Business owners are problem-fixers and void-fillers. When you’re starting a new business venture, you must consider a few essentials: What is missing in the marketplace, what will drive consumers to purchase and what specific niche can you can carve out. From vinyl pressing shops to “barcades,” and roller derby supplies to pizza cones, there’s an infinite number of unique business concepts that are taking the U.S. market by storm.
If you’ve become bored of the basic product lines you see every day, don’t fret — Mashable found some of America’s most creative and niche businesses and asked their owners to explain why they started their businesses and how they’ve succeeded in selling such specific products.
1. “Upcycled” Bags: Alchemy Goods, Seattle, WA
“Necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s exactly how Alchemy Goods got started. In August 2004, my messenger bag was stolen and I needed a replacement. There were a few considerations: The bag had to be totally waterproof, it had to look cool and it definitely had to be environmentally friendly. Nothing I saw met all three criteria. After a couple days of hunting, I gave up. Since I biked to work on a regular basis, there were always extra inner tubes lying around my apartment, and I realized that I could probably build the perfect bag out of stuff I already had.
“Thanks to my friends, demand grew and grew, which led to the founding of Alchemy Goods. So, to whoever it was that stole my bag … thank you! You were the inspiration for my imagination.” — Eli Reich
2. Bar Laundromat: The Wash House, New York, NY
“We knew there was a strong demand in the neighborhood for such a concept, as well as the idea was conceived and proven years ago while I was in college.
We were looking for a place where people could kill two birds with one stone — a place where they could have their laundry done all the while sipping on a cold beer or enjoying a cup of our freshly brewed artisanal coffee!” — Lee Kerzner
*The Wash House is currently sourcing investors to franchise.
3. Hollywood Props and Halloween Decor Shop: Dapper Cadaver, Los Angeles, CA
“I was the strange one in school, the kid who kept things in jars, made his own straightjacket and knew how to articulate the bones in an owl pellet. Remember The Simpson’s Halloween episode where they go to the House of Evil to buy a cursed Krusty doll? The shop was filled with odd skulls, antiques, specimen jars and a frozen yogurt maker? I remember seeing that shop and thinking, ‘Yep, that’s the job for me.’
“Hollywood props and Halloween decor have always, and are still, a big part of the business, but we’re constantly branching out. We have provided bodies for X-Men movies, Six Flags Theme Parks, Egyptology Museums, Coroner Training Courses and so much more. You need a dead body, I’ll get you a dead body.” — BJ Winslow
4. All Things Roller Derby: Five Stride Skate Shop,, Brooklyn, NY
“When we opened our doors in May 2010, we wanted to build a haven for all skaters to be able to feel, touch and most importantly try on skates. Knowledge is one of our core values as the store set out to build a generation of educated consumers who always had a place to turn for an honest opinion.
“The shop is owned by roller derby skaters Bonnie Thunders and OMG WTF, who both skate for the Gotham Girls Roller Derby All Stars, so our beginnings focused on derby. We didn’t want to exclude any skaters and as we’ve grown, we’ve build our stock of skates, parts, and accessories for derby, rink and recreational skaters.
“On an average day at the shop you’ll find tattooed derby girls, women in their 30s looking to revisit a childhood hobby, moms with kids buying their first set of skates, visitors from Europe, Australia, South American (we’re a bit of a tourist attraction in the derby world), and original NYC dance skaters. Five Stride is more than a shop, it’s a culture.” — Nicole Williams (Bonnie Thunder)
5. Balinese Fashion: Agabhumi, Stamford, CT
“Simply stated, we have always sought to offer exclusive, finely crafted merchandise at the right price. Our initial and ongoing objective has been to use the Balinese artists to bring our interpretations of the fashion world to our potential customers here in the U.S.A.
“Though we are proud of the fashion brand niche we have carved, we do cater to a broad range of customers, spanning from women who are “The Fashion Fearful” to those embodying a joie de vivre that allows them to experiment with our unique, wearable treasures. Men love to rely on us for the ultimate save, a gift that will be treasured and is always beautifully wrapped. We like to say that we send everyone out the door “Wrapped and Ready”!” — Michael and Regina Kirshbaum
*Agabhumi 4 locations in CT, CA and Barbados.
6. Beer and Video Games: Barcade, Brooklyn, NY
“I was a collector of arcade cabinets and had four games in my apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. When my partners and I decided to open a craft beer bar back in 2004, we thought lining it with classic games might be fun, as we hadn’t seen that before. And it gave me an excuse to buy like, 30 more games.
“We really had no business plan other than to open a place that could relieve us from our 9-5 jobs and be within stumbling distance of our homes. We were interested in craft beer, classic video games and Rush, and were really just hoping that other people might be too.” — Paul Kermizian
*Barcade has 4 locations in NY, NJ and PA.
