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 gap in the Melbourne takeaway lunch market, offering fresh, healthy salads that could be ordered online. Their gap-filling success has plenty of lessons for small business. Here are several boxes you’ll want to check when bringing your product to market.
Dive into market research
From their time living in New York, Ted and Shey saw other industries shifting toward 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," says Shey.
“They want to eat when they want it, they want exactly what they want and they want to be in control of their choices.”
But it was only when they arrived back in Australia that they realised the trend hadn’t fully permeated through to Melburnian life, and that there was an opportunity to do just that.
"We were those people sitting at the desk [in New York] and ordering food and it got delivered to our office,” says Shey.
“We came to Australia, and you just thought, why aren't people doing this? This is what people want."
Entering a market where lots of competitors are already located will obviously make the whole process a lot harder – and you’ll be adding to the noise rather filling any customers’ needs.
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
Ted and Shey’s experiences of trying to find a decent salad in the city was partly what led them to start Crisp Salad.
“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 Ted.
“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.
"We actually went out for our lunch when we were both working at the management consultancy firm,” says Ted.
“I went to order my salad, and it was a big pre-made caesar salad and you could tell that 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, and… 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.'"
Drawing upon knowledge and experiences of your life should be one of the many resources you use to identify what's missing in the market. Especially, your knowledge of being a customer.
For Ted and Shey, it aided them in determining who their customers would be.
“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 Ted.
“I remember being back at my desk and that would have been great if I could type it in online and 16 minutes later, I [could] go and pick it up."
“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,” says Ted.
“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.
“We got used to a different way of eating where the customer was in control; the customer had choice about the products that were going into their salad. When we returned to Melbourne, we saw a great opportunity in the market for fresh, healthy, affordable and tasty salads.”
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 groundbreaking so many other industries have done [it] already,” says Shey. Takeaway lunch “just seemed to be one of the last ones” where it hadn’t caught on yet.
Talk to your customers
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, they keep on top of their social media and reviews online. It's 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
Your business may be unbeatable for a hot second, but while you’re plugging one hole in the market, others will be emerging. To stay ahead of the game, 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 young professionals who work in the city would 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 the Telstra Business Intelligence series of reports.