Back in June, I promised an interview with Dave Nelson, founder of SecretPenguin and Undivided. He’s extremely busy, so I’m grateful he could take the time to validate what I’ve been going on about all summer.

For nine years, SecretPenguin has been a successful brand creation and management agency. They started out doing work for companies like Red Bull and other millennial-focused action and sports-related brands.  SP’s style caught on and they started working for a variety of local companies, but their success was not only due to Dave’s style—it’s also his approach to strategy and branding, which in a way is very old school.  It’s not just tremendous looking design, it’s really smart and disciplined.

When I had the opportunity to talk to Dave about niche marketing, I told him I’d learned about it way too late in my career (though it’s almost never too late, just wish I’d figured it out sooner).

Without actually planning to, SP had done a lot of work with restaurant concepts.  Some they developed from scratch (like Flagship Commons, Modern Love, and Local Beer, Patio and Kitchen); some were existing brands needing refinement (like Jams and Blue Sushi Sake Grill).

The more restaurant work they did, the more knowledge they acquired, the more value they added for their clients.

So they formed a new company to service the niche. “The concept behind Undivided is that restaurants tend to be very divided: marketing, administration, chefs, operations, all working as separate teams,” Nelson said. “The idea to bring them together really resonates, and the restaurants see a lot of value in that.”

In May, they went to the National Restaurant Association Show, a ginormous trade show in Chicago. Dave’s feeling was, “If we can come out of this trade show with one client, we’ll break even.”

Turns out, they were the only advertising or branding agency there. He got 200 contacts—I tell people they brought all the business cards back in a wheelbarrow. “It was amazing,” Dave said. “Forty of those contacts said, ‘We have to work together right now!”

What’s cool is now they have all of these restaurant clients who really want to work with them. There’s way more demand than they have the ability to serve (only temporarily, Dave assures me). So they have to be very picky about who they work with.  As Dave said, “Most advertising agencies are commoditized and can’t be picky—all they can say is, ‘Please give us a little work.’”

Like a lot of people, Dave started out thinking a niche was going to limit his opportunities, when the exact opposite is true. Now his biggest problem is handling all the business.

For small businesses, niche marketing makes a huge difference in the value proposition. Refining your niche can help you regain some of the passion and enthusiasm you had when your business was new.

Niches are my niche, so if you’d like to discuss how to carve yours out, send me an email at and we can set up a time to talk.

photo credit: Greens and vegetables in store via photopin (license)