Recently, the BBC ran a story about a family business  in Huntingdon, UK. It’s an endearing, heartwarming story with loads of business lessons for all of us. Let’s share our thoughts and opinions on their Niche Market Strategy. It’s worth it – you’ll see.
Armed with a University degree, Adam Makey lived in a small market town of less than 24,000 people that had little prospects for work. Nothing unusual there. However, the difference for the Makey family is that both he and his brother are on the autistic spectrum. Nationally, only one in six people with autism are in full time employment. The good news though, is that Adam had been obsessed with comics since childhood. A comic shop then seemed like an option, but wouldn’t come without its challenges for the family.
The Makeys are now seven years into their family project, which has involved no less than restoring an historic building, growing a niche retail business, organising community events and managing media platforms. Thinking differently, being different without judgement are a strong ethos in this family business. Product knowledge and identifying which genres superheroes came and in which decade seems simple for them. Sourcing stock from publishers abroad also seems simple compared to doing the numbers. Payments, change, barcodes, prices and card readers are not easily dealt with if you have autism. Fortunately, the brothers have a Mom who could help after hours when things got confusing – when the books needed balancing or taxes paid.
If being different is the accepted norm at Niche Comics, then they have an advantage in thinking differently about their customer experience. Adam and Guy are open seven days a week, always ready to discuss specific customer needs  which may be about gaming, comics, board games, gifts, stationery, soft toys, posters and books. Gaming and book signing events are a regular feature, as are acoustic music nights. Stocks are replenished weekly. You can imagine the variety of comic heroes, action figures, Manga and comic art that needs to be available to enthusiasts. You would need to to be obsessed with comics, to maintain the faith and passion to keep up with the information overload.
Worldwide, there are many independent comic booksellers looking for stock. These are mostly people that are knowledgeable about comics.  Comics are also sold in large quantities on Amazon and eBay. There are many easy options for people to get rid of their old comic books and magazines. Since there are many collectors, who invest in comics, prices can vary and for the valuable pieces, huge prices and profits can be made by discerning buyers. Trading can be competitive and business owners need to know what they’re doing. Since money is easily lost if purchases are made at the wrong price, the Makeys have had a lot on their plate and won.
There are solid comic selling platforms  available online anywhere, that operate either on an auction basis, an online marketplace  or retailing on first come first served basis. EBay  and Amazon  naturally is a strong competitor for the bricks and mortar retailer. Bargains and stock availability are always a challenge and the Makey brothers, like any other niche retailer, have needed to be on their toes. Keeping abreast of fashion trends, customer behaviour  and supply availability are inevitable and ongoing challenges. Since animation has moved to digital, stock supplies of printed material, increasingly is in less supply at higher prices. All this means that Niche Comics has to build a community online and face to face of loyal customers to ensure that there stock turns. They need to provide and experience, information and services not available elsewhere. At the moment of writing this post, sadly their website is down. Ouch!
Interestingly, Niche Comics has always remained in the black. Not bad for any fledgling niche retailer, operating in a market town. What they are particularly good at, is spotting and working with others on the autistic spectrum. The store is designed to accommodate all people, no matter their difference. Adam embraces the need to reach out to people who have learning difficulties and started giving talks to young people. From this, the brothers received work referrals for work experience as they knew, with the right support, the strengths that autistic people offered as employees. They love to provide opportunities and see positive change in people.
All businesses have ongoing challenges, particularly startups. Comic retailers like any other retailer, have sales slumps  which a successful business must rebound from, to survive. A niche comic retailer in a market town is no different. The Makey brothers are not shy to think differently  and deal with the challenges that ensue. The good news about the online comic community is that there are many resources to help  and information is out there. Like any business in any market, there will be  ups and downs. The trick is to ride it out and gain the experience and come back smarter or as the Makey brothers prefer, differently.
What is interesting to me, is how the Makey family pooled resources, played to their strengths and their passions and adapted to manage their challenges. They were courageous and creative from the outset and connected with their community to build loyalty around fabulous ethics and values. To embrace differences in people and win. Surviving and thriving is a result of a strategy that this family business can be proud of. There is much to learn from them.
Some questions for us to ponder include:
- Without a passion for and an erstwhile knowledge of comics built over decades, could Niche Comics ever have got off the ground?
- What sacrifices do each family member have to make, to ensure that the business keeps working?
- What challenges will the business face as the nature of retailing changes?
- What is the secret ingredient to their niche market strategy, that gives them an ongoing advantage?
Your comments and experiences would be appreciated below. This way, we build and clarify the real strategy story.
Here are some links below, numbered and referenced in the narrative above. They are designed to ignite your thinking. Please add your comments below and more valuable sources if you like.
| Retailing with a difference|| Thinking differently|
| Niche Comics|| Facebook|
| Huntingdon First||Huntingdon|
| Selling old comics|| Comic buyers|
| Selling tips|| Top selling platforms|
| Online marketplace|| Selling on eBay|
| Online help|| Selling on Amazon|
| Ups and downs|| Sales slump|