The Magic of Niches

What makes you special? One of the most common marketing mistakes trainers make is to generalize. If you’re the only game in town, it makes sense to tell potential clients you do it all. But if there are multiple dog pros in your area, what makes a client call you instead of someone else? Don’t leave it to chance. Give them a reason to call you by marketing a specialization. Find a niche and fill it well.

Finding Your Niche
First, take a look at what the competition in your area is doing. Consider what you might have to offer that is different. For example, do you prefer working with a particlar type of dogs, such as puppies or small dogs? Is there a training issue you’re particularly good at handling? Who are your ideal clients? Do you have skills from a former career or hobby that might serve as a useful complement to your training? A former school teacher might be especially adept at working with families with children. Experience in the corporate world could open doors to lunchtime or other workplace training programs. Also consider services not currently being offered that could be of use to dog owners in your area. Is there a need for specialty classes such as tricks or behavior workshops focusing on a tough behaviors like recall or loose leash walking? Does anyone offer board and train or owner-absent training options? What about boarding in your home or walking clients’ dogs?

How a Niche Works
Marketing a niche gives a subsection of potential clients a reason to call you over every other service provider in your area. These clients then tell their friends and family and co-workers about you, and you begin to build your business. And you can absolutely be a generalist, too. Say you specialize in treating separation anxiety, and your marketing efforts predictably bring you clients with sep anx problems. If you help solve those problems, likelihood is the client will refer you to friends and family for any training needs they have. Even with a narrow niche focus you can expect a good half of your cases to fall outside your specialty.

Start Today
Successful dog pros find a way to make themselves stand out—what could yours be? If you’re generalizing now and don’t hear the phone ringing as often as you’d like, it’s time to find your niche. Start brainstorming today, and seek input from friends, family, and past clients on what you do best or what is needed in your community. Once you’ve made a decision about your direction, amend your cards, brochures, and website, to reflect your new specialization. (If you still have a lot of good brochures, you can add a nicely printed paper insert instead of throwing them out.) Rework advertisements and fliers. And tell your colleagues, clients, and anyone you network with—vets, groomers, shelters, pet supply stores, day cares, and other businesses and contacts—about the exciting new service you’re offering.

Back in the suburbs, Tina owned a successful home-based dog training and boarding business. After getting married and moving to a small place in a big city, Tina wondered how she would make board and train work. Then she noticed how many small dogs were out and about town—in bicycle baskets, in purses, at the mall, enjoying sidewalk cafes. Tina built her new business around train-&-board services for small dogs only. Her marketing plan included networking with local small dog rescue groups, groomers, and high-end doggie boutique stores. Her message of special care for the smalls hit home with small dog owners and she now maintains a wait list for her services.

Miranda was scraping by in an urban market saturated with dog trainers. Though she marketed herself as working with all kinds of obedience and problem behaviors, she found that the cases she most enjoyed were dog-dog aggression issues. She began marketing a specialty working with dog aggression and has found her schedule filling up. For one thing she’s given a segment of dog owners a reason to call her over the many other trainers in her area. She also enjoys the referrals of her fellow dog trainers who do not take dog aggression cases.

Cindy burned out working as a vet tech in a high-pressure vet hospital, and decided to start her own pet sitting business. The number of people already pet sitting in her area intimidated her, but her vet tech expertise made her worries unnecessary. She directed her business at owners with older and ill pets, explaining that she would be able to care both for their emotional and physical well being, including administering medicines, IVs, and other home medical care required. She networked with veterinary offices and other pet sitters and was soon overwhelmed with referrals for clients needing special care for their elderly or infirm animals while away.

Gina found her dog training skills very useful both while preparing her young dog for the arrival of her first baby and after she brought the baby home. She noticed several of the women in her new moms’ group struggled with their dogs and babies, and a niche was born. Gina changed the name of her business to Tails & Tots and began marketing to expectant and new moms through groups, pediatricians, and parenting classes at her two local hospitals. She also developed curricula for two public dog training classes, one for expectant parents and one for new parents.