One of the dictionary definitions for “niche” is: a distinct segment of a market. That means you need to target a specific segment of the market and not try to appeal to the whole market. You have to realise and accept the fact that not everyone on the street is your prospect. You might have heard of speakers and trainers say, “Everyone is your prospect!” This saying is especially prevalent in the network marketing industry where leaders try to motivate their downlines to prospect everyone. But this idea is simply not true. You probably won’t see those same speakers or trainers going around on the streets trying to sell strangers one of their courses. And even if they do, they are just wasting their time and resources. The fact is you have to know who your target market is and only direct your marketing and promotional efforts to them. You have to focus your available resources to appeal to them and them only. For example, if you’re promoting anti-aging products, it just doesn’t make sense trying to promote that to children or infants right? Obviously that is a very extreme example, but that’s what a lot of people are doing. They are marketing indiscriminately and wasting their resources unnecessarily. That is just foolish. Every business has limited resources that they can use. If you’re trying to market to everyone, then you will be spreading yourself too thin. You will be wasting the limited resources you have that could have been used more effectively on your niche market. Instead, you need to maximise your profit potential by focusing only with qualified prospects.
When Thomas came back from the United States with all his new pest management knowledge and systems, he wanted to “set the standard for the pest control industry”. To achieve that, he zoomed in on the premium hospitality and healthcare niche to market his pest management services. “I chose to go after the premium hospitality and healthcare niche because they have a reputation to maintain. They have what we call a highly sensitive environment because the presence of one lone pest will have a huge negative impact on their reputation, brand and bottom line. Hotel patrons will create a fuss if they see a fly or a cockroach or an ant in the premises because they are paying top dollar to patronise these places. That also means that these hotels will apply the same high standards on their pest controllers because they need to keep their premises pest-free to meet their patrons’ expectations. Many pest control companies have tried to enter this niche but they failed because they couldn’t meet the high quality standards and services required to service the clients in this niche. I turned that around to become our strategic differentiation. I knew that if PestBusters can service these clients well and maintain our reputation for being able to do so, then it will reflect on our company’s high standards. Getting the approval and endorsements of these clients will also help us in marketing our services to other hotels in the premium hospitality market; and reinforce our position as the company that sets the standard for the pest control industry. That is also the reason why we have been able to capture and maintain a 95 per cent share of the premium hospitality and healthcare market.”
Because Thomas has a very clear idea of who his target market is, he also knows exactly where to spend his money on for advertising and marketing. For instance, you would rarely see any PestBusters advertisements in the newspapers because the general masses usually look for the cheapest providers to solve their problem. However, if you ask any hospitality industry people, they will not settle for the cheapest. They will look for someone who can solve their problem and maintain a very high standard of service because they have a reputation to uphold. This is why Thomas only advertises in the Yellow Pages and the trade magazines that are distributed to his target market and he sponsors relevant events like Hospitality Asia Platinum Award HAPA and the HAPA Regional Award.
Another way Thomas is targeting the premium market is to have a premium price. He charges five to six times more than the usual market rate. Obviously, the quality and standard of the services that he delivers are also much higher than the usual market standard. He explains, “If clients need someone who can help them solve a bigger and more complicated problem, then they know to come to us. When potential clients call me with a big problem that other pest control companies can’t solve, I tell them upfront that it may cost more to eliminate their problem. I will also get their commitment to follow our system to ensure they get the desired results they are looking for. For example, there are various chemicals that can be used for termite treatment. The majority of the time, the general pest control companies will recommend the cheapest chemical available in order to lower their cost and secure the sale. In contrast, PestBusters recommends the most effective chemical that may cost slightly higher but provides a better protection for their property. This price qualification does two things. First, it means that we are only spending time presenting to interested clients who have a reached a stage where their desire for results has overcome any objections to the price; and second, it ensures that we are only working with clients who are just as committed and dedicated as we are to work towards the solution together.
