Bears Business Brief: Sources of marketing research help for small business specialty retailers

By: Ron Coulter

Ron Coulter headshot i
Ron Coulter

In this article, I will discuss secondary and primary research data and where you can find these data locally.

Secondary data is data collected by someone other than yourself. Why would a small business want to use secondary data? It’s easier to find, cheaper and often useful in decision making. Secondary data may also provide insights and ideas you’ve never thought about for your retail situation. However, secondary data may not be exactly what you’re looking for because someone else collected it for their purpose, and the data may be old. Primary data is data you collect yourself for your own needs. Primary data costs more and takes longer to gather but may be the only way to get the specific information you need.  Always start with secondary data.

You can access several sources for secondary data. The best starting point is a library. In our community, we have a wonderful public library plus college and university libraries. Libraries have a wide variety of secondary data sources which could help with a problem associated with your retail operation. Before jumping in blindly, try doing an electronic search using keywords related to your specific problem to help pinpoint relevant information. You might find that governmental information sources will give you what you’re looking for. Our government publishes a wealth of information; secondary sources available might include censuses (e.g. – population, business, housing, manufacturing), business registration data and small business administration data. The Small Business Administration publishes information on retailing, wholesaling and service organizations. You may have to do several searches to find the right keywords or phrases, but library staff is usually quite willing to point you in the right direction.

Non-governmental sources available through a library include books, periodicals, textbooks, trade journals, general business information and faculty research manuscripts. Another source of secondary data might be “white papers” that explore specific research topics. Also, some universities make faculty members’ doctoral dissertations available on topics that may be related to your small business. Finally, a business college may disseminate findings, from faculty members’ current research, that may relate to your needs.

If you’ve looked at secondary data sources and aren’t getting the answers you need, maybe you should try primary data research. If you don’t feel comfortable doing a primary research project, consider contacting a business college or department. Ask if there are professors who might assist you. Many business classes work with small businesses and nonprofit organizations doing custom research. It’s relatively inexpensive for the business, as usually there is only a small charge for the materials used in a survey or experiment. One drawback is that you may have to “get in line,” as some classes have a waiting list of outside research projects. It is, though, a cost-effective and valuable source of primary research. Class projects are valuable because they provide students with real, hands-on, experiential learning experience, while the business gets information and ideas specific to the owner’s needs. Local university small business development centers can also provide assistance.

What’s the takeaway from this discussion? Know and use appropriate secondary data sources and, when possible, inexpensive sources of primary data. By doing this, small business retailers can obtain information which will allow them better understand their customers’ needs, identify future market/industry trends and even answer specific questions. Marketing research is valuable to small business retailers and can be affordable.

Ron Coulter, Ph.D. is a professor of marketing and marketing department head at Missouri State University. He is also interim department head in the merchandising and fashion design department. His areas of specialization include multivariate marketing research data applications and small business research.

This article appeared in the February 25, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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