Identifying An Untouched Fitness Niche

“The leader doesn't always win when they're playing the other guy's game.” – Gary Vaynerchuck

You may not realize it upon first glance, but this sentence perfectly encapsulates the argument for becoming as niched as possible in the fitness industry.  Our field is full of leaders, and many of them achieved that status by being exceptional at serving one or two specific athletic populations.   

These leaders have captured first-mover advantages within both their respective segments of the industry, and their geographic footprints.  As time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult for aspiring competitors to successfully play the leader’s game, on the leader’s turf. 

What do I mean by this? 

I mean that it’s bad business to set up a baseball-specific training facility within an hour drive of either of our Cressey Sports Performance locations.   

It’s a terrible idea to open a gym in southern Florida targeting football combine-prep athletes and expect to avoid being trounced by the guys at Bommarito Performance Systems.  (they prepared roughly 10% of ALL guys invited to the 2015 NFL Combine according to Forbes)

It’s an especially bad idea to open a spot in midtown Manhattan featuring transformation challenges knowing that you’re just blocks away from the guys at Mark Fisher Fitness, who basically wrote the book on this service model with their Snatched in 6-Weeks program. 

Getting the idea? 

Peter Thiel put it best in his book Zero to One when he said: “Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace; they will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.”

Time to stop playing the other guy’s game 

You can peacefully coexist with the leading gym in your respective market, just as long as you’re not trying to beat them at their own game.  Next week someone could open a world-class training facility catering to dancers directly across the hall from CSP and do just fine.  The key to their success would be originality and catering to an underserved target market.    

I recently had the pleasure of joining Greg Bradley to record an episode of the Fitness Business Experience Podcast.  We covered a ton of ground in an hour, and one topic we spoke of in great detail was the idea of niche development.  Greg asked me to explain how I would go about identifying and capturing a new niche.  How would I go from zero to one if I wanted to secure my own unique part of the fitness industry? 

I told him that I’d take it a step further than simply picking a sport.  I’d go as far as targeting those playing a specific position.  Based on my own athletic background and areas of interest, I’d attempt to become “the guy” for strength training for soccer goalkeepers. 

Why so specific?  

If you want to avoid playing the leader’s game, you’d better be prepared to create a new one. 

A quick Google query told me that no one is currently publishing content relating to goalkeeper-specific strength and conditioning.  There are coaches offering positional instruction and camps that feature a strength training component, but nobody has claimed the role of articulating the unique training needs of this population in the same way that Eric Cressey did with baseball players (and pitchers in particular) beginning close to a decade ago. 

One of our current interns at CSP Massachusetts listened to this edition of the FBE podcast last week and made sure to drop by my office the next morning to see if I’d elaborate on my goalkeeper niche comment.

“Do you feel like that’s a large enough segment to target?”

I would be lying if I told you that I had investigated the answer to this question prior making the statement.  At the time of the recording, I was trying to make the point that you need to drill down beyond the sport level if you want to find an untouched population.  Scalability is the other side to the coin. If the numbers support the concept, an opportunity exists.

In 2014 (most recent figure I could find) the U.S. Youth Soccer Federation reported a registration figure of 3,055,148 soccer players.  If we are to assume that one out of every eleven soccer players is a goalkeeper, this leaves us with roughly 277,000 net-minders playing the game in just this country.   

Let me repeat: just this country. 

We’re talking about the most popular sport in the world, and the internet essentially allows any of us to speak to a global population.  This is an opportunity to become the thought leader with a very specific (and viable) population who's success is contingent upon athleticism.  Why hasn’t anyone tried to grab this segment yet?  Why hasn’t anyone taken a stab at being “THE GUY who knows how to design strength training materials specifically for soccer goalkeepers?” 

Being “The Guy” at anything leads to immense benefits 

At least once each week I field an inquiry to CSP that begins with: “I know you guys train primarily baseball players but…”

The “but” in this scenario can go in all kinds of different directions.  But my daughter is a field hockey player who needs to get stronger for tryouts.  But my son had an ACL reconstruction last year and needs to get back in to the weight room.  But I am interested in powerlifting and thought maybe you guys would be able to help me with my deadlift technique. 

What these callers are really saying is “I understand you are the go-to guys for training baseball players, so I figured that anyone who is the best at training one population is probably far better than average at working with most others.” 

Someday soon a fitness professional will earn a reputation as the go-to resource for goalkeeper-specific program design and content.  Achieving this status will inevitably lead to additional inquiries from field players, people from other athletic populations, and general fitness candidates.  If you focus on being so good in one category that a substitute doesn’t exist, you’ll soon find that your niched reputation is anything but limiting.