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Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 8, 2000. All rights reserved.

Market Research: Know Your Customers

Keeping up with technological innovation has kept business

people so busy that they may have taken their eye off the proverbial

ball: their customers. Who are they? What do they want?

Business owners may ask themselves these questions all the time, but

they really need to be asking their customers instead, says John

Lasley, a market research consultant and veteran of Opinion Research

Corporation. "General Motors spends millions of dollars every

year on market research," says Lasley. "Other companies may

not spend very much, but in my opinion, the ones that spend money

on market research are more successful."

"Market Research: Where Are My Customers?" will be Lasley’s

topic at the Princeton Chamber meeting on Wednesday, March 15, at

8:15 a.m. at the Nassau Club. Call 609-520-1776. Cost: $21.

After a 39-year career with Wirthlin Worldwide and Opinion Research,

Lasley divides his time between serious fishing and doing consulting

for worldwide companies. After attending Yale and Columbia universities

and working at ORC, Lasley headed up the Princeton office of Wirthlin

Worldwide, the market research company in McLean, Virginia, before

retiring five years ago. He and his wife, Kay, have four children,

and their daughter, Janet Lasley, has a successful construction business

(and was named Small Business Person of the Year by the regional Small

Business Administration last year).

No matter how well a business is doing, market research is still a

valuable tool, says Lasley, who recalls doing focus groups for a successful

restaurant that was thronged with crowds waiting in line every night.

"The owner wanted to know what he was doing right, and what he

could do better," says Lasley. "So we stood in the lobby of

the restaurant and asked people what they liked best about the restaurant,

and got them to rate the food, ambiance, and service."

Improving a product or service is just one of the fruits of market

research. Through interviews with customers, businesses can learn

how they are perceived by the public, and how important their corporate

image is to customers.

Today, more than ever, people are interested in patronizing "socially

conscious" businesses and organizations, says Lasley. "More

companies are interested in being good corporate citizens," he

says. "Look at Philip Morris — five years ago they would have

told everyone to go to hell. Now they’re saying maybe nicotine should

be regulated."

In a tough marketplace, management can also use research to retain

employees. For example, Lasley headed up a survey for his daughter’s

construction business aimed at finding out how employees felt about

their working benefits.

This may be economic boom time, but the key to growth is still getting

customers, says Lasley, in a marketplace that is constantly transforming

itself. "Just because everyone is selling everything they can

and people are buying everything they can, you think — why do

market research? But people always want to know more," he says.

"I’ve got a million dollar business, how can I make it a two million

dollar business. I got a wonderful coffee shop, how do I open two


Still, some things never change. Twenty years ago, Lasley did a study

on what people in Princeton liked least about their community. The

answer: too little parking, too much congestion.

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