Saturday 17 March 2018

Problem Solver: My niche product is starting to take off in the US market

Feargal Quinn
Feargal Quinn

Q: I am starting to manufacture a rather specialist product which is showing some popularity in America but I am worried that this is just going to be a niche business. Can you give some advice?

A: It is great to see that you are asking the question now rather than be dealing with the problem at a later stage. The problem for any business entrepreneur with new emerging trends is to try and figure out whether it is a fad or a genuine trend.

Fads tend to come and go and might have a short enough life of a year or two. It might still be possible to make some money in that short window of time, but there is no longevity.

Trend, however, is something much more sustainable, and is the beginning of a pattern of the consumer changing their behaviour which is going to be sustained over time. Determining which category your product falls into can sometimes be tricky and looking at the market from where it originated will certainly help you. Agencies like Enterprise Ireland can usually help provide some research on your chosen topic which might help in the decision making process.

At the end of the day you will then need to make a decision and to help you with this, doing your own consumer research will assist with your decision making process. At least if you have involved Irish consumers in the process it will give you a sense of confidence, or not, on which decision is best.

You could also consider entering the market in a low risk way. You could, for example, produce limited runs of packaging, etc, and even sell at a market if that was appropriate for your type of product. It's all about de-risking what you are doing, while still having the 'first mover advantage'. If you were at the early stage of a trend and one of the first to market, then you would have to seriously consider export if you are to create a viable business. The speed at which Irish consumers adapt to the new product might not be quick enough to give you a sustainable revenue, and therefore you might need to follow the same pattern in other countries. That will require expertise and lots of cash flow.

On balance I would be encouraging you to proceed with the project once you have completed your thorough research. It would be a shame to see someone else seizing the opportunity in a few years time if you had taken a pass on the idea.

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