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Build Your Own Online Store, Part 1

Start by finding your niche.
niche-tos

With the start of the new year, you may find yourself wanting to venture off eBay. You may want more independence, an added venue on which to sell or you may think you’re spending too much on fees.

You could list on another marketplace, or you could build your own online store. The latter may sound intimating, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ll break down the process in this series so you can see what you need to do if you decide to take this step. We’ll start by looking at what you should sell.

You may be thinking, “I already have inventory that sold just fine on eBay. I have that part down.”

Specializing in one area—or having a niche—is great for business. In fact, several successful online sellers suggest it

That’s great; but if that inventory you’re referring to is a variety of mismatched items that don’t have a unifying factor, you may want to revisit your inventory. Specializing in one area—or having a niche—is great for business. In fact, several successful online sellers suggest it, even if you decide not to build your own online store and stay on eBay.

Here, we’ll explore the benefits of having a niche and how you can find one. In our next articles, we’ll take you through the nuts and bolts of starting your own shop.

‘Generic’ dilutes your message and your sales

Lisa Suttora says some sellers shudder at the idea of specializing in one particular set of products, worried they might miss out on sales.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she notes. “When your business is too generic, it dilutes your message, your marketing and your sales.”

In her article, When in Doubt, Niche it Out, Suttora suggests finding a specialty and sticking to it. She says selling a variety of items like name women’s shoes, kitchen products and athletic apparel in one shop makes it “impossible to sell these different product lines effectively to the same target market.”

“When your business is too generic, it dilutes your message, your marketing and your sales”

“Not only that, with your attention split three ways, you’re unlikely to dominate the marketplace for any of these niches,” she reports. Instead, focus your energy on products related to an area you know well or have a passion for.

Find the right specialty

Corinne McHie, the owner of SeptemberHouse, a store that sells embroidery patterns, says finding a niche makes selling easier. She started selling on Etsy in 2008 and opened her own online store last year. She’s very happy she did—and happy she specializes in one area.

“Having your products seen by as many people as possible isn’t always the best goal to have,” she notes. “Finding out who is your most likely customer and making your products visible to them is going to lead to more sales. Having a niche makes that so much simpler.”

When you’re deciding what your niche will be, you need to find something you’re passionate about, she adds. That passion will make you stand out from the competition.

“Finding out who is your most likely customer and making your products visible to them is going to lead to more sales. Having a niche makes that so much simpler”

“Customers can sense your genuine excitement about a product and your indifference,” she explains, and that makes sense. When you’re ready to take your sales to the next level and build your own online store, you’ll have to invest a lot of time and energy.

You may have some troubles along the way, so having a passion for the niche you’ve chosen will help you get through the setup of your store and the possible slow sales early on.

Plus, if you love what you specialize in, odds are you’ll know a lot about it, or want to learn more, making it easier for you to become an expert in the area, and making you more attractive to buyers.

Gauge the market

Once you know what you want to specialize in, do your homework to see what products are already being sold in that particular niche. If you love fashion and decide you want to focus on it, do your research.

You may think women’s clothing is enough of a focus, but if you do a Google search for it, you’ll find millions of results. Why? Because a lot of people sell women’s clothing. That means you need to narrow your niche to something more specific, like plus-size dresses.

“If it’s something that is saturating the marketplace then it might be better to focus on products that fill a void or offer something unique to shoppers,” McHie notes.

Kris Moody, the co-owner of Italian Warehouse on eBay and Bonanza, echoes that sentiment.

“If you try to invest in a large amount of inventory, comprised of the types of items which have already flooded the Internet, you’re looking at very long odds to be successful,” he reports.

Look for problems you can solve

During your research, read forums related to the specialty you’re considering. This will help you see if there are any unmet needs you can fulfill with products you know, or products you can create.

The mom bought some fun fabric, started sewing and her store naturally developed

Lisa Dagen, the owner of MyPumptastic.com, found a need during her research, though she wasn’t looking to start an online shop. You see, her daughter has type 1 diabetes and has to wear an insulin pump 24/7. Dagen was looking for sacks to hold her daughter’s pump that would be fun for a little girl.

“What we found was not very appealing to children,” she reports on her store. “We found solid colors like black or blue, but what fun is that for a kid?”

She decided none, so the mom bought some fun fabric, started sewing and her store naturally developed. She now sells three types of cases in her shop. Three might not sound like a lot, but if you visit her site, you’ll see those three designs have given plenty of kids plenty of choices, and Dagen a solid store.

Keep in mind what you already know

Don’t forget to put the knowledge you have about the niche you decide on or related products to good use, too. Moody and his wife decided to specialize in high-end new and used men’s clothing because they knew Italian suits, having worked at Macy’s for two of the biggest men’s designers.

They also knew there was a demand for the products they wanted to offer. Italian suits can be expensive and “not that many guys can afford to buy a $2,000 or $3,000 suit, or a $150 necktie,” Moody explains.

McHie also knew the niche she was getting into, and that buyers would appreciate a store like hers. Her mother had taught McHie how to stitch designs, and she has seen a resurgence in the hobby. However, she noticed that, like herself, other women didn’t want to stitch the designs their grandmothers had done, so she put a modern twist on her patterns.

With more than 1,300 feedbacks and a 100-postive feedback score, it seems buyers liked what she did.

Feel inspired? We hope so. Now grab a pencil and start jotting down your interests and potential niches. Once you zero in on a specialty and find the products you need, you’re ready to go to step 2, choosing the right shopping cart. Sarah Brown will discuss that in our next installment of this series.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of TheOnlineSeller.com. In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.