8 Secrets About Leveraging the Riches in the Niches for Business Growth

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Why narrowing our focus was the key to accelerated company growth.

Dean Wegner, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Nashville, is the founder & CEO of Authentically American, a veteran-owned, American-made premium apparel brand. We asked Dean how his company grew by narrowing its focus. Here’s what he shared:

In 2017, I started my company with a mission to help bring manufacturing jobs back to America. As a premium apparel company that manufactures all of its products in America, we are part of the massive $300 billion U.S. apparel industry. As I used to like to say, unless you live in a nudist colony, you’re a potential customer–because every day, you choose which shirt to wear.

We launched our brand from a blank sheet of paper. As a new brand, we tried many different tactics to connect with customers and see what worked. In hindsight, we were trying entirely too many things.

Covid-19 forced us to accelerate our focus. We realized that trying to be all things to all potential customers doesn’t work. As the pandemic continued, it gave Americans a newfound awareness and appreciation for products that have a Made in USA label. This narrowed focus actually helped accelerate our growth.

Here are eight lessons I’ve learned on how narrowing your focus can help your company grow.

1. Pinpoint where your brand resonates.

In discussions with my team, we determined that if we wanted to survive, we needed to figure out where our brand truly resonates. Though we have consumer B2C sales, that isn’t our bread and butter, and it is ultra-competitive. We realized that we could make more progress by focusing on corporate B2B sales. Our brand resonates strongly with veteran-owned and veteran-operated businesses and veteran-focused charities. Businesses and charities spend over $8 billion on apparel annually. While that’s a small slice of the greater $300 billion apparel industry, it’s still sizable.

2. Find niches within big companies.

When I called Bank of America (a natural fit since our products are made in America!) and asked to speak with someone about selling our apparel, they had no idea who to connect me with. Then I learned about Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Most companies with 1,000 or more employees have ERGs as part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative. ERGs are smaller affinity groups within big corporations that give employees a sense of identity and cohesion within that larger company. Now I know the right question to ask: Who is your Veteran ERG leader? We used that tactic with Fortune 500 companies and now work with 119 of the 500.

3. First penetrate, then infiltrate.

That’s military lingo from my Army Ranger days, but if the shirt fits, wear it! It means that first, you have to get your foot in the door. Then, you expand your reach from that first foothold. For example, Pepsi Valor is that company’s Veteran ERG. They ordered branded apparel from us and loved our products. As their ERG members wore it, other affinity groups and entities within Pepsi asked where they purchased their shirts. From that, we gained new customers within the same company.

4. Focus on the Wow.

Give your customers a memorable “wow-type” product experience and loyalty will follow. We aim for a verbal “Wow!” when people first handle or wear our incredibly soft shirts. And then they see the tag and realize that nothing else in their closet is American-made. That’s when they visit our website to explore the ethos behind our brand. But unless a product inspires that wow-type experience, none of the rest of that will happen.

5. Establish processes that scale.

Within our B2B focus are both small companies with 10 employees and corporations that employ thousands. The process is the same whether a customer orders 24 shirts or 24,000. Because we have proven processes, it doesn’t take much more work to make 24,000 shirts than it does to make two dozen. So, we’re able to honor orders at both ends of the spectrum.

6. Stick with what works.

We exhibit exclusively at trade shows with a military or veteran angle. If it doesn’t have a military or veteran connection we won’t attend, no matter how big the conference is. We stay focused on where we know our brand resonates. Similar interests sell. It’s a narrow niche, so we focus on being the best in that niche. We have a very passionate, loyal following that has propelled our growth.

7. Focus on staying lean and core competencies.

We outsource all production to contract manufacturers in 11 U.S. states. We outsource our IT, finance, accounting, and some digital marketing. That’s by design, to keep overhead and labor expenses small and focus on our core competencies of sales, marketing, and customer service. There are six of us in the company. We’re on track to double our business this year but will likely add only one or two people.

8. Stay true to your passion.

At the heart of our mission is our passion for creating American jobs. In the five years we’ve been in business there has been a strong uptick in American-made apparel–from 2.7 percent to 3.5 percent–and we have been a catalyst driving a 30 percent increase in the industry! We’re also passionate about patriotism: We give back 10 percent of our profits to veteran and first responder charities as a way to honor our American heroes. Passion is the most significant entrepreneurial driver. Why else would you work 60 hours a week so you never again have to work 40 hours for somebody else?