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What Do Local Consumers Want?

Jessica Buchholz by Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator | March 4, 2022
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Emporia reaches out to the general public concerning consumer preferences/wants/needs on a regular basis. Over the past two years, we have restricted those “asks” to obtain feedback on pandemic response and/or very specific events. The Business Enhancement committee developed a consumer preferences survey that was sent out through our email listing and social media channels. These are the highlights:

  1. Expectation shift based on age ranges.- Older group responses focused more on recapturing lost business types, while younger groups seemed to highlight things that we have never traditionally had in downtown.
  2. Downtown is still a significant destination for locals for a variety of needs- When 45% of respondents are shopping within the core at least weekly, that’s a good number. The entire community is losing some of our shoppers to online competition, but downtown is still capturing significant traffic.
  3. Destination “entertainment options” mean something specific to the region.- The number one entertainment option listed by respondents was “downtown events” with over 80% of respondents indicating this type of entertainment as a destination driver. As events become more frequent and more normal, this bodes well for core businesses that can capitalize on the increase in traffic.
  4. Support for local businesses is strong, but online options are emerging.- We saw a trend developing during the pandemic that seems here to stay. Online shopping options are growing, and the younger the individual the more likely they are to engage online platforms for purchases.
  5. Saturday is the preferred shopping day, and mid/late day shopping are preferred times.- Mid day and evening shopping/dining/entertainment on Saturday was the most popular time frame for respondents. Businesses that want to capture some of the traffic cited may want to adjust their advertising.
  6. Local media is still a strong source for news concerning local businesses and activities, but certain social media is gaining strength.- KVOE was the number one traditional media source cited for community events, shopping, and entertainment news, and the Emporia Gazette was a close second for traditional media. Social media surged as an information source, and the hard to define “word-of-mouth” was a popular source for community happenings.

Consumers listed preferences for a variety of business types that were wants/needs. These preferences represent an opportunity for businesses to highlight existing options or expand into new categories. If existing businesses can’t fill the void, new entrepreneurs may be needed to satisfy local sales demands. A word of caution: “wanting” something, and being able to financially support a business concept are two different things. Businesses interested in starting up or expanding in the following retail categories should contact Emporia Main Street and the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Emporia State University to conduct additional research.

  • More clothing options (Men’s and children’s were mentioned repeatedly)
  • Book/game/toy store
  • Outdoor store (beyond biking/disc golf)
  • Jewelry
  • Gift shops/home décor
  • Community mercantile/health food
  • Event or youth entertainment centered businesses

For restaurants and entertainment, respondents seemed more satisfied with local options, but they cited a need for specific niches. Dinner was the most popular meal service time, followed by lunch, and then breakfast. Food and entertainment options cited by consumers included:

  • Italian (most requested)
  • Greek food
  • Grab and go healthy items/a deli
  • Family oriented event businesses
  • Mini golf/axe throwing
  • Ice cream/frozen dessert
  • Art production studios
  • Indian food
  • Bagel shop
  • Salad/soup bar

When people leave Emporia for shopping/dining/entertainment they leave for areas several times our market size. We had some respondents that indicated they were skipping out-of-town shopping and replacing it with on-line, but the most common destinations when shopping out-of-town from most frequently cited to least frequently cited were:

  • Kansas City/KC Metro (1)
  • Topeka (2)

There was a definite break between the top two options and the rest of the options, which included:

  • Wichita (3)
  • Lawrence (4)
  • Manhattan (5)

When it came to overall downtown improvements, most of the respondents were complimentary. There were a few observations that we could take from open ended comments.

  1. The desire for downtown lodging (hotel/short term stay) was mentioned repeatedly
  2. Some consumers are REALLY into their pets, and want to take them into all the businesses they enter
  3. More outdoor dining areas are requested
  4. People said it in a number of different ways, but they wanted Emporia Main Street to focus on more diverse employment options to build a better regional economy
  5. More “green” spaces
  6. Better connections with other areas (this sounded like a call to extend streetscape)
  7. Continued emphasis on the inclusion of underrepresented populations in the business mix

Most of what we listed above indicates a positive shift in attitudes, or categories of items that could be provided to the public through a business expansion or a new entrepreneur. We didn’t have a single “big city” brand name that was entered into the survey (a first in the thirteen years we have conducted this type of research).
There was a single concept that popped up several times that we will need to address; people viewing businesses strictly as entertainment/”hang-out” options and not places to spend. Any local business will tell you that they love it when people come in the door, and businesses have an obvious responsibility to convert “lookers” to “shoppers”, but consumers need to understand that businesses can’t exist without consumer spending. It’s a delicate issue that needs addressed on both the business and consumer side, but business support must include spending (good will doesn’t easily pay the rent).
Was there anything that surprised you in the latest survey? Are there categories cited by consumers that your business would be interested in for expansion? Do you know entrepreneurs that would be willing to entertain some of the options cited for a new business (they could submit for funding through Show of Hands)? Are there businesses or community upgrades missing in the above list? Contact Emporia Main Street, and work with us to continue to improve our community!

About the Author

Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator

Jessica Buchholz is the Community Development Coordinator for Emporia Main Street in Emporia, Kansas. She specializes in event planning, volunteer recruitment, alternative marketing, media/public relations and fundraising. During Jessica's tenure at Emporia Main Street, she has helped grow events to an international level and she has created a series of new activities to meet organizational goals.

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