Your Next Big Thing: Neglected niches

Written by Laura Pratt and Deena Waisberg
The people business forgot
Canada’s top untapped market could be the native middle class

How’s this for a target group? It’s growing more than five times as fast as the overall population and includes an expanding middle class. Yet almost no one goes after it.

The group is Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. Their numbers soared by 22% from 1996 to 2001, to almost a million. (At the same time, Canada’s total population grew by just 4%.) In 2001, 34% of Aboriginal people 15 or older had at least a middle-class income, defined as $20,000 or more per person. While that’s less than the 52% among other Canadians, in education the gap was far smaller. And huge numbers of Native people now go on to university or college, promising further growth in the Aboriginal middle class.

Despite this, “we run into a lot of stereotypes and resistance, not only from advertisers, but their agencies,” says Kevin Haggith, vice-president of Airtime Television Sales, the sales rep for Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. “Everyone feels there’s not even an Aboriginal community out there that would be able to afford the products we’re going after, such as high-end electronics and automobiles. As a result, they’re not even being considered.”

That’s not only a shame, it’s erroneous, says Dave Tuccaro, president of the National Aboriginal Business Association in Fort McMurray, Alta.: “We buy just like any other Canadians do. We buy a lot of vehicles. We purchase gas, we shop at Safeway and Wal-Mart.” Firms that let Native people know they want their business will stand out. That could mean including them in ads run in general media, or using Aboriginal media such as APTN, the scores of Native magazines and newspapers, or a national radio network now being assembled by Aboriginal Voices Radio, a Toronto-based non-profit broadcaster.

Welcome! Now buy something
Brand-new immigrants are a huge market that few firms pursue

No sooner do people purchase a house than they go on a buying binge to fill it. That makes them a great market. Yet few companies seem to grasp that the same holds true for brand-new arrivals to Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, almost 230,000 people immigrated here last year — one of the highest per-capita rates anywhere. And Ottawa’s goal is to raise that number to 300,000. Newcomers fresh off the plane arrive with a long list of needs and wants. First and foremost, says Lucia Lo, a professor of geography at York University in Toronto, is housing. This creates opportunities for developers, builders, owners, investors, service providers and others to sell homes, rent apartments, lease and sell commercial space, and form partnerships with immigrant-owned companies. New arrivals also need furniture, and practically all consumer products and services.

Tony Lea, senior vice-president of research at Environics Analytics in Toronto, says although brand-new immigrants often direct their business to companies owned by people of the same ethnicity, there’s room for others to woo them. He suggests entrepreneurs research the tastes and buying habits of incoming groups — our top four source countries are China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines — and adapt existing businesses to serve them. Lea says supermarkets have done a good job of sorting this out in the past five years. But other retailers, such as book, hardware and fashion stores, have yet to.

David Foot, an economics professor at the University of Toronto, says newcomers need a comprehensive information source on Canadian standards, such as how to apply for a loan or fill out a tax form: “What these people need is someone to [help them acquire] knowledge of the Canadian institutions.”

© 2004 Laura Pratt and Deena Waisberg

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