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Ask the experts: Use demographics to find your market

By Marty Minchin
Correspondent
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- COURTESY OF ANDREW BOWEN
Andrew Bowen, director of research for the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

Business owners who want to use data to choose the best site to locate their business shouldn’t base their decisions solely on the numbers. An area that looks appealing statistically may 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 two of the best sources for demographic information are the U.S. Census Bureau and the Mecklenburg County Quality of Life Dashboard, which looks at the social, criminal, physical, economic and environmental conditions of neighborhoods in and around Charlotte.

Here are more 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.

•  Don’t forget about 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.

Bowen points to Independence Boulevard, which turns into a highway as it nears uptown, as an example.

“It’s a fantastic high-traffic area, but when you get out there, you realize access can be a real problem,” he said. “It looks great on paper, but no one wants to get off Independence Boulevard (in certain areas).”

•  Walk the area. Statistics can only show you so much. Drive to the location and walk around, paying attention to traffic access, nearby businesses and how busy the area is. While a location near a Walmart may sound good, it may not be close enough to benefit from additional customers visiting the store.

“Get your data, see what you think and then get out there and use your gut,” Bowen said.

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