“Focusing on this niche has not only strengthened the PestBusters’ brand in the minds of our target market but has also gotten us attention from other people. Although we don’t actively market our services to customers outside of our niche, our reputation and brand get spread around and those who are having problems approach us because they know we are the best at what we do. For example, we do have some high-end residential contracts because these home owners got to know about our services through their contacts with the hotel staff. In some instances, the management staff from the hotels themselves has referred our services to their personal network. One case in point was a referral to do termite treatment for a condominium. One of my clients, Carlos Monterde, Hotel Manager of Fairmont Singapore (formerly Raffles The Plaza) called me up to ask about doing termite treatment for his condominium. As a member of his condominium’s Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) committee, his role is to contribute to the managing of the condominium property. I thought it might be more useful if you hear from Carlos’ reasons on why he chose to recommend our services to his MCST committee from his own point of view. You can read Carlos’ account below.”
“I first worked with PestBusters in Vietnam. It was the first company we engaged to help us do pest control in a newly opened hotel in Haiphong. That was in 1998 and the contract was handled by our Chief Engineer. When I came to Singapore I worked at the Hilton hotel, which also happened to be using PestBusters for their pest control and it was there that I started working with Thomas directly. He has always showed himself to be very professional. Though we also had some problems at work, they were always properly addressed.
Then, about two and a half years ago, I came to work in my current hotel. At that time, we had a contract with another pest control company. They were trying very hard as they had just been given the opportunity to show they could do it better than what PestBusters had been doing in the building for the past fourteen years. After two years with this alternative company (a well-known multinational brand), we had a serious problem and I had to call Thomas to solve the problem.
I chose PestBusters over others because I trust Thomas. I think he is knowledgeable and will address the issues in the right manner. We do not select service providers only based on price even though that is also an important factor. Thomas manages to be competitive all the time. If I keep calling them, it is because I believe they can cover the needs I have to run my business. They are honest, serious, hardworking, dedicated and knowledgeable. I respect all these qualities. And those are all the reasons why I feel confident about their services and recommended them to my MCST board.”
“By being focused we are able to deliver exceptional results and maintain our standards. That in turn attracts prospects to us. The reason why I’m sharing this story is because I want to emphasise the fact that focusing only on your niche doesn’t mean that you will completely lose out on other markets. On the contrary, once you can establish yourself well in your niche market, other prospects from related markets will also be attracted to you. This is something that we have proven time and again, even when we go into different countries.”
However, it is also important to state that you should only expand to take on additional services or into related markets when you have the resources to do so. “At the time of writing this book, PestBusters only started our operations in the Philippines for less than one year. Because of our successes and the amazing results we produced, words spread very fast. Naturally, we received a lot of enquiries. We have a lot of prospects asking us to termite treatment. Even though the business opportunity is very attractive for us and we can easily seal the deal, we decided not to it yet. This is because at the moment we do not have the trained staff to provide that service. Termite treatment is a specialised skill by itself. And for now, we still have not found the right people who can be trained to perform it. We can’t teach our current staff there how to do it because that would be distracting them from their focus. So unless we have a trained team who can perform termite treatment according to our standards, we will not do that yet.
“If we are greedy and we just want to get the contract, we could have easily signed the contract and did a slipshod job and nobody would know. In fact, many disreputable companies do that. But PestBusters has a brand and a reputation to uphold. Taking the contract will give us a short-term gain, but will hurt us in the long run. And that is just foolish. We are still in the beginning stages of establishing our brand and our company there, so we should not lose our focus. Unfortunately, in business, sometimes greed takes over commitment and common sense. People get distracted with fads and short-term gains and start doing things that are totally unrelated to their focus. If you take a look at some of the well-known pest control companies, you will notice that their service levels have dropped because they went into too many other ‘distractions’ like washroom and sanitation supplies, garden and lawn care, commercial chemical supplies, general cleaning services, et cetera. As a result, their core business is affected and they also confuse their customers who no longer have a clear idea of what the company’s focus is.”
Thomas advocates companies to be good at what they do first before considering to do something else. One of the key factors he considers before he undertakes a new opportunity is whether he has found somebody who has the same competency and vision as him to continue what he has built up. He likens it to a succession plan. Only when someone is ready to take over will you then be ready to move on to something else. That’s because you can leave that person alone and feel secure knowing that things will continue to run smoothly while you are doing something else with another group of people. For instance, he went into the Philippines only after he saw that Malaysia was self-sufficient and self-running. But if he had to take away his staff from Malaysia before they had a well-trained team to replace them then his Malaysian market will suffer. Similarly, Thomas stands firm with his decision to not take up termite treatment contracts in the Philippines until they have trained men there who can do the job.