The New Sign on the Door of a Restaurant I Frequent Says “Dinner Is No Longer Served.” And Therein Lies a Story About the Importance of Niches.

As much as I’ve seen the principle demonstrated, it never ceases to make my brows go up when I encounter another example of just how nitche-specific the Universe is.

My co-author, David Neenan, and I discussed the importance of nitches in Evergreen: Playing a Continuous Comeback Business Game. We introduced the idea this way:

“When we talk about ‘niche marketing,’ we are speaking of the ability to focus and concentrate on one specific domain. ‘Small business advisers’ or ‘marketing consultants’ make a living trying to tell people in Small Niches what should be done next. But about all they know, for certain, is that hard work alone is never enough to guarantee that your Small Niche idea for a new product, service, or organization—will work. Again, the trick is to luck onto, search out, or create persuasive limits to disorder—fresh, fertile techniques, synergies, products, services, or markets poised to align themselves with developing new patterns and energies in the Evergreen.”

At breakfast this morning, Sherry and I noticed that one of our favorite greasy spoon restaurants was no longer serving dinner. What was surprising about this was that they’d only begun to serve dinner a few months ago. Before that, for more than 30 years, they had been a wildly successful “open at 5 a.m. and close at 2 p.m.” breakfast/lunch place.

When the manager walked past, I asked him why no more dinner times. “We got reminded the hard way that we operate in an industrial district,” he instantly replied. “People want fast service and cheap food for breakfast and lunch. But when they ‘go out for dinner’—and he raised two fingers on both hands to emphasis the quotes—they want to go to the”—fingers up again—”‘entertainment district.’”

It so happens that the “entertainment district” is no more than 90 seconds away from where we were sitting, depending on whether you hit one or both of the intervening traffic lights and/or have to wait for a light-rail train to pass. But that isn’t really germane to all this. What happened was that the owners and managers of Poor Richard’s Cafe didn’t quite understand what their Small Niche is. And that niche happens to be looking like, cooking like, and acting like a cafe in the industrial district. Getting away from their niche was an expensive mistake, one which, to their credit, they quickly picked up on and corrected. They are back to their Small Niche now and are as crowded for breakfast and lunch as ever.

You probably noticed that the term that David and I used is Small Niche. In our book, it is always capitalized. That’s because there is also a Big Niche. David and I had this to say, in part, about Big Niches and about niches in general:

“For each individual, there appears to be the reality of a singular, purposeful Big Niche, plus the potentially of numerous Small Niches. Paradoxically, the Big Niche is much more elusive in that, although it is apparently pre-existing, it must usually be diligently searched for. Small Niches, while they may be invented on the spot, can also sometimes simply be fallen into, like ditches.”

There’s a lot more about both Small and Big Niches on pages 39 through 60 in Evergreen.

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