"I was living at the business library here in San Francisco. I practically camped out there and used every imaginable resource," says Suzanne George, 34, who launched her made-to-order footwear business in the summer of 1995.
Much of George's library research was geared toward discovering the demographic and psychographic characteristics of her likely clients. "I was trying to define who my customer was, as far as socioeconomic status and lifestyle preferences," she says. "I found the people at the business library to be so helpful and knowledgeable. They directed me to tons of marketing guides and statistical information that I found really useful, pertaining to the nation as well as areas within San Francisco. I also read microfiche articles and every kind of shoe-industry journal I could get my hands on."
George also conducted a series of focus groups in her home. A focus group is a group interview, typically with eight to 12 individuals who are representative of the target market, led by a moderator who directs a discussion about a particular topic. She began each session by asking participants to complete anonymous questionnaires, then launched into a group discussion about purchasing habits and perceptions of custom-made goods.
"I really wanted to learn more about why people buy what they do --how people prioritize buying, how they make selections, and what kinds of behaviors surround that--so I did three focus groups with about 10 to 12 people in each," George explains. "These were people whom I already knew, but it was interesting to see how much the groups differed in their views. For example, people in the second group were people who didn't necessarily have as much money as those in the first group, but they were really into the idea that they wanted to have fewer, but better quality, things, and that they would support this kind of business. The people in the first group, who had more money, were like, `Suzanne, look, it's business. You've got to have good materials, but the bottom line is competition.' They were really much more hard-and-fast about getting quality goods at competitive prices."
As a result of her market research, George concluded there were three main target populations for her product: people in higher economic brackets who already purchase custom-made items; people in the special-event category, such as a woman getting married or a man needing a special pair of shoes for a black-tie event; and people with fewer economic resources who appreciate the value of handmade items and quality products and would be willing to pay a little bit more for custom-designed footwear.
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