There's an old saying that you can't be all things to all
people. Yet how many times have you seen ads for contractors
that include the words "specializing in" and then go on to list
every conceivable service from additions to professional
Of course, you don't actually need to "specialize" in
anything. Doing so, however, does have its advantages. A niche
can be as specific as "providing top-quality home-office
environments using only renewable materials," or it can be as
broad as "afford- able interior and exterior renovations to
houses old and new."
One way to define a niche for your company is to focus on a
particular type of project. This isn't to say that you have to
become a single-trade contractor, like a finish carpenter or a
painter. Some of the most common niche projects are kitchen and
bath contracting, additions, basement or attic fit-outs, decks,
and such single-line specialties as replacement windows,
roofing, and siding.
A good way to find a niche is to look at what you really enjoy
doing and focus on finding that type of work. Or follow trends
within — and without — the industry. For
example, the number of people working from home is growing
dramatically. These people need a place to work, so home
offices are more popular than ever. Wouldn't it be great if
homeowners knew you as "the guy to call" for all their
home-office needs? From carving space out of their existing
floor plan (or adding on), through design and installation of
storage and workspaces, to wiring the room for high-speed
networking and Internet access, you'd be the person with the
expertise to get it all done.
Other up-and-coming niches include exercise rooms,
mother-in-law suites, spaces for the handicapped, and
environmentally friendly building.
Market Segment Niches
Rather than specializing in a certain project type, you might
consider creating a niche that serves a particular segment of
the market. Perhaps you really enjoy working with wealthy
clients, for whom cost comes second to getting their dreams
realized. Or maybe the daily changes that occur with those
clients drive you crazy, and you'd prefer to work where money
is a concern and you need to be creative in giving clients what
they want within a tight budget. In either case, you could
create a niche for yourself by focusing on that particular type
of client. Other possible client-based niches include
performing handyman and maintenance services for seniors,
creating accessible spaces for people with disabilities, and
converting industrial space into loft units for young "dinks"
(double- income, no-kids couples).
You may choose to base your market niche on factors other than
demographics. For example, you could create a niche around a
certain age of house — old-house renovations, say, or
the installation of "options" in new homes (either for the
builder or the new owner). Or you could focus on working with
groups other than homeowners — maintaining properties
for absentee landlords, working for condominium associations or
property-management companies, or sprucing up homes prior to
resale, through recommendations by real estate agents.
Advantages of Working in a
Practice makes perfect: If you focus on a limited scope of
work, you'll find yourself (and your employees and subs) doing
that work more often, and therefore everyone's skills will
improve. You may be able to create "standards" and checklists
for your workers to use, ensuring that all projects are
completed in the same fashion and come out as expected. Try
doing that when you're framing an addition one week and
replacing a kitchen the next!
Less tools and equipment.
You also may be able to limit the amount of equipment required
to do the work (and therefore the associated costs). You won't
be needing those pump-jacks and scaffold picks if you
specialize in basement renovations, and you can safely leave
the 90-pound jackhammer at home if your new niche is creating
Focused marketing. However
you choose to focus your niche — whether by project
type or market segment — the mere act of specializing
will allow you to target your marketing efforts more
efficiently. Every dollar spent on advertising counts, and to
be able to tailor your efforts to a particular audience will
result in more effective use of those dollars.
"Expert" status. Do just
about anything long enough and well enough, and soon you may
find yourself being perceived as the "expert" in the field.
Think how nice it would be to have potential clients calling
you, saying, "We're thinking of adding on to our house, and my
friend Mary said you're the only one in town to call."
While repetition has its advantages over the long run, it can
also be a drawback. Some people got into remodeling in the
first place to avoid doing the same thing day in and day out.
They want a job where every day is a new adventure. However, by
choosing a broad enough niche (without getting so broad that
it's not a niche anymore), you can keep your work interesting
Trends are just that —
trends. The buying public is very fickle, and trends
come and go. If you hitch your wagon to an emerging trend and,
for whatever reason, it falls out of favor, you may find
yourself marketing a service that no one wants. Remember when
EIFS were the hot new siding material of choice?
Demographic shifts. Like
trends, the demographics of an area are outside your control.
Neighborhoods that were once composed of elderly empty-nesters
can suddenly fill up with young, middle-income couples who are
more interested in maintaining their homes themselves. The key
here is to watch the market, and adjust your niche
To Niche or Not
No one's saying that you have to create a niche for yourself
— there are plenty of opportunities in our industry
Nevertheless, try this: Take a hard look at your customer base
and at your past projects. You may find you've already created
a niche for yourself and just hadn't realized it. The key is to
recognize the focus that's already there, and capitalize on it
by directing your efforts in the right direction. Hopefully,
this will help increase your sales.Bob Kovacsis president of Constructive Solutions in
Iselin, N.J., which offers estimating and preconstruction
services to contractors and architects.
Looking Back at a Job Well Doneby Mark Scott
Like many companies, we hold an annual holiday party at the
end of each year — a time to get together with spouses
and significant others, relax, and enjoy one another's company.
Several years ago, on a lark, I put together a PowerPoint
presentation featuring some of the year's events — the
company picnic, for example — and some of the jobs we
had done. It was an instant hit, and I've been doing it ever
since. It's a great opportunity for spouses to see the jobs
their wives or husbands work on, and for office staff to see
some of what goes on in the field.
I also highlight the accomplishments of different team
members, like Jane and Norm completing a window installation
seminar and then developing a training module for the rest of
the company. I make a point of including every employee at
least twice. All of our team members are very proud of their
work and get a kick out of seeing themselves and their
achievements up on the screen. New employees are always happily
surprised. And I actually get calls from clients who are
excited to hear that their projects were featured.
So what started as a lark has become a real morale booster and
a great way to showcase the year's accomplishments.
Mark Scottowns Mark IV Builders in Bethesda,