Misconceptions About Niche Development

I’d imagine there’s a 99% chance you’ve found my blog because you’re aware of the gym I co-founded. There’s also a 99% chance you are aware that we’ve established a reputation for catering to the needs of the baseball-playing community. We’ve captured a niche, and it’s been good for business.

So, let me ask you this…

Do you think we earn our living exclusively by training baseball players? Do you think we close the metaphorical door in the face of general fitness population inquiries that come our way? Do you think that we had some sort of geographic advantage in chasing a sport-specific athletic community while operating in a region that rules out outdoor sports entirely for a third of the year?

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I’ve recently run into some pushback on the topic of niche development. A couple of weeks ago I published a Tweet stating that it is the generalists who can pay their bills, but the niche owners are the ones who are in a position to plan for retirement. My mindset while posting this thought was that you can crush it in your local market, but unless you are running a gym in Manhattan, the number of bodies in your immediate vicinity is eventually going to present a ceiling to your earning potential.

If you want to take that ceiling up several notches, your options are to add locations, or to become known for something that draws eyes to your content, inspires people to get on a plane to come see you, and delivers opportunities to spread your message in front of engaged audiences around the country.

Nonetheless, a fellow gym owner in the midwest took issue with my statement:

Easily said in Jupiter, FL and Mass. There’s not a niche market for prone trap raises in middle America...most athletes/ballplayers just want to get generally more athletic.

This person went on to describe my post as a “one-size-fits-all statement.” My business partner Eric was quick to chime in. He explained that he is aware of successful baseball-focused facilities in Houston, Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, and Washington DC.

You read that right, there is an established baseball-specific training space in the state of Wisconsin. Who woulda thought?

Having a niche does not mean…

As you probably inferred earlier in this post, the baseball niche we cater to here at Cressey Sports Performance is not our sole means of revenue generation. Our client roster features people from a variety of athletic backgrounds, along with parents, grandparents, and even employees from businesses down the hall. There is no mandate that we only make our services available to a single targeted sub-set of the sports world.

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I’ve said in the past that if you successfully position yourself as “the best” at serving a specific athletic population, you’ll likely be perceived to be considerably above average in taking care of just about everyone else.

If you were the parent of a high school hockey player in need of some off-season training, and your options were a nearby gym that is widely considered to be the best basketball-specific training facility in America, or that place down the road that is “pretty good at everything,” which direction would you go? I can’t spend your money for you, but I will tell you that my kid would be training at the basketball gym.

Having a niche does mean…

When I encourage other gym owners to pursue niche development, I am speaking of becoming singularly focused in your continuing education endeavors, in your content creation, and in your strategic business development. As a gym owner, your baseline fitness knowledge is likely at a level that will suffice in taking care of the average person who walks through the door, so your down time would be well spent on deliberate practice toward achieving expert status in a particular realm.

Claiming your region limits you from being able to attract a specific set of athletes is probably a cop out. Sure, it's a bad idea to open a gym catering to mountain climbers in Nebraska or Florida, but as long as there are athletes playing the sport you choose in your region for some portion of the year, there is opportunity.

We successfully attracted elite baseball players from all over the country to a facility that is buried in snow during the peak of the baseball off-season for nearly a decade prior to opening a second location in Florida. The most committed athletes know that expertise is worth traveling for, and I can say with 100% confidence that we would have found a niche market for prone trap raises in the midwest had we decided to set up shop there back in 2007 instead of Hudson, MA.


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