Every summer I go berry picking at least once.
This year my husband and I picked blueberries on an August Saturday at Tougas Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts.
During the two hours we were in the field, I reveled in the berry-picking crowd.
Entire families picked berries together.
Parents with toddlers chatted with them as they picked, asking questions about what they were seeing. Their banter warmed my heart.
Strangers smiled at each other. Conversed.
No one was on their phone.
No one rushed.
Everyone spent several minutes picking from an individual blueberry bush before moving on.
What a serene and focused atmosphere.
It wasn’t just that it was Saturday or a sunny August day.
People were deliberate and unhurried because berry picking rewards patience.
Patience Yields More Fruit
Blueberries are small. It takes many to fill a quart container.
That can be daunting when you get to the field and see the first photo below.
At first, green leaves dominate your view. Few ripe berries appear initially, perhaps the three circled in red in the picture above.
If you rush, you pick those three and move to the next plant.
If you study the plant, you see several berries in the background, partially obscured by leaves, where the red arrows are in the picture above.
Looking closely multiplies your berry opportunities. If you move the leaves near those red arrows, you find clusters of berries where only a few were visible initially.
And if you stay long enough to move aside leaves where berries were not visible, like in the yellow rectangle section of the picture above?
Look what you could find:
Patience allows you to see what others miss. Rushed pickers don’t push aside inner leaves. They forget to look up or crouch down.
Ironically, rushed pickers spend longer and expend more energy collecting berries than those who take time to explore the plant in front of them.
Developing a Niche Is Like Picking Blueberries
The tenets of good berry picking apply to developing a niche for your business.
Powers of observation, assessment, patience, and care all come into play.
Like approaching a blueberry bush, it takes time to get insights into a niche market.
Prospects need to know, like, and trust you before they will buy from you. Many won’t reveal themselves until they have observed and assessed your brand.
You need to build relationships with them.
Rushing the sale before your prospect is ready can turn them off. Like an underripe berry carelessly picked, your relationship may never ripen to the point where your prospect becomes a customer.
It takes self-discipline to wait until the right moment to make your offer.
As experienced pickers can return again and again to a few bushes to fill their containers, business owners who invest in developing a niche can find it will sustain their business for years.
A Well-Developed Niche Can Sustain Your Brand for Decades
Not every business owner has the patience and self-discipline to develop a niche.
Many business owners fear a niche won’t be big enough to support their brand’s growth.
The time niches take to germinate stokes that fear.
But if you can weather the initial years it takes to establish your brand’s niche, it can pay off for decades.
Founded in 1980, Whole Foods focused on organic food before it was fashionable and operated in Austin, Texas for four years before expanding to the Houston area. When the company went public in 1992, it had 12 stores across four states: Texas, California, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
When Amazon purchased Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.7 billion, the company had 460 stores, presence internationally, and 87,000 employees.
Powell’s Books has focused on selling used and new books in Portland, Oregon for 50 years. Their annual revenue has grown to $111 million and they are a third-generation family-owned company.
Furniture by Penn has provided handcrafted, custom-made furniture made from sustainable materials to customers in Southern Ireland for 48 years.
Vermont Wooden Toys has produced local wood products for 51 years. Despite an outdated website, no social media marketing, and only recently accepting credit cards, orders are still booking four months out.
Kerrygold has sold milk products since 1962. A global Irish brand, Kerrygold hit revenues of €1.3 billion in 2020. Their butter is the top seller in Germany and the number two brand in the U.S. I enjoy their Dubliner cheddar cheese.
Vineyard Vines began their preppy vacation-wear company by selling colorful, irreverent, island-inspired print ties on Martha’s Vineyard in 1998.
They crossed the $1 million sales mark in three years, helped by a $400,000 order from Aflac for ties with their iconic ad campaign duck. Dun & Bradstreet estimates their current sales a $1.5 billion.
Use Blueberry-Picking Tenets to Own Your Niche
A niche is a sustainable business strategy and among the best ways to differentiate your brand. Every brand above is well-known for their niche and a go-to for their target audience.
They became known through years of commitment to their niche.
Do you have the patience to develop your niche?
Take a page from their play book and that of expert berry pickers.
Survey the terrain. Assess your potential niche like an experienced picker would choose a blueberry bush.
How big is the market? Who are the players? What does the target audience seek? Does your brand offer something truly different and desired?
Choose an ample-sized, underserved niche where your offering is unique. Ample means big enough to help your brand grow for at least several years.
Kerrygold’s butter and cheese get their unique flavor from cows’ milk enhanced from the cows’ consumption of Ireland’s rich and sweet grass. That’s hard to replicate.
Look beyond the obvious. Just as you need to get close and move leaves to see the true bounty of a blueberry bush, your niche knowledge gathering requires deep insights.
Talk to customers about the circumstances that prompt them to seek your brand, the ways they use your offerings, the experience they have buying from you. Identify opportunities to serve them better and improve their outcome.
Powell’s launched their website and began selling books online in 1994, a year before Amazon and three years before Barnes & Noble starting selling online.
Demonstrate your commitment. Speak specifically to your ideal customer in your marketing. Show them you understand their challenges, that your brand can deliver their desired outcome. Adapt as your customers’ needs evolve.
Vermont Wood Toys honored their buyers’ desire for all-natural products when they stopped using external stains and sealers in 2015.
Vineyard Vines features their employees and customers on their website as the “Real Good People” part of their “Our Story” page.
Be patient. Build relationships. Get to know your target market by taking a genuine interest in them and connecting with them often. Gain their trust. Focus on serving them long term.
Repeat business is cheaper to gain, more profitable, and more fulfilling than a succession of one-time sales. Like expert blueberry pickers who fill their containers over and over from a few abundant bushes, your patience will be rewarded.
Furniture by Penn aims for this explicitly: “By specialising in lifelong customer relationships, Furniture by Penn thrives to support you at every step of your home making journey.”
Shelve the Overnight Success Myth
It’s easy to envision your brand bursting on the scene and growing exponentially.
Sometimes that happens. More often brands take off after years of community building to establish themselves and their niche.
They just have the appearance of overnight success because by the time you’ve heard of them, they’ve been spreading the word long enough to reach you and reached many others in the process.
Vineyard Vines was like that for me. They started in Massachusetts, where I’ve been living since 1987. But I only heard of them sometime in the late 2000s, after they’d been in business 10 years.
When viable niches fail, it’s likely that brands failed to commit to them or abandoned them prematurely.
Like rushed berry pickers, they either covered too much territory (not committing) or moved on too fast.
If you can be patient, focus, and build relationships, you can set your brand up for long-term success and own your niche.
What’s your favorite niche brand?
Just for Fun
Blueberries are native to North America. In addition to being delicious, they have shown up in American pop culture.
How many of these blueberry references can you name?
Give it a go. You can find the answers here, with a few accompanying videos.
1 – Who sang “Blueberry Pie” on the Sesame Street album In Harmony?
2 – What’s the name of the character in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory who blows up like a blueberry?
3 – Who sang the most well-known rendition of “Blueberry Hill”? .
4 – Who was the first to record “Blueberry Hill”? .
5 – What TV character broke into a rendition of “Blueberry Hill” when he thought he was about to get lucky? .
6 – What’s the name of the blueberry-flavored General Mills cereal introduced in 1973?
7 – What video game has a setting in a town called Blueberry?
8 – What band has a famous bootleg recording from it “Live on Blueberry Hill” concert?
9 – Name any one of the performers in the 2007 film “My Blueberry Nights.”
Bonus question: What is the name of the European berry closest to the blueberry?
Check your answers here.
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