Until Planet Pepper, options were very limited for drag queens who needed outfits and dresses. Well, just think: dresses that are proportioned correctly for a size 14 man.
“They were taking a square peg and trying to put a round dress on it,” said Vincent Cuccia, who had a career in fund raising and grant writing for different theaters and universities in the New York City area before it occurred to him there might be a market in drag queen clothes. So far, Mr. Cuccia has the market all to himself, which is how he planned it.
"I wanted to continue to serve a particular community," said Mr. Cuccia, whose business is located in the garment district. “I like drag queens a lot, and felt this was a good bridge from the nonprofit world into making money. I've also loved people who create illusions and dress up, and I wanted to help them do better."
Talk about the long-tail effect. Business experts are still arguing about the term coined by Internet business guru Chris Anderson to describe the way digital marketing creates opportunities for more focused businesses to find more narrowly sliced customer segments at the end of a market's long tail. But a quick survey of the New York City market uncovered three business startups in hitherto unimaginable niches, including one that creates manuals for do-it-yourself green roofers and another that has established a community for would-be graphic designers to post their creations and have them rated.
To launch, all of the entrepreneurs made a few key moves: They avoided startup costs, focused on a price point that works and approached the business as an enterprise, not a passion. The nature of niche businesses means entrepreneurs often have a passion for the product.
Mr. Cuccia, who is already breaking even with $25,000 in revenue so far this year, found a business organization that helped him avoid startup costs. Business Outreach Center Network in New York, a decade-old micro-finance/small business development organization, helped Mr. Cuccia construct a business and marketing plan, connected him to lawyers and accountants and helped him obtain a small grant from the New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, since he is visually impaired.
The BOC provided similar help to Atom Cianfarani, a Brooklyn sculptor and green roof consultant who, along with Brooklyn architect Lori Gibbs, self-published a Green-It-Yourself, or G.I.Y., guidebook that makes green roofing affordable for the average homeowner.
The book sells for $40, and the company expects $90,000 in revenues during its first season—spring-summer, obviously.
Myoats, formed in 2008 and based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, found that it's not enough to build a big customer list. The site has more 40,000 registered users worldwide, ranging from children to seniors, who rate each others' graphic designs. The site is the brainchild of Wunmi Atewologun, whose wide experience as a freelance art director and Web designer for Fortune 500 companies allowed him to become an expert in the field of User Experience design. Despite its high number of users, it's grappling with the YouTube/Facebook dilemma: how to produce revenue. With the help of a microloan, Mr. Atewologun said he's working on a revenue-generating system that will reward all participants.
Mr. Cuccia found his sweet spot with dresses that sell for $200 to $600, styled wigs for $100 to $150, and men's jackets, coats and tuxedos for $600 to $1,500.
“We try to be the full package—you're getting your wigs and dresses from us, and we use independent contractors who supply jewelry and other materials, and help with wig designs,” said Mr. Cuccia. “The only thing we don't do is shoes.”
Mr. Cuccia works with Alex Bartlett, a veteran Broadway designer in both wardrobe and wigs who invested several thousand dollars in the enterprise. “When I met Bartlett,” said Mr. Cuccia, “everything came together—and he even came with a client list. I thought, I can sell this.”
The two complement each other well, said Mr. Cuccia, who handles the business side: marketing, sales, bookkeeping, branding and publicity. Mr. Bartlett designs all the clothing, does alterations and styles the wigs.
He sees the market for planetpeppernyc.com as nationwide. “Our marketing strategy is aimed at selling costumes all year round,” he said. “We don't have seasonality. There are many events featuring drag queens throughout the year around the country.”
New York gives Mr. Cuccia an on-the-spot market for drag queens and the occasional full-bodied woman performer. Miss Dirty Martini, known worldwide as the queen of burlesque, is one of his customers.