By STEVEN NALLEY
The Greater Starkville Development Partnership recently subscribed to a retail analysis service to help court retailers interested in coming to the area and help existing retailers better understand market opportunities, among other services.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said GSDP President Jon Maynard demonstrated the service at a private meeting of leaders from the city, county, GSDP and Mississippi State University March 2. Through the Tennessee Valley Authority, Wiseman said the GSDP has contracted with a company named Buxton to use a fee-based program called SCOUT.
“Buxton is a private-sector organization that compiles data relevant to retail and economic development for cities and towns,” Wiseman said. “If you can conceive demographic data that might be relevant to someone’s analysis when making a business decision, they have compiled it and organized it. They’ve developed a software package that makes that data searchable and organizable. If somebody is in the market and wants to know more about the dynamics of the community, it makes it much easier to generate information. Also, it can be used to more effectively make the case to potential retailers not currently in the market and maybe not currently looking in our market that Starkville is an ideal market for them.”
Maynard said he discovered Buxton at a TVA developer’s forum in Nashville Feb. 16. He said he could not reveal the service’s exact price, but he said TVA is discounting the service by approximately 80 percent and does the same for other economic developers in the TVA service area.
Maynard said he intends to demonstrate the program again at a meeting of the GSDP 8:30 a.m. Friday. He said one of the key parameters SCOUT looks at is psychographics, which categorize populations using a rubric called the Mosaic USA Consumer Lifestyle Segmentation System, developed by Experian.
“Psychographics are an area’s propensity to spend money — what they’re going to buy, how much money they’re going to spend, what type of person they are ... how we make a living, how we work, what our income is, how we handle money (and) where we live,” Maynard said.
Maynard said SCOUT can also look at a location into which a retailer might consider moving and examine whether people are coming to that location from outside a given radius to purchase certain goods or purchasing those goods from outside that radius. With this data, Maynard said he can compile a report within minutes which helps him make the case for a retailer to move to a Starkville location.
“I had a question asked the other day: ‘Why did Logan’s Roadhouse go to Columbus and not to Starkville?’” Maynard said. “The reality is Columbus, for years, has been much higher on the radar for retailers, period. It’s our chance now to approach retailers and say, ‘Look, Starkville is a good option, too.’
“The nice thing is that I predict that as Starkville grows its retail, it’s not going to be growing at the expense of Columbus, because most retailers are concerned about a 20-minute cone around their area,” Maynard added. “They don’t care about anything else. Those are the Buxton guys’ words, not mine.”
The program can also help local retailers, Maynard said, especially GSDP members.
“I can run this sort of analysis for them so they can get a better understanding about if they should expand their store, if they should move to a different type of product line (or) if they should do whatever it is they’re looking to do,” Maynard said.
While SCOUT has provided strong results for companies, towns and banks, Maynard said the program is not perfect. Some results require creative interpretation by association. For example, Maynard said he was surprised to discover SCOUT told him Starkville’s population had a high propensity for buying snowboards. He said he then realized this was because the program used a single market category for lovers of the outdoors across America, lumping Starkville hunters and fishers together with snowboarders in the Pacific Northwest.
“What is a snowboard in Colorado is a shotgun in Starkville,” Maynard said.
The data SCOUT uses comes from several different companies and organizations, Maynard said, including the U.S. Bureau of Business Statistics, the U.S. Census and Google.
“Every time that you use a credit card, every time you do just about anything these days, it can be tracked,” Maynard said.
Buxton offers subscriptions to SCOUT on an annual basis, Maynard said, and the GSDP will evaluate its success with the program from year to year to determine the need for renewal.