7. Blowouts, No Cuts: Drybar, Brentwood, CA
“As a girl with curly/frizzy hair myself, I knew (in my gut) that there were tons of woman out there, like me that would love to go to a place that only did great blowouts at an affordable price in a beautiful space. There was a huge hole in the marketplace — woman had two bad choices of either overpaying at a traditional cut and color salon or going to a discount chain where the experience was off. The first day we opened in Brentwood in 2010, we were booked solid — and we knew we were on to something.
“I never thought Drybar would become what it is today. I thought it would be a perfect little business for me, a great way for me to make a living. But there was so much demand! Women everywhere wanted blowouts, and we had no choice but to meet their demands. I couldn’t be prouder of what we have built, and I still have to pinch myself everyday.
“Quality and consistency from location to location is incredibly important to us. We have put a ton of focus and attention on training our stylists to ensure that the experience at each shop is amazing every single time. We are also very lucky to have some really remarkable people working with us to make sure the experience is consistent, down to the very last detail.” — Alli Webb
*Drybar has over 30 locations in 9 U.S. states.
8. Unique Cuisine: Earl’s Beer and Cheese, New York, NY
“I was brought into the business before it opened, when conceptually it was just a craft beer bar. Where we are on Park Avenue, it is definitely an emerging neighborhood, but at the time we opened we only knew a few people in the neighborhood, so I just focused on coming up with a different cheese-focused menu for them and making food that I’d pay money for. [The small space] allows me to make riskier gambles with unusual food pairings without having to worry about a high overhead in the off chance it is a disaster.
“As a niche business, we have an opportunity to go after the less common demands of the neighborhood because of our focus on what makes us happy, which has turned out to be an original approach for where we are. Ultimately, my inspiration for any business project is the potential of improving where I live while playing with food. The originality and creativeness is all secondary to the needs of the neighborhood, and that stuff just comes naturally when I try to figure out details later on.” — Corey Cova
9. Vinyl Pressing: Furnace MFG, Fairfax, Virginia
“After running record labels and being a musician myself, I realized how difficult it was to get vinyl and CDs pressed, especially for independent artists. We set out to create a one-stop shop to handle all the printing, packaging and manufacturing in one place, eliminating the need to source multiple vendors for a single project.
“When we first started, we set out to serve independent musicians who want to get their music out but lacked the support of a major label to handle all the nuts and bolts of manufacturing their finished goods. Since then, we’ve grown with the times: Our vinyl business has grown by leaps and bounds in the past five years in accordance with the growing popularity of vinyl.” — Eric Astor
10. Personalized Craft Beer: Hopsters, Newton, MA
“I decided to open Hopsters because I saw the demand for people who are looking for fun, interesting and unique experiences. And with the excitement around craft beer, we wanted to create a unique experience where all our guests could build on their awareness of craft beer in a relaxed and enjoyable environment. Brewing has this vale of mystery behind it and with Hopsters, we take our guests behind that vale to experience the craft of making custom brewed beer.
“What I was really interested in doing was to create a place geared towards today’s professionals who have an interest in craft beer, targeting those with who are unable to brew their own beer at home, due to apartment size, expense or time, as well as those with little or no experience in brewing beer in general.” — Lee Cooper
11. Pizza Cones: Kono USA, Edison, NJ
“Inspired and created by Italian recipes and culture, Kono Pizza, which has locations worldwide, sets aside the traditional triangle or square-cut slice and offers consumers an on-the-go way to enjoy their favorite food. Shocked that the concept had not yet been introduced in the States, the entrepreneurial team has catapulted Kono Pizza into the U.S. marketplace with sights set on changing the pizza game.
“The U.S. market loves pizza and consumers are always looking for something innovative and delicious to set pizza brands apart. Before the pizza cone, you couldn’t eat a slice while you’re walking without creating a gooey, cheesy mess, but now you can. We know it’s something that will work in the U.S., because we’ve already seen how successful the concept has become in more than 20 countries overseas.” — Carlo Ruggiero
*Kono will be opening locations all around the U.S.
12. Films, Food Drinks: Nitehawk Cinema, Brooklyn, NY
“Combining NYC’s rich culinary and film history in creative ways really appealed to me and I thought fellow New Yorker’s would appreciate an updated cinematic experience, too. An antiquated law preventing motion picture theaters from selling alcohol was one of the bigger hurdles in development … so I hired a lobbyist to help convince lawmakers to adjust the law and we successfully changed it in 2011, just a few short months after opening Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg.
