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Tools | By Karon Warren

An Informed Decision
New technology provides key information to restaurant owners searching for expansion sites and gathering customer information.
Technology helps restaurants with demographic information

When it comes to expanding business or opening new locations, choosing the right site or targeting the proper customer base hinges on the right information. Who will your customers be? What are their wants and needs? Who are your competitors? By using a selection of new technologies, getting the answers to these questions is simplified.

Many tools are available through Web-based applications, such as SRC LLC’s DemographicsNow.com, which provides demographic maps, reports for all U.S. areas and addresses, and site-location analysis. “There are tools specifically for network optimization and network expansion,” says Olivia Duane Adams, founding partner of SRC LLC. Users simply type in a location and get the available information in a matter of minutes, she says.

The subscription-based service can be customized by the user to target a key audience or location. For example, a restaurant owner can obtain information based on a zip code, drive time, or mile radius. Customer information can include age groups, household information (such as marital status, number of children, and income), and expenditures.

For Larry Abbe, president of America’s Incredible Pizza, DemographicsNow.com provides the data he needs to make informed site location decisions. “The industry is getting very competitive,” he says. “You have to work smarter. This type of software program has become an essential part of our selection process. Location selection is critical to a successful project.”

In February, ASTEROP Inc. introduced its own Web-based On-Demand solution offering demographic, consumption, and consumer-segmentation data. “When you think about the scope and scale of the U.S. market, you really need to utilize technology. That becomes your key to unlocking the untapped potential,” says Christophe Girardier, CEO of ASTEROP Inc. “With the right technology and tools, you can move quickly, efficiently, and with less risk and cost to research your market opportunities.”

Using ASTEROP On-Demand, restaurant owners can gather data on household spending for food away from home, consumers who spend more-than-average amounts on food outside the home, and locations of nearest competitors. “Once you’ve found the top markets for your restaurant concept, you can follow a different push-button to obtain access to detailed information about that market,” Girardier says. “[You can] see demographic profiles, consumption profiles, and information on the current retail environment so that you can build understanding about each opportunity.”

All information is available in tabular, map, or graph-based views as well as standard reports.

Of course, tools such as these not only assist restaurant owners in determining viable expansion sites, but also with marketing and advertising to their key customer base—one area where the industry needs vast improvement. According to the Center for Media Research Council’s 2008 Marketing Outlook study, The Power of Personalization, nearly 50 percent of marketers report having fair to poor or little knowledge of customers, and almost 47 percent rate their company’s data integration capabilities as being deficient or needing improvement.

Companies such as Intelligent Direct Inc. offer a wealth of ready data on potential restaurant customers. Through its various sites—www.marketmaps.com, www.gbbis.com, and www.deliverymaps.com—information can be gathered to help them plan deliveries and routes, find and profile new and existing customers, identify new markets, and evaluate new store sites. “It gives information they might not already have,” says Dan Olasin, president of Market Maps, a division of Intelligent Direct Inc. “The goal is to help them make a better decision.”

In addition to learning more about potential and existing customers, Olasin says his product can assist restaurant owners in choosing the best way to advertise to their client base: Determining which yellow page directory to use, whether billboard ads would be effective, and where to send direct mail for the best results.

In fact, geographic technology tools are playing a larger role in direct advertising. In March, Wendy’s announced it is using Ecast’s geographic targeting capability to launch a new campaign on the company’s network of interactive touch-screen jukeboxes. Users can find out the location of the nearest Wendy’s simply by touching the company’s ad on the touch-screen interface.

While all of these products promise instant information, restaurant owners might wonder at what cost. For visitors to Market Maps’s Web site, a simple digital map with basic information can be had for as little as $25. The more detail, the higher the price. The same is true for many other services. One session of ASTEROP On-Demand can start at less than $100 and increase based on amount of use and data. DemographicsNow.com offers monthly and yearly subscriptions, but new users can get a sample of the product at FreeDemographics.com. “You don’t have to be a Yum! Brands or McDonald’s to have access to these types of key information,” Adams says.

Thanks to the Internet, there are many more products and services available for restaurant owners’ consideration. As more information becomes available in the electronic age, users will find more opportunities to learn about prospective clients and business locations.

“No longer are complicated software deployments or elaborate in-house technology required to obtain a technology solution that can help you decide which markets to expand into and where you can consider stores,” Girardier says.