Focus on the niche market

Opportunities abound for those who explore specialized fields

April 25, 2011
by Lew Shrubsole, SCMP, CPM


For us baby boomers, life was once more simple. For news, we’d read the paper or watch TV. The phone was in the kitchen or on my desk at the office. Computers were something NASA used.

Today, it’s a 24/7, computerized, YouTube, Google, Facebook-driven world. But it’s not a bad thing for those of us in supply management. In fact, it’s an opportunity.

At the department level, you’ve heard it all too frequently: colleagues decrying the lack of respect for their supply department.

Lately, you may be finding yourself thinking something similar. Perhaps the global downturn has made you realize your career might be at a crossroads. You may have realized you’re not getting the respect you deserve.

If you’re feeling this, don’t fret. It may simply be time to steer your career in a new direction.

While the harsh, post-recessionary economic reality has taken its toll on virtually every business and industry—this doesn’t imply we need to shift our purchasing and supply management careers into neutral for the next several years.

Not at all; in fact, the opposite is true. One approach is to break out of the box and consider the challenges and opportunities of small, non-traditional niche market firms. These startups are probably being run in the true entrepreneurial spirit, by some of the best and brightest people in business today. What they have is a passion for taking risks in business; what they need is a sound support network to turn their ideas into reality.

What can you offer them, and how will such a move revitalize your career at the same time?

Consider these steps towards regaining your momentum:

Focus your career

Evaluate your options. Having had the motivation to become a professional supply manager—with all the ups and downs of daily departmental life—it’s now time to zero in on your next career phase. In today’s world, can you really afford to limit yourself to old school, by-the-book firms? There is a treasure trove of profitable opportunities out there for those who can harness and organize the power of the entrepreneur.

Think outside the box

Challenge the norms of the traditional business model and avoid the one-stop shop career syndrome. A truly complete career means keeping an open mind when making choices. Don’t be afraid of the untried; this simply means that you look where others have not. Take on challenges and be prepared to explore new paths.

Be open to using and applying management concepts and theories in your search. Draw from your personal resume of qualifications. Chances are, you have amassed a wealth of business sense and philosophies that you can bring to the table.

Accept the challenge of the niche market

Among start-up firms, the road to success can quickly detour to failure, and we’ve seen this clearly over the past three years. Nevertheless, we should remember that much of North America’s long-term economic strength was built on small, profitable businesses created by extreme risk takers.

Niche markets offer instant opportunities to get in and play early on. There is ample time to establish a business on sound footing, prior to the competition arriving. The procurement manager’s experience can add a much-needed element of organizational stability to a niche firm.
Approach opportunities from a ‘what can I offer them?’ perspective. The entrepreneur’s world is constantly changing and evolving, so dealing with such changes will keep you at the top of your game.

Embrace change

The true power to break out of a career box is within you. But breaking your career out of the common mold takes time and the process shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s easy to remain in the daily rut of department life—waiting for opportunity to come to you. The real challenge is to loosen the ties and go seek out opportunities.

It has been said that passion beats experience—and no individual confirms this statement better than an entrepreneur. For those of us in purchasing and supply management careers, it can pay to seek out and embrace the entrepreneur’s world of risk: help them to realize their dreams and, along the way, you might just realize your own.

Now is the perfect time to diversify your procurement career. There has never been a better opportunity, as world economies slowly rebound and the Internet brings business opportunities never thought possible until recently. Take charge of moving your own career forward. Ultimately, it’s up to you. The rewards and successes of career diversification are out there; take the challenge and go after them.

Lew Shrubsole is manager of supply and logistics for Target Technologies International Inc in Vancouver. He can be reached at