When a niche market becomes explosive – thanks to COVID

To manufacture anything done with fine craftsmanship at scale requires a totally unique mindset, and is a challenge that many designers and manufacturers seek to overcome.

Ken Tomita is a workspace supplier – he crafts objects and accessories which improve and enhance your workspace; an ideally suited skillset for the modern era, especially now during extended periods of COVID lockdowns, as home-office workspaces are growing in necessity and popularity.

Ken Tomita sat down with Adrian Ramsay for the latter’s podcast Talk Design, where the two delved into the creative process, and the inherent challenges in capturing a market share, establishing his company in Portland, Oregon, and how his products are designed and sold.

“Five years ago, we pivoted towards workspace, and two years ago we started working exclusively on workspace,” he said, knowing that as artisans, the company would be wise to specialise in this kind of output.

“We make high quality goods that aren’t commodity-grade,” he said. “We can’t really achieve massive scale anyways, so it’s not really my goal.” He says he knew that his niche market would be keen to make their workspaces more appealing with the kind of product Grovemade produces.

Tomita’s niche, customised product range includes desk shelves, stands, shelves, trays and accessories for the home office. It has found an emerging market now that home office work has become suddenly much more commonplace.

“When COVID first hit, a lot of people’s first reaction was ‘We need to adjust.’

“My intuition was that we didn’t need to do anything, because we had been studying the ‘work from home’ customer for years. That can be dangerous – trusting your own intuition – so we reached out to our new customers to figure out if there was anything different, and there are some new needs.

“There’s a lot of people who are kind of in-between; they’re not fully committed to being in the office, they’re going back, or maybe they’re working on the sofa or the dining table. There’s definitely new opportunities there.”

Ken spoke about how his company got in quickly on iPhone cover designs once the latest model was leaked, to how his company went from its early state, to receiving solid business advice to expand beyond what their original goals were.

The conversation explores how Ken overcame challenges with marketing his product in a competitive marketplace, and how a small, niche market can eventually be the winning formula with the right amount of perseverance, vision and creative impetus.

To see the full range of Ken Tomita’s product line, visit his website, https://grovemade.com/

The podcast, which spanned close to an hour, is another in a series of chats the Sunshine Coast designer has had with high profile and acclaimed designers, architects, artists and creators of all trades from multiple places around the world.

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