Finding success in a niche market

April 4, 2023 | 9 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Finding a niche market to specialize in may provide more opportunity for your business to thrive than positioning it as a jack-of-all-trades.
  • Listening to your clients or customers can lead to specialty products and services with deep market potential.
  • Defining and articulating a set of core values you and your business stand for can help you attract clients, win new customers and retain employees.
  • Expanding in a strategic way can help you maximize your resources and ensure that your business is sustainable in the long run.

While it may be tempting for entrepreneurs to migrate to the largest markets, many small businesses find it tricky to compete there. Established and well-funded players often guard their turf aggressively by tapping into the advantages of scale. For smaller enterprises, then, success often means discovering a more specialized place in the market. That’s been the case for Mike Wang, who over the past four decades built his company, Pacific Dualies, into the go-to supplier of cosmetic wheel covers for trucks, vans and RVs with double rear wheels.

 

A niche market mindset — plus a commitment to building his business on values of trust, respect and quality — delivered the American dream for one generation of the Wang family. Now it’s also paved the way for Mike’s son, Alan, who’s come on board to grow their business into the future.

A fortuitous meeting leads to dualies

A civil engineer by training, Mike Wang emigrated from Taiwan and, in the early 1980s, founded Pacific Dualies in Gardena, California, starting with two employees. The company originally sold only oil pans (still a company staple) before entering the wheel cover business.

 

That second product line happened when Mike spoke with a tow-truck company owner who said that it was costly to add wheel covers to the double rear wheels found on some trucks. These “dualies” get their name from those dual wheels in the back that suit them for heavy-duty work. To add hubcap-like covers to these wheels, they typically had to be removed and sent to the manufacturer at a cost of several thousand dollars. Mike began selling products that allowed drivers to improve the look of their dual wheels in about 10 minutes — and at a fraction of the cost.

 

“We have a unique product, good quality, good service and a lifetime warrantee,” says Wang. “When a customer calls and says, ‘I bought your product 15 years ago and I got a new truck and want to get another set of Pacific Dualies,’ that’s very comforting.”

Still in expansion mode

Like nearly half of the businesses owned by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders surveyed in Bank of America’s 2023 Women and Minority Business Owner Spotlight, Pacific Dualies is focused on business expansion this year.

 

The business now has 20 employees and is growing rapidly, thanks to online marketing and e-commerce. Mike is currently working on plans to move it to a new 50,000-square-foot warehouse in Torrance, California, with the goal of doubling its footprint through warehouse distributors, longtime fans and a growing direct-to-consumer business.

 

In this case, investing in a larger footprint makes a lot of sense, says Sharon Choi, vice president and small business banker at Bank of America. “They’re growing their business,” she notes. “They are spending more money to develop their product and just last year onboarded a new marketing team to sell online. That’s why we’re trying to help them with the new building.”

The second generation builds off the original niche offering

For Mike’s son, Alan, the family business model wasn’t always the plan. Alan Wang studied film and began his career at Sun Microsystems before eventually joining the family company as its tech and marketing director. As he became more involved in the business, Alan learned of an opportunity to buy another specialty auto product maker and, in a page taken from his father’s book, leveraged a longstanding relationship to acquire the business at favorable terms. He says that his father “never pressured me to come into the business. It was just the right time, and it fell into place.”

 

Alan Wang’s big contribution has been leading the acquisition of KC HiLiTES, a 50-year-old maker of aftermarket roof lights and lighting accessories for SUV, off-road vehicle and pickup owners. The firm is based in Williams, Arizona, and has 60 employees. With its products currently distributed through chain automotive stores in the U.S. and abroad, KC HiLiTES is looking to expand through new retail relationships. Like Pacific Dualies, the newer acquisition is dominant in its slice of the automotive aftermarket. 

 

“We still have some of the legacy products, but times have changed, the core technologies have changed, and the demands and needs of the consumer have changed,” says Alan.

Embracing a family culture

Across the two firms, success has come from a tight-knit, family culture based on core values. For Mike and Alan Wang, those include sayings like “Quality relationships drive quality results,” “Be trusted and trust others,” and “Be respected and be respectful of others.” Alan has made it a point to articulate these values weekly to his team members at KC HiLiTES.

 

Choi can see the difference these values make in every part of the company. “When I visit their business, the culture lives and breathes the core values on a daily basis,” she says. “It’s their passion for the product and the lifestyle they promote that creates a tight-knit community.” 

Why a strong relationship with a business banking partner is essential

To go after opportunities in their markets, it’s important to the Wangs to have the right financing, such as a business line of credit and business credit card. Bank of America has been their banking partner since the company was founded 40 years ago. At one point, that meant arranging a loan for a building in Taiwan that required a signature from officials at the U.S. Embassy. Mike Wang has tapped several bankers at Bank of America for advice over the decades, most recently Choi, who is assisting him with applying for a Small Business Administration 504 real estate loan.

 

“The people I’ve worked with over the years at Bank of America have been helpful and prompt. In a way, they have contributed to the success of our business,” says Mike.

 

Choi, who is of Korean descent, has found that she and the Wangs are very aligned in how they like to do business. “Culturally, many Asians like things done fairly quickly and to get them taken care of,” she says. “I give their needs a lot of priority and don’t delay helping them.”

 

In fact, she and the other bankers on her team try to stay a few steps ahead of what’s next for the businesses. “Because we work so closely with them, we check in often to make sure everything is in place to align with their goals,” she says. “Businesses change, and so do their needs.”

 

The Wangs’ strategy and passion have positioned their businesses for future expansion, not just in the immediate future but for the long term, asserts Choi, adding, “they know all about what they’re selling, whom they’re selling to and whom they are targeting in the future. That should establish them for the long run.”

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