Saturday, August 8, 2009

Exploiting the overlooked market niche -- how about the market for left-handers ?

One of the ways to identify business opportunities is to focus on niche, minority markets that may be overlooked by the big established players who tend to target the mass, mainstream market. One example of a minority market is the market for products designed for left-handed people. Ok, I confess this market is of personal interest to me, as I'm a left-hander myself. Actually, I'm inspired to write this blog because the official International Lef-Handers Day is coming very soon -- August 13 to be exact (that's right, there is actually such a day).

Because lefties account for only about 10-15% of the world's population, most mass consumer products are designed for right handers. While left-hander version do exist, they usually are very hard to find in the mainstream consumer outlets, and usually for high value products only (e.g. golf club, hockey stick, guitars). If you are looking for left-hand scissors, peelers, knives, mugs or can-openers, you will often be out of luck. My own favourite beef is actually the cheque-book that I get from the banks.

I have come across a shop in San Francisco, and one in London, that specializes in goods for left-handers, but I am not aware of any retail shop in Singapore that specializes in this niche market. There are of course quite a few online shops that specialize in left-handed goods, e.g. www.anythingleft-handed.co.uk, thelefthand.com, lefthanded.dk, sinistershop.com, etc but even these are mostly based in the US or Europe, so you incur hefty shipping charges if you are based in most parts of Asia.

Obviously, many of the factors that cause left-handed goods to be more expensive and less efficiently distributed apply to minority products in general -- economy of scale in production, the logic of fast inventory turnover in mass consumer outlets, higher marketing costs to target a niche customer base etc. But clearly, advances in internet and web2.0 marketing technology ought to be able to help improve the market efficiency in matching left-handed consumers with suppliers -- the long-tail argument of Chris Anderson. Notwithstanding some of the online shops I mentioned, I have not really seen this particular long-tail being exploited in most part of Asia though. It may be that, while other minority consumer markets have a higher degree of physical clustering (think of Chinatown in Western societies), left-handers are not geographically concentrated. Or it may be that it is harder to identify and hence target the left-hander consumers, since you can't readily do the segmentation based on the kind of easily available demographic or socio-economic data that marketers capture (when you fill up an application form for any service, they ask you your income and occupation, etc, but did you ever get asked whether you are left or right-handed?).

Still, 10-15% is not exactly a small market segment, so I do believe that there is an under-exploited market opportunity here. Moreover, unlike trying to customize product for other minority market, where you really need to thoroughly understand what features to customize (e.g. color preference, size, packaging) and hence there is considerable product design risk, the cost for customizing product design for the left-handers should be quite low, as it usually involves nothing more than a mirror reflection of the standard product design.

So for the entrepreneurs out there, especially if you are left-handed yourself (or have loved ones who are), why don't you start thinking of ways to exploit this niche market opportunity?

I believe the key challenge is in developing the right marketing strategy. For starters, you could probably target your marketing pitch to parents of young left-handers. During my time, I get punished by some of my primary school teachers for using my left-hand in writing -- that is why I developed stammering as a child, as I was forced to write with my wrong hand for a number of years -- but these days adults are more understanding, and indeed parents with left-handed children (like me -- I have a left-handed daughter, although my son is right-handed) are usually anxious to ensure their children are not handicapped because of their handedness. And in case you do not know, there is no shortage of famous left-handers that you can draw upon for your marketing pitch -- for the artistically inclined, there's Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Picasso and Mozart; for the scientist to be, there's Albert Einstein and Marie Curie; for the entrepreneurial, there's Henry Ford, John Rockefeller and of course Bill Gates; and for the politically inclined, there's Julius Ceasar, Napoleon, Alexander the Great and in more recent times, Mahatma Ghandi, Bill Clinton and - yes, Barak Obama. (For those of us who are Singaporean, I'm told that our very own Prime Minister, B.G. Lee, is also a left-hander.)

Do contact me if you know of any interesting venture that targets this niche market opportunity, or if you just want to share with me your own favourite grouses about wrong-handed products.

3 comments:

coseclinic said...

an interesting business idea. certainly a market niche that should be exploited. anyone up for this?

punkirebel said...
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Baptiste Lacasee said...

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