“Our ultimate goal is to celebrate films that we love through a bigger shared experience, whether it’s a film-inspired food and drink special, related local live music or special guests and discussions. The movie is always the star, we simply try to complement it in some way and add to the overall cinematic experience.” — Matthew Viragh
13. Liquid Nitrogen Treats: Nitropod, Los Angeles, CA
“I saw an opportunity to create a brand that sits at the intersection of science, technology and the culinary arts. This will be the worlds first liquid nitrogen ice cream truck. I’m adding live webcams and interactive video and music applications. It will also be where I produce a podcast interviewing other food truck owners, chefs, artists, musicians and other entrepreneurs around Los Angeles.
“Ultimately we do this for the smiles. We love watching our customers react after tasting the difference that liquid nitrogen makes. Our customers tell us it’s the smoothest, creamiest, best tasting ice cream in the world.” — Scot Rubin
14. Handmade, Locally Sourced Iced Treats: People’s Pops, New York, NY
“Our business started out as a happy accident — we made ice pops using fresh fruit for a friends’ market one day, figuring that everyone loves ice pops but rarely are they made with fresh, local fruit. Turns out they are delicious that way, too! The pops sold out in two seconds, so we thought we might be onto something … and everything built from there.
“Essentially, we take a beloved American classic and reinvented it using fresh, local ingredients and creative flavors.” — Nathalie Jordi
*People’s Pops has 4 locations in NY and appears at the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg on weekends.
15. Fashion Truck: Runaway, New Jersey
“Foot traffic at traditional brick-and-mortar malls continues to diminish as online shopping is dominating, however I always hear my friends complain that once the package arrives, the apparel either doesn’t fit or wasn’t what they thought it would be. With the Runaway, we are bridging the convenience of online shopping because we deliver today’s trends and tomorrow’s fashion right to your doorstop with the traditional, in-person brick-and-mortar experience that allows you to truly gauge quality and fit before the buy.
“Our customers want a personal shopping/styling experience that doesn’t come with a hefty price tag and that will come to them.” — Emily Dell
16. Apothecary Fragrance Boutique: Twisted Lily, Brooklyn, NY
“We’ve been selling fragrances online for years, both mainstream and niche, but we wanted to create an actual space where we could really showcase the most unique and interesting artisan brands of fragrance and beauty products. A space where we could really connect with customers and, together, learn and discover the art behind niche fragrance.
“Department stores can be overwhelming and just aren’t everyone’s style when shopping beauty and fragrance so we wanted to create a space that felt inviting, relaxed and intimate, while full of luxurious offerings, without any sales pressure or attitude … a place to discover new artisan brands, in one of the most diverse and creative locations in the world — Brooklyn!” — Eric Weiser
17. From the Cask: VOM FASS, Madison, WI
“The moment of inspiration came during my second trip to a VOM FASS store in Germany. I was entranced and captivated by the spirits and liqueurs — ignoring the shop owners repeated entreaties to sample the vinegars. Before long, I complied with the shop owner’s request and sampled the Aceto Balsamico di Modena — Maletti. That was the instant I knew that the VOM FASS concept would be a hit with U.S. foodies. Not only was the quality of the products unparalleled in my experience, but the product range meant that there was literally something for everyone in the shop.
“We always describe our customer base as ‘democratic,’ with a small ‘d.’ In other words, everyone finds something to love in our shops. When actually taking an in-depth look at our customer demographics, they (very) generally tend to fall into one of two categories; ‘young aspirationals’ and ‘empty nesters.’ We suppose this is because some younger folk are more experimental and seeking things unusual and of higher quality. The ‘empty nester’ group is likely because people tend to have more time for dining, entertaining and experimenting once the children have left the home.” — Justin Gibson
*VOM FASS has 16 locations in the U.S. in 14 U.S. states.
18. Soup Shop: Zoup!, Southfield, MI
“Before starting Zoup!, I had a company that made soup and spice mixes for restaurants, which gave me direct access to many top chefs and managers. In talking with them, I discovered that most restaurants viewed soup as a way to use leftover ingredients, and as a result, really good soup was hard to find.
“I wanted to provide soup fans with the kind of hand-crafted soups they love to eat, but seldom have the time to prepare themselves. And, to create an experience that brings to life the intangible qualities of comfort, warmth and well-being that many people associate with soup. We serve a broad group of soup fans, who appreciate the quality, variety, sophisticated flavors and array of nutritional options our menu of soup, salad and sandwiches offer. Many [of our customers] are time-starved white-collar workers who want a fast, fresh meal served in a comfortable, casual setting, and they’re willing to pay a little extra for it.” — Eric Ersher
*Zoup has more than 60 locations in 15 U.S. states and Canada.
Do you have a favorite niche business? Share links in the comments!