Finding Your Niche: Marketing Lessons From "The World's Largest Cigar Store"

Every time my family and I make the trek to North Carolina to visit my in-laws, there's one place I have to stop.

It's called JR, and it claims to be "The World's Largest Cigar Store." I don't know if that's true or not, but every time we plan a trip to Statesville, I try to finagle my way to JR... but not for cigars.

Sometimes your reputation isn't what you want it to be.

To be clear, cigars don't do it for me. I don't smoke, never have, and can't see a time in my future when I ever will. Heck, my Dad died from lung cancer. After Mom's heart attack, her doctor told her to stop smoking. She didn't. She died. So I know that smoking is one dead end road I have no intention of travelling.

Like any good nerd, I'm there for the books. JR has an extensive selection of best selling books and a few out of print or hard to find titles, as well as books on tape, and other media. To a bookworm like me, it's like putting a $20 in the slot machine in Vegas and hitting the jackpot.

Unfortunately, this last time I was there, the selection of books was grossly diminished. The book section was maybe half the size it was a couple of years ago. I started grumbling to myself about how I was actually going to have money left in my pocket when I was done shopping. There are usually so many good books - hard to find, out of print, and best sellers - that I have to use decide which books to leave on the shelves because I just don't have enough money. I walked out with three titles to add to my bookshelf, and a whole lot of change from that $20 bill.

You get to decide how you want to be known. Choose wisely.

The "smoking" section, on the other hand, had grown to nearly double the size I remembered - including a walk-in humidor. There were plenty of cigar enthusiasts in the store, and they all seemed to enjoy the selection. At first I was kind of miffed. In my head I was ranting about how I had driven about 700 miles so I could visit this store to get my book fix. But the truth of the matter was a little different.

See, for me, going to JR is a treat;  it's a reward for visiting the in-laws and being a dutiful wife. I spend a few days chatting it up with my hubby's family, and in return, I get to go to JR. But this was an agreement I made with only myself - nobody else was in on it.

It was pointless for me to get upset. Besides, JR was teaching me a valuable lesson in niche marketing.

JR bills itself as the mother of all cigar joints, not as some great place to pick up cheap books. Their billboards all across town sing the praises of their discount perfume (which is quite a selection, if you're into that kind of thing), and their cigars. Miles and miles of signs for the world's largest cigar store.

Changing your niche isn't hard, it just takes time.

They didn't just stop selling books. They appear to be slowly phasing them out as their inventory wanes. This is a lesson we can take straight from retail and incorporate in our own lives. If you want incorporate into our own business practices or even our lives. If you want to be known for something - like when Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and started calling himself "the greatest" - it doesn't take millions of dollars. You just have to start telling people that's who you are or what you do. If you want to be known as a writer, start introducing yourself as a writer. If you want to be known as a great mom, start showing up in the world like a great mom. Then, you have to DO the thing you want to be known for. You can't just call yourself a dancer, you've gotta dance. You don't have to be good at it, you've just got to keep showing up to do the work.

It's the consistency of the message you deliver that makes the difference. I've been going to JR for a while now, and after reading those billboards for nearly 10 years, I finally got the message that they're a cigar store that happens to sell books - for a little while longer anyway. You've got to keep showing up in your niche, and behaving like you belong there. A salesman doesn't show up to a trade show and sweep the floors. He's there to sell. He may not be the world's greatest salesperson, but he knows the role he's chosen, now he needs to show up and do the work.

It's only through conscious, intentional, deliberate practice that you get better at whatever it is you aspire to do. In my own business, I've made a decision to focus more of my time and energy on telling stories and creating music that inspires people to own their dreams. But a lot of people in my circle knew me as a business coach - particularly for direct sellers. It's not an easy niche to just walk away from, so I had to phase out my activities over a period of many months, so that I could get back into the studio to keep working on my 300 Songs Project. It meant saying goodbye to some projects I enjoyed so that I could say yes to projects I enjoyed even more. It also meant some of my followers wouldn't be following me anymore.

