Thursday, May 22, 2008

Nice Niche

Presently, I work for an organization whose primary mission is to promote higher education, including the value education has in creating career opportunity. I wholeheartedly share this vision, which is largely why I why I work there. But, there is something to be said for those who are able to identify a unique skill that they have or a need in the world that few, if any are addressing. And though an education can certainly help one accomplish this, there are some who are fortunate enough to find this niche without one.

My example originates with a problem sliding glass door. The wheels on this 50 year-old door were so worn away that I nearly separated my shoulder everytime I had to open it. After living with my door this way for over a year, I finally resolved to do something about it. Since the door was so very old, the dimensions were no longer manufactured. Buying a new door and having it installed would be too expensive. Maybe somebody could fix it.

With the Internet and yellow pages, I began calling glass vendors to see if any of them provided door repair service. I called at least 10 places, and got all negative responses. With each call, I asked for possible referrals--and nobody had any helpful leads.

Finally, one of the vendors knew of a man who did this service. Excitedly, I took down the unlisted number and called. The man who answered the phone did not go out of his way to sound customer-service friendly. I shared my problem, and he told me that it would be $260 to fix. $260?!!! I told him that I would go and buy a door instead. Confidently, he said I would spend at least $1000 that way, and told me to feel free to call back, but if I wanted service that day, I would need to call back soon. With a bit of resentment, I consented to have his service.

This man was amazingly efficient. With a small hammer and a wheel that he had to customize to make it fit under my door, he had my door fixed in less than fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! I handed the check over, but before he left, I asked him a few questions about his career. (Career Counselors can be notorious for this!) He apprenticed straight out of high school and had been fixing doors for over 20 years. With a quick glance at my door he could spout off the brand name, the years of manufacture, and some of my door's uniquie attributes. He told me he averaged at least 10 jobs a day. I mumbled something about not even making a fraction of that money with my Master's degree, and he had a very insightful response, and that was that door-fixing was the only thing he knew.

This man was the only sliding door fixer around. He had found a niche, and had a tremendously successful living as a result of it. He was passionate enough to be a true expert in an area where apparently no one else cared to be his competition.

What is special about you? What creative niches can you identify or develop which will bring special value to your work? Challenge yourself to find this. Soul search, work with a career counselor, and keep your creative mind vigilant for opportunity; and you too can identify something that is rare as it is valuable within yourself.

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