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7/3/2011 - Book Review: Research on Main Street

ResearchonMainStreetResearch on Main Street
Using the Web to Find Local Business and Market information
by Marcy Phelps, President, Phelps Research

Reviewer: Michael Brandt, CBC

Just what we need—another book on market research. But, hold on! Research on Main Street is different. Real different!

The subtitle tells it all. At least most of it.

First, Using the Web. What resources are available online, how do you identify them and how do you use them?

Second, Local. If you need to know whether you product will be culturally accepted in Germany, Research on Main Street won’t help. It won’t be as much help in determining whether to locate your salon and spa on the corner of Main and Second. If, however, you need to whether Jefferson County has sufficient research chemists to staff your relocating R and D facility or whether there is sufficient market demand in Peoria for professional landscape equipment, this is your guide.

Research on Main Street is accurately described in the forward as a guide to using free and low-cost options on the web to find business and market information about local places (states, counties, cities, even neighborhoods). It also shows how to use local sources for more in-depth research into people, companies, and national issues that impact certain parts of the country.

Working from the assumption that a lot of business and market research projects have a local component, Marcy provides a road map to get you there. She ignores the general purpose search engines that often product results full of city guides, restaurant reviews and meetups. Instead she turns her attention to resources such as Trulia, Edgar, News Voyager, and Claritas MarketPlace. Haven’t heard of them? You will after several pages in “Main Street.”

The book takes a multi-pronged approach to the topic.

  1. Its initial chapters provide an initial background and framework for conducting local business
  2. Other chapters cover specific types of local information: demographics, economics, companies, people and issues. These chapters include resources (the Census Bureau, Chamber of Commerce Directory, American City Business Journals) and strategy tips to show now you put it into action.
  3. An extensive appendix of hundreds of specific, credible resources and where to find them on the web. Many are free (a boon to researchers); some are fee-based.

The content is well laid out, detailed, and step by step. The reader can come away with a comfort level of “I can do this. I know where. I know how.” There’s no research or statistical jargon (standard deviation). You don’t need to be a professional researcher to use the content of the book.

There’s also a structure to the book that suggests a specific approach to reading and absorbing. Tackle the first three chapters as a unit. They background, general research approaches, and identify credible resources. The five chapters covering specific areas of research (demographics, economics, etc.) are essentially “stand alone” chapters and are best read that way. Of necessity, there is some repetition from chapter to chapter, and you’ll do better at keeping things organized if you don’t run the chapters together. When you need to find demographics for a project, then it’s time to concentrate on that chapter. The others can wait until later.

The book is a bit heavy on narrative style and could use more illustrations: charts, pyramids, bulleted lists to more easily get the point across. However, this doesn’t detract from the content.

The detailed list of resources in the appendices is extensive. It’s primarily organized by chapter which is helpful when you’re reading the chapter on economics. A second list organizing the resources by topic (school systems) would be helpful when you pull the book off the shelf to simply look for a specific resource.

The icing on the cake is the companion web site: that includes a list of all the resources mentioned in the book and regular updates.

A highly usable and practical book highlighting an often neglected area of market research, Marcy Phelps’ Research on Main Street is a valuable addition to your research tool kit.

Where can you get the book? Try or the Colorado Chapter of the Business Marketing Association. It’s available in print as well as electronic formats for the Kindle and Sony Reader.

About the Reviewer
Michael Brandt, CBC, is President of Marketing Resources, a B2B marketing and association management firm. He also is editor of the Marketing Mirror.

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