while offering a competitive (not necessarily lowest) price usually closes the job.

Niche isn’t dead. It is simply being redefined.