From the February 1999 issue of Startups

Welcome back. This month's installment is dedicated to all you almost-entrepreneurs who've brainstormed for countless nights and thought up a concept with the potential to make everyone say "I wish I'd thought of that!" But wait. Do you really know if your idea will flourish? Do you have any indication there's a demand in your area for the service or goods? We're not insinuating you haven't covered these bases, but rather stressing that thoroughly researching the ins and outs of your business idea is a crucial step that shouldn't be dismissed. What you find may sway you one way or the other: from "My idea's so hot, I need to start up tomorrow" to "Maybe I'll stay in school an extra semester" or "Desk jobs aren't so bad."

Remember our pal, start-up example and pharmacist Scott Fiore? His experience with market research for his natural pharmacy, The Herbal Remedy, proved to be a positive one, leaving him well-assured about going forward. But Fiore went beyond the call of duty to ensure the herbal route was his one-way ticket to success. Read on to get some ideas on research methods you can explore.

Luckily, Fiore already has a foothold on the market he wants to enter. "Simply by being in the [pharmaceuticals] industry, [I can] monitor it. I turn over 200 prescriptions a night [at his part-time pharmacy job], and people are asking about St. John's Wort, not about penicillin," he says.

First sensing the dawning of a new era in health products about four years ago, Fiore requested product information from several herbal products manufacturers. Although working in a pharmacy helped him make daily connections with manufacturers' representatives, you can send away for literature from various manufacturers (visit http://www.thomasregister.com), associations and organizations dealing with your product or service just as easily.

Your local library and the nearest bookstore are two of the best places to begin researching. Not just the average Joe looking to find an aromatherapy cure for his headache, Fiore has read most of the books on the market about natural healing, plus a number of pharmaceutical journals. "I don't think you can do enough market research," he says. "Get industry-specific material, and figure out industry trends."

Exploring your potential market is one thing, but let's not forget our little friend, geography. "Location, location, location," Fiore stresses. He was searching for a Colorado community that would embrace the herbal life, so he phoned a few U.S. Census State Data Centers to get demographic information. "They sent a list [of available data]. I checked off what I wanted, sent it back [with] some money, and got a big packet in the mail," he says. Let your fingers do the walking in the Yellow Pages or on your keyboard, logging on to the Internet. Fiore did a basic government Web site search, which led him to state home-page links.

We've awarded Fiore the Above-and-Beyond-the-Call-of-Duty Award because he actually worked in friend Ron Stock's Dover, New Hampshire, store, The Herbal Path, for a little more than a week. Fiore manned the cash registers but mostly tried to get a feel for Stock's customer base and the types of products in high demand. The most important information he gained was what he should and shouldn't buy for his store, based on what wasn't moving in Stock's inventory. You may not have the opportunity to work in the exact environment of the business you're looking to start, but visiting several juice bars or brewpubs, if that's your business goal, is wise.

Fiore's trekked the vast realm of market research. He even took a correspondence course to become a certified herbalist. So start dwelling on his dedication and get yourself to the library.

Contact Source

The Herbal Remedy, (303) 795-8600, http://www.theherbalremedy.com