Ask the Experts

Ask the experts: Use demographics to find your market

CorrespondentOctober 7, 2013 

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    Do you need expert advice on a small-business issue? If so, let us know. Email Shop Talk Editor Jessaca Giglio at jmgiglio@newsobserver.com.

Business owners who want to use data to choose the best site for their business’s location shouldn’t base their decisions solely on numbers.

An area that looks appealing statistically might not be so desirable in real life.

“Get out there and look and wonder why there’s not someone there already,” said Andrew Bowen, director of research for the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

Statistics can answer some basic questions about potential locations, such as population density, median age and income.

Bowen said the U.S. Census Bureau, the government agency that offers data on the economy and the country’s residents, is one of the best sources for demographic information.

Due to the government shutdown, however, the bureau’s website is not being updated and requests for information will not be considered.

Here are tips from Bowen about how to effectively use data to choose a good location for a business:

•  Match the type of business you are opening with the area. If you are opening an ethnic food restaurant, statistics on ethnicity may be more important. Business owners planning a convenience store or grocery may be more interested in population density in certain zip codes.

•  Find the competition. While one corner may look ideal, a direct competitor may already have opened across the street. Statistics won’t show where competitors are located.

•  Be thorough. Large companies such as Family Dollar do heavy data and analytical work before opening sites, Bowen said. Look at factors such as traffic data and access to the site from nearby roads in conjunction with other statistics.

•  Walk the area. Statistics only show so much. Go to the location and walk around, paying attention to traffic access, nearby businesses and how busy the area is.

“Get your data, see what you think and then get out there and use your gut,” Bowen said. “Go talk to surrounding business owners and see what’s going on.”

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