Monday, January 08, 2007

Cater to a Niche Market for Rewards on Many Levels

The article, “Toys for Disabled, Step 1: What Can a Child Still Do?” from The New York Times shows Dr Steven E. Kanor as a modern day Gepetto for a niche market. He makes toys for children with special needs whose ability to play is limited by their physical impairments.

“What we’re dealing with are children who may not have the use of arms or legs, who may not be able to see, to hear, or even move,” says Dr Kanor. “But we start with what the child has left and focus on what we can do.”

Dr Kanor, 71, who trained as a biomedical engineer, is the founder and president of Enabling Devices in Hastings on Hudson, a 30 year old company that designs toys and leaning devices children with disabilities ranging from missing limbs to muscular diseases, quadriplegics and degenerative brain diseases.

Product inventions are tailored to specific needs. In one instance, Dr Kanor created an eye blink switch for a child paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. The device allows him to manipulate devices by blinking and facilitates communication.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of children with disabilities is growing; it estimates that there are at least nine million children with a physical or mental disability. One reason the rate has increased is the increased survival rate of premature babies.

In a nod to the need for toys that can reach a broader audience the Toy Industry Association released a brochure detailing toys from the general market that can used by children with disabilities. But while other toy companies have shown interest in adapting some of their toys for specific children’s needs and abilities, Kanor’s company remains the only one to address special needs across his product line.

Elizabeth Bell, Enabling Devices marketing director, puts sales at $6m and estimates that 100,000 toys and devices are sold each year.

Sometimes, finding a niche in the market can also mean giving much needed benefit to a neglected group, and help you build a stronger business.

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