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From Demographics to Drive Times: Graduate Assistants Dive In to Market Research

April 11th, 2014 by Gwen Green

Graduate assistants at the ASBTDC Lead Center

(From left) Anita Wheetley, Leo Albert Lobo, and Gabriela Biris

The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center uses cutting-edge research tools to help clients starting or expanding businesses make informed decisions. Those tools are often in the capable hands of the center’s graduate assistants.

For more than 17 years, graduate assistants have done market research at ASBTDC, but the nature of their projects changed when the center expanded its resources to include subscriptions to online databases and tools. Now, the Lead Center at UALR responds to about 30 research requests each month, drawing in-depth data from three main sources:

  • subscriptions to more than 20 proprietary market research databases
  • special geographic information systems (GIS) mapping software and
  • the wide range of academic resources ASBTDC has access to as a university-based program.

Currently, three UALR graduate students serve as GAs in the center: Anita Wheetley, Gabriela Biris, and Leo Albert Lobo. Consulting and Market Research Manager Heather Robinette and GIS Specialist Chris Kleinhofs collaborate with the trio.

“Our graduate assistants are involved in nearly all the market research we do. Their efforts allow us to meet the growing demand from our clients and our other offices for high-quality market research and analysis,” said Robinette.

The students’ research includes location-related market potential, demographics, and consumer spending analysis; industry trends and financial benchmark data; business listings of competitors or potential customers; and industry-specific reports.

Clients use the information to evaluate business feasibility, select the best site for a store, articulate their competitive advantages in funding proposals, target marketing messages, and more, according to Robinette.

Her immersion into market research has convinced Wheetley of its value for small business owners. “People usually want to start a business because they have a passion for something, but we can give them the tools to choose a location where demand for their products is high enough to support their chosen type of business,” she said. “We can also give them information about the people located in their market, their competition, and their industry.”

Wheetley, who will finish her MBA next month, has also gained insight into customer behavior and fine-tuned her critical thinking skills. “I believe the market research experience I have received here at the ASBTDC will help me, no matter in which industry, company, or department I work,” she said.

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