I’ve had quite a few strange engagements in my career–selling cheap die cast toys, self-produced classical music CDs (Want some? I still have a closet full), vetting pharmaceutical manufacturing in China–but by far the strangest was the company that asked me to help them sell lubricants.
Not just any lubricants. There were personal lubricants intended for fundamentalist Christian women.
I didn’t look for this gig. A print salesman I knew heard of the company, knew they needed help, and suggested that I was their guy. Thus, a meeting was arranged, and I met the really nice couple from down South who ran the enterprise. They described their successes and challenges, and asked if I could help.
I sat back for a minute and said, “Take a good look at me. I’m 180 degrees removed from your target market. Are you sure you’re OK with this?”
The husband smiled, looked at his wife (who also smiled), and said, “Jeeem, we want you ’cause you’re a Jooo.”
“Yup. The guy who taught me everything I ever knew about buying and pricing merchandise was a Jewish guy who ran a furniture store in Amarillo. The best accountant we’ve ever had was a Jewish guy in Lancaster. I told Meg, we need a Jew to help us fix our business.”
“Mazel-tov, let’s sell lube.”
As it turned out it was a terrific engagement, for a variety of reasons. There was nothing really all that special about their product; you could find similar versions in almost any drugstore. However, the difference was in community: there were about forty million people who then identified as fundamentalist Christians, with half of them female. The women most likely to use the product brought the total down to eight million. Since (in those pre-ecommerce days) there was targeted print and broadcast media aimed at Christians, and since my clients had invested time and money in that media, there was an extra level of trust when they offered product. It’s a bit like buying a car from a friend in a social organization, or hiring the gardener your next door neighbor recommends.
All they had to do was keep mailing offers. I learned that they had sent out one special offer that had a 98% response rate. Not a 98% reply, but 98% of the people BOUGHT PRODUCT from the offer. We increased mailings, and the money arrived. Since it was a fairly typical cosmetics product, the manufacturing cost was in cents, and the sales price in dollars.
Here’s to finding your profitable niche market!