I've been an entrepreneur and small business owner for over 25 years, owning businesses related to finance, hospitality and real estate development. Each of these businesses had common elements: They were brick and mortar operations at a specific location, with large staff and plenty of overhead. They also relied on specific and local markets in order to be successful, which placed limitations on reach and revenue.
I reached the point where I knew something needed to change if my goal was to successfully operate in a market with plenty of scale. I realized we needed a business in a larger market place than we were accustomed - one where there was room for competition and could be operated in a simple and efficient manner. It needed to be interesting, offer significant growth opportunities, and be able to quickly adapt to market trends. But most importantly, there needed to be a low barrier to entry. I simply wasn't ready to make a large investment without first testing the waters.
Ultimately I decided to sell my brick and mortar business. Now I needed to figure out how I could apply all that I have learned over the years to a new venture that met all the criteria I felt needed to be met to really take things to a new level.
It did not take long for me to realize that e-commerce was the answer. I knew that identifying a niche rich with opportunity was going to be very important. That's where things got really exciting for me.
I have always had a passion for craftsmanship and antiques. I eventually landed upon selling Black Forest cuckoo clocks. Not only did this niche meet all my criteria, but I have loved these clocks since I was a child. I had traveled to Germany in the past and even bought a Black Forest cuckoo clock for my home, but I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be running a cuckoo clock business. The niche chose me: I realized I would not only be the operator, but that I was a customer too!
Finding our place in our niche
Starting a new business is a journey and we have experienced our share of bumps in the road along the way. In the beginning, we ran on razor thin margins, and had to learn how to develop overseas relationships. In order to negotiate the best prices from our suppliers in Germany, we needed to order a significant volume of products. However, we were still a young company without an audience. We didn't have customers knocking on our door ready to make purchases. At the time it didn't make sense to make large orders. What would happen if demand was less than expected and we were left with excess inventory?
Fortunately, as we established ourselves and gained a lot of market share, we were able to negotiate better pricing and terms with our suppliers. Now we can offer our customers a great value while also ensuring our company is profitable. In addition, Christmas is a key time of the year for us. It's the period when we make the most of our sales. We are constantly testing different sales and marketing strategies to keep customers engaged in months when business is slower. We've worked hard to share valuable information on our website to build our expertise and credibility, and that effort was rewarded by top Google rankings for our key industry terms.
Our company continues to expand and we have hired new employees to help fuel growth. It's always rewarding when you can create job opportunities for yourself and others. We are excited to help share the rich history and unique craftsmanship of the Black Forest area with the rest of the world. On a personal level, I've learned that it's never too late to start something new and totally reinvent yourself!
About the author: Bob Ellis is the founder and CEO of Bavarian Clockworks.