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Smith: Take a tip from Sgt. Joe Friday get the facts about your customers
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In the 1950s and 1960s, one of the more successful television programs was "Dragnet." Even today, television stations that feature yesteryear reruns often show this police drama of Sgt. Joe Friday and Officer Bill Gannon solving crimes.

Sgt. Friday, always focused and well dressed, was noted for his no-
nonsense attitude and getting straight to the point of a matter. When questioning suspects and witnesses to a crime, Friday was noted for his patented phrase, "Just the facts ma’am."

If Joe Friday had not pursued a career in law enforcement, perhaps he would have been effective in market research. Get the facts. There are those businesses that thrive on accessing information and analyzing data and probabilities before a decision. Conversely, there are businesses that have little need for market research.

Of course, the gathering of intelligence is relevant to athletic teams (the New England Patriots), politicians, individuals at all levels of government and the military establishment as well as other groups that depend upon accurate information.

Whether it is millions or hundreds of dollars that will be spent, the data that is retrieved must be precise.

Market research includes two segments, primary and secondary.

Primary research involves soliciting opinions directly from the people that a business is serving or wishes to serve. Through face-to-face interviews, telephone, computer and direct mail surveys, businesses can discover or validate opinions.

Another form of primary market research is the technique known as the focus group. A facilitator interviews similar groups of people. Predetermined questions are asked to the group. The members of the focus group may or may not be aware for what company the study is being conducted or how the data will be used.

Secondary research is just as the name implies. It is intelligence that comes to a business through trade associations and journals; reports from third parties, conferences, the Internet; and university-based research.

Thousands of dollars can be spent conducting a market research study. Market research can also be done on an inexpensive basis as well.

Suppose that a business owner wishes to know where his customers live. Simply have a drawing for a prize. To register, customers must fill out slips with their address and zip code. Another strategy would involve customer checks. Before making a bank deposit, collect information from the front of the check about the client. There are many other research techniques that can be implemented for a small cost.

It makes no difference if a business is a corporation or small business. Market research is critical to the success of all business operations.

J.C. Smith is a consultant for the Gainesville district office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, 770-531-5681. His column appears Tuesdays and at