That's life, yo.

When you decide how you want to be known, you'll gain (and lose) followers.

The cool thing about that is that as you hone in on what really matters to you, more and more of the right people will show up. I can postulate some theories, and I'm sure there's some solid brain science behind how it happens, but I just tell people it's like magic.

Because that's what it feels like: magic.

It's as if, all of a sudden, after years of struggle, things start to get easier, and people you've been waiting for your whole life just start showing up - out of nowhere! Some random chick on a plane starts telling you about a book you need to write. A co-worker tells you she's dating a guy that opens a door to your dream job. A stranger on the street gives you a car (it happened to my former nanny!). Stuff just starts to feel like it's falling into Divine Alignment.

I saw a lot more cigar shoppers in JR this year. And I'm pretty sure there'll be at least a few less book buyers in the store next year. It's one of the joys and pitfalls of finding your niche. When you decide what you stand for, there will usually be people standing on the other side, perhaps even protesting you. There is no one-size-fits-all approaches to business - or life for that matter.

There are other book stores in the world that offer great bargains. JR was a hidden gem for me. So it's a little bittersweet to be "breaking up" with them like this. At the same time, a good business person needs to focus their efforts on their best clients. Looking at the incredible price tags on some of those hard to find cigars, I'm sure the margin is better on their cigars than on their bargain book bin. Pure and simple, even a business with a conscience exists to make a healthy profit. It would be selfish of me to expect them to continue to carry cheap books just because I want them - particularly if that same shelf space can generate significantly more income for the business.

In my own business, more people are showing up because of my stories and my music - and the folks that came looking expressly for the next big idea to grow their business fast have started to turn away. That's okay. I didn't see it that way when my mailing list first started shrinking, but I get it now. I'm staying consistent, and showing up as the can-do and how-to girl that not only inspires people to own their dreams, but shows them how along the way. My right people get it, and they keep showing up to greet the person I'm becoming (and my list is growing again because of my commitment to consistency).

Imagine a world filled with your right people...

That's the power of niche-ing: you find more of your right people - and it's easier for them to find you. Imagine being able to create a business that's filled with the people you absolutely love serving. JR touts its amazing selection of cigars and more cigar buyers show up. Word spreads, and more cigar buyers visit their website, there other locations, and BAM! Now you've got a growing, thriving business.

[Tweet "Get clear on what matters, cut toxic relationships, and life is just better. #ownyourdreams"]

This isn't just about business, either. When you get clear on what really matters and the kind of people you like to be with, cut out the toxic relationships, and remove the things that no longer serve your highest good, life is just better. Period. Imagine being able to have a life filled with people you absolutely love serving, spending time with, and being supported by?

Creating your niche doesn't have to be scary

Clarity is a beautiful thing (even if my bad grammar in the last paragraph is not). We often think it's this scary thing to create a niche for ourselves. We look at everything we have to give up... everything we're potentially losing, and often we neglect to look at the upside: all the things we're gaining.

Why?

The upside seems so intangible. We spend a lot of time examining the concrete, tangible elements of our present existence. It gives us comfort to know who is in our lives, who it is we work with, and how much money we can expect to bring in next week. When those things start shifting, all of our warning flags start signaling in our brains.

"Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!"

What if we spent an equal amount of time (or at least a little more than we currently do) striving to make our future as tangible and concrete as our past? What if we got just as excited about that new client we're going to meet, or that big opportunity that's coming our way ( just as soon as we clear space to make room for it)?

That's what I'm up to. I've started taking a more proactive approach at making my future concrete, instead of being afraid of it. I set up an audition for The Voice in June. I'm doing my first-ever virtual concert in May. I even played the piano in the baggage claim area at MSP Airport this morning (pictured).

In short, I just keep showing up. If I want the world to see me as a musical artist, I need to show up in the world as a musical artist.

What do you want the world to know you for? How are you showing up? What one thing can you do today to bring your actions and ideals in closer alignment? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


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