Spotting a gap in the market is entrepreneurship 101, but to do it successfully is another thing altogether. It's important to unpack what ‘a gap’ entails and whether there’s a need for your product. Crisp Salad founders, Ted Tolfree and Shey Newitt, were able to spot the opening in the Melbourne takeaway lunch market, by offering fresh, healthy salads that could be ordered online. Their gap-filling success has plenty of lessons for small business.
During their time in New York, Tolfree and Newitt saw other industries shifting towards catering for people’s individual schedules, and it was the same for food.
“There’s an obvious trend where a customer is in control of everything," Newitt says.
“They want to eat when they want [and] they [know] exactly what they want. They want to be in control of their choices.”
It was only when they arrived back in Australia that they realised the trend hadn’t fully permeated through to Melbournian life, and that there was an opportunity to enter the market, with a touch of New York lifestyle.
Entering a market where there’s lots of competitors, will obviously make the whole process a lot harder – and you’ll be adding to the noise rather filling any customers’ needs.
"We were those people sitting at the desk [in New York] and ordering food and it got delivered to our office,” Newitt says.
“We came to Australia, and you just thought, why aren't people doing this? This is what people want."
Crisp Salad will open their latest store on Collins Street near King Street, an area they identified as a “foodie wasteland” for lunch options.
Draw On Experiences
Newitt and Tolfree’s experiences of trying to find a decent salad in the city was partly what led them to start Crisp.
“The idea for Crisp started at a time when Shey was hugely pregnant, was looking to eat healthy and couldn't find it in Melbourne,” says Tolfree. “We couldn't find any healthy food on the go.”
It was a bad experience that set them in motion to get into the salad business.
According to Tolfree, he went to order a salad, and it was a big pre-made caesar salad, that “you could tell it had been made the night before”.
“As they went to get a spoon[ful], it was almost as if they were slicing through the salad,” he says. ”It kind of hit the bowl with this thud and I thought, I'm no foodie here, but I'm pretty sure that's not the sound that salad should make as it hits the bowl."
According to Tolfree and Newitt, drawing upon knowledge and experiences of personal life experiences should be one of the many resources used to identify what's missing in the market. Especially knowledge of being a customer.
“We were the people at the desk that are time-poor that don’t want to stand in a line for 10 minutes, but want to still have control over what they're eating,” says Tolfree.
“Working on Collins Street and going out trying to find a healthy meal, it just wasn't available, so we knew there was a complete gap in the market, and we filled that with Crisp."
You Don’t Need To Invent Salad
When thinking of starting up a business, the dream is often to do something that’s never been done before. While that’s no doubt an exhilarating challenge, a fruitful company doesn’t necessarily have to turn the world upside down.
Putting a spin on something that already exists, and doing it better can be the chemical combination that pays off big time.
“We didn't invent salads,” Tolfree says. “We're just bringing salads to people in a different way, and that's our point of difference within the marketplace.
Not just what you're eating, but that overall customer experience, how you interact with the business and how you receive your product.
“That sets us apart from the competition in terms of how we can engage our customers and our team through technology.
Building on a business idea that already exists and integrating ideas from other industries also means you have some real world examples showing what you want to do is working.
"It shouldn't be that ground breaking, so many other industries have done [it] already,” says Tolfree. Takeaway lunch “just seemed to be one of the last ones” where it hadn’t caught on yet.
Having a solid customer base is essential to survive as a small business. Communicating regularly with them is paramount to learning where you can do better and keep them as a customer.
For Crisp Salad, keeping on top of their social media and reviews online, helped them work out customer favourites. They considered putting the summer-only Vegan San Choy Bau salad on the regular menu after being asked on social media, and they now offer free extra dressing following feedback online.
Keep Looking For Gaps
A business may be unbeatable for a hot second, but while it plugs one hole in the market, others will be emerging. To stay ahead of the game, they need to look to the horizon and observe if there is another void your business can fill.
Since launching as a lunch alternative for office workers, Crisp Salad has ventured into other areas where they anticipate their customers to be.
Recently they've teamed up with Virgin Active Health Centres in the city (gyms professionals who work in the city attend) to offer healthy post-training snacks. Then there's also corporate catering, Crisp Catering looks to offer more interesting and healthy alternatives to the standard white bread sandwiches and muffins.
Make the most of resources
There are many ways to look for the next trend. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has broken down information including household Internet use, health statistics, people’s average earnings and details on retail trade in Australia.
Every year there are detailed reports on specific segments conducted by agencies as well, revealing trends and relevant data that can also help you make decisions, such as the Sensis Social Media Report or Telstra’s regularly published research reports.
For more articles to help you grow your business and be more productive, visit Telstra’s Smarter Business Ideas.