Historical research has pinpointed September 18thth as the “Birthday of the Burger”. On this day in 1885, a series of fortunate events led two desperate young food concessionaires in their early to mid-twenties to sell the world’s first “hamburger sandwich”.
How Charles and Frank Menches happened to be in the right place at the right time explains how they earned the “V” from their Side Hustle MVP. In fact, their ability to consistently earn that “V” throughout their entrepreneurial careers has propelled them from immigrant sons in Canton, Ohio to wealthy movers and shakers in their adopted home of Akron. Maybe this story will also help you become a Side Hustle MVP.
When they last left the story of serial entrepreneurs Charles and Frank Menches, they were just beginning their new sideline. They decided to become food concessionaires and serve the burgeoning carnival, festival and outdoor events market in the Midwest, primarily in and around Lake Erie.
These exhibitions included local agricultural competitions, various exhibitions and numerous entertainment performances. People made a day of it and often traveled from far away places just to be there. Railroads regularly offered excursions directly to these events. Since they spent most of the day there, the participants ate a meal or two on the premises.
This made being a food concessionaire a very lucrative business. That caught the attention of 26-year-old Charles Menches. He quickly brought along his younger brother, Frank, who was barely out of his teens. Both had no relevant experience. Sure, Charles had worked in circuses and similar shows, but as an acrobatic performer, not a food vendor. Frank’s only claim to fame was as a cycle racing champion.
How would you convince event organizers to choose their booth in the highly competitive food concession business? The Menches brothers weren’t the first to enter this market. They weren’t even second, third or fourth. If they were going to get a foot in the door, they had to find a niche. In modern marketing jargon, this is called a “unique selling proposition”. To keep things simple and visually appealing, you can call it a void. Charles and Frank had to first identify a gap and then find a way to (convincingly) fill it.
They looked at their competition. They examined the foods on offer and how they were prepared. They saw ham sandwiches. They saw wood-fired grills. Then they asked themselves, “What can we serve that isn’t already served, and how can we cook it on anything other than a wood-fired grill?”
The Canton boys (they hadn’t moved to Akron at the time) opted for pork sausage sandwiches grilled on a gas oven. Certainly the pork sausages looked different than the well-known tube sausages. Additionally, their new technology – a gas grill – offered the benefit of being able to cook over a steady, evenly distributed flame.
The moral: “Zig when everyone zags.” This isn’t a philosophical imperative (although it’s easier to do if you tend to think that way). If you tend to find contrarian solutions, you can quickly spot and capture gaps. Al Ries and Jack Trout have reached out The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing That if you are not the first to market, you will find a category in this market to be the first. Charles and Frank were the first pork sausage patty vendors and the first food concessionaires to use a gas grill.
It’s one thing to know “where the money is”. But everyone else knows that too. There will no doubt be a long line waiting to get this money. That is why it is important that you find the emptiness. The Void is that niche that few have yet to pursue. how do you find your emptiness How can you be sure that it really is a “road less traveled” by your competitors?
It’s the definitive “Where’s the beef?” Question.
One way to find it is trial and error, but that can cost you time and money. It could also get on your nerves. If you’re lucky, once you figure out where the money is, you can find a community to engage in market activity. Sometimes you find emptiness through your personal needs.
Leigh Coggiola-Belza, founder and CEO of Leaxy in Dallas, runs a company that first took care of her own needs. She remembers: “It all started when I was looking in vain for a solution to my own problem. As I researched how other women are solving the same problem, I realized that there was a great opportunity as many women were developing home improvement solutions due to a lack of market. I did six months of research to realize that designing and manufacturing chest licking casual wear is an untapped market worth pursuing.”
Her homework proved that there was a lucrative, underserved market. “My research has shown that the potential of femtech is huge,” says Coggiola-Belza. “I remember reading at the time that the femtech industry could more than double from $22.5 billion in 2020 to more than $65 billion by 2027, according to Global Market Insights.”
But the proof in the pudding came with some traditional market research. “I joined breastfeeding community forums to dig deeper and understand if breast milk leakage is a big enough problem that women are looking for solutions to,” says Coggiola-Belza. “With hundreds of thousands of women being part of some of these digital breastfeeding communities, I quickly realized that breast milk leakage is a universal battle that many breastfeeding women are seeking community for as they hope to find trusted solutions to their newfound struggle Find.”
No question, while Finding the Money requires the most brawn, Filling the Void requires the most brain power. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to use a little muscle power as well.
The muscle comes when you go down the rabbit hole of market research. Hope you’ve narrowed things down a bit. Such focus makes this step a little easier and a little quicker. Essentially, your goal is to identify competing products and services, including those that are new and those that are growing fastest. These answers show you where the buyers are. It is certainly best if you have actual purchase data (see Amazon
The products/services you identified solve a specific problem for the consumer. Think about what these problems could be and what related problems are not currently solved.
Well, this is where many stumble. It sounds like the best void to fill is a completely empty one. After all, this one won’t have any competitors, right? Unfortunately, there could be a good reason why the Void is empty. It could be dead. An indication of this is when you see failed products that have previously attempted to fill that gap.
That’s not to say you can’t fill a completely empty void, or create an entirely new category that nobody knew existed. Just understand that this is an uphill battle. Unless the challenge is your passion (and not just earning a few extra bucks), this is a risky path best avoided.
Please note that you should not confuse creating a subcategory with creating a category. Subcategorization falls under the immutable laws of Reis and Trout only. For many, creating whole new categories from scratch is a hill too high to climb.
Ultimately, you’re looking for the ideal solution to an unsolved (or under-solved) problem that you can offer quickly and with little to no capital cost. Chances are, like Charles and Frank Menches, you’ll take the lead in a subcategory.
The Menches brothers weren’t first in the grilled sandwich market, but they were first in two subcategories: the bratwurst patty and the gas grill categories. Both brought her on the way to her first hamburger.
But that alone would not have led to the birth of the burger. This landmark event required one final ingredient: failure.
Want a quick guide to help you fill the gap for your side business? Click this link for a free checklist.