Market Research for Small Businesses

by Admin on February 3, 2009


Herb Lawrence, Center Director at Arkansas State University Small Business & Technology Development Center offers us a great guest post on marketing research. The ASU Small Business and Technology Development Center provides consulting, training and research assistance to a variety of start up and small businesses throughout Northeast and North Central Arkansas.

Over the years my business consultant and I have met lots of folks looking to start their own business. Generally after offering them a cup of coffee and asking what type of business they are planning to launch, my next question is, “so, what have you done up to this point to estimate the market demand?”.

Typical responses usually go something like these:

  • “My gut tells me it can’t miss!”
  • “my mom said she would come to my store”
  • “Everyone at church thinks it is a really good idea… we need one of those in town”
  • “Besides, I am here to get help putting a loan package together, what’s market research got to do with my loan request?”

Of course that nasty habit bankers have of asking how you plan to pay the loan back could be a hint. But usually when you talk about market research their eyes roll back into their heads. They think market research takes lots of money, lots of surveys, and statistics, certainly way above what a small business person could afford or understand.

The truth is, market research is absolutely critical to small businesses, regardless of the type of product or service and thanks to the internet, the data is easily available at reasonable costs, you just have to know what type of information you need.

Market research tells my small business owner:

  • How many potential customers are in the trade zone
  • How much they will spend on a product or service
  • Where they are located
  • What demographic, socio-graphic or other factors influence buying decisions and how to break the market into homogeneous sub groups to target
  • Who competitors are, where they are, and what their weaknesses are.
  • Whether the client is in retail or wholesale, manufacturing or service, transportation or health care, businesses (B2B) or to consumers (B2C)

Knowing the answers to the questions above is vital to long-term success. Part of the problem of course is the amount of information out there especially on the internet. A “Googled” market research resulted in 23,900,000 hits and free market research narrowed the field to only 38,900 possible sites. What to use? What is best? What is a scam? Easy to see why entrepreneurs throw up their hands and just “go on their gut.”

At the Small Business and Technology Development Center we use Hill Search, the James J. Hill on Line Reference Library for a lot of our clients initial market research needs.

As a quick example, let’s assume a client in Batesville, Arkansas (Independence County) came in to the office and wanted help finding market research information to determine feasibility of starting a retail jewelry store in that county. For this article we will keep it simple, a primary trade Zone of Independence County only and strictly a brick and mortar business (we will discuss e-commerce market research in another article).

Using the Hill Search Library in 45 minutes I was able to provide the entrepreneur with a good thumb nail sketch of the market potential for an additional jewelry store in that county and an initial market segmentation outline.

For the initial review I used three separate Hill Library resources:

  • Their DemographicsNow database that provides extensive demographic information about households and basic consumer expenditure data on trade zones (by zip code, town, county, MSA, state or region) that told me everything I wanted to know about demographic makeup of households in Independence County as well as overall consumer expenditure information on apparel and jewelry spending.
  • From there I hopped over to the Hill Library New Strategist Demographic eBooks, over 30 on-line books with specific information about how much consumers spend on a wide variety of products and services broken out by demographic sub categories.
  • I used their “Who is Buying Apparel” and “Best Customers: Demographics of Consumer Demand” eBooks to get detailed expenditure information on jewelry by a variety of demographic sub categories including income, age, education, and more. This information combined with the county household demographics will determine not only overall county demand for jewelry but also help segment the households to find out who the best potential customers may be.
  • Finall, I  stopped in at the Hill Library Special Issues database, searched for “jewelry” and found 8 industry reports outlining the State of the Jewelry industry for 2008, forecasts for the coming year and much more. All in about 45 minutes of searching.

So what did I have to report to my “client?”

From the DemographicNow section I found:

  • There are 13,888 households in the county as of 2008, up from 13,467 in the 2000 census and projected to grow to 14,148 households by 2013. With average household income of $48,236 in 2008 and projected to grow to $53,821 by 2013.
  • The average household in Independence County spent $121.00 per year on jewelry (not including watches or repair) So overall market potential for the county to purchase jewelry was just over $1.68 million and is projected to grow to $132.00 per household by 2013 or a overall market potential growth in next 4 years to just under $1.8 million.
  • At the present time there are only 2 existing jewelry retail stores in town. There were three, but a regional chain was forced to close in the fall. Of course Walmart and J C Penney have jewelry counters with sales, and jewelry is sold at various pawn shops in the area, even the gum ball machine outside Krogers. But only 2 retail jewelers. And total retail sales of jewelry in the county was less than $485,700.00 which meant that many consumers were buying their jewelry outside of the county so a leakage existed that might be exploited.

From the eBooks on Consumer Expenditure I found out who buys the most jewelry by demographic features. As a summary:

Households earning under $20,000 will spend an average of $30 a year on jewelry while households earning $70-80,000 per year will spend 171.32 per household and those earning over $100,000 will spend $353 per household on jewelry. Obviously there are far more households earning under $20,000 than over $100,000.00 but does quantity matter or does quality? High income households spend three times the average on jewelry and account for 40% of the total market. The 3,315 households earning under $20,000 will spend $30 a year or a market potential for that segment of only $99,450. But the 1,093 households earning over $100,000 will spend $353 per year or $385,829. Households earning over $100,000 make up only 7.8% of all households but will buy 23% of all the jewelry.

See how segmentation works?

Households where head of household is a high school graduate will spend average of $75 per year on jewelry, while those with a Masters or doctoral degree will spend $227.9 on average.

Married couples without children at home (empty nesters) spend 37% more than average.
Two age groups own most of the market 25-34 year olds (many buying engagement rings) and 55 to 64 year olds (many buying anniversary gifts).

Now, we can go back to DemographicsNow to find the actual number of households by the different income, age, even educational levels and apply that information to see how much my best customers will spend. Finally the industry information from the Jewelry Retail Association Trade magazines will provide information on issues impacting stores in the coming year.

So, if a small business or entrepreneur wanted to purchase this data what would it cost?

Demographic data on Independence County and summary jewelry expenditure data from a source called Demographics Now published by SRC, LLC. You can find a wide variety of consumer expenditure data, demographic data on a variety of groupings by zip, city, county, and state, MSA for all over the country for only $60 dollars per month or $550.00 per year. Specific demographic expenditure by categories and best customer eBooks lists from New Strategist Publishing which you can access for $60 to $80 per e-book. Or you can access all of this information along with a lot more data from the James J Hill On-Line Research Library for $1,295 per year subscription. Industry specific information is available from the Jewelry Retail Trade Association for a fee as well.

However, the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center network offices are all paid members of the Hill Search Library which means that their clients have access to all of this data through the center at no charge. Plus the ASBTDC staff provides free assistance in analyzing the data and helping the client make decisions based on the information. There is no charge to be a client, nor for any assistance through the centers.

Finding good, reliable market research data is possible. It is just a matter of knowing where to look. The Hill Library is an excellent tool, or using the free services of the ASBTDC to help develop initial market research. Next week, drilling down to find customers in your trade zone.I will expand on types of market research in future articles that will look at other tools and information available to small business owners in Arkansas. Let me know if this is useful. If you would like a copy of the demographic, consumer expenditure or industry information to see what the data look like, let me know. Post a comment or send me an e-mail and I will be happy to send you this example.

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