Does the Census "count" for my business?
March 9, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated March 8, 2011 at 9:09 p.m.
So now that the U.S. Census Bureau numbers are in, what does it mean for your business? Does it mean anything?
If your sales are generated by people in the local area, then it probably will affect you.
Think back to when you first thought about opening your business. If you did research, you probably looked at who your "target market" would be. Your target market is the type of customer who will mostly likely buy your products and services on a regular basis.
Once you determined what type of customer that was, you looked to see if those customers were in the area or region you wanted to serve.
For instance, if your company was going to be located in Victoria, how many target customers were also in Victoria? If you thought that number was sufficient to generate the sales you need to make a profit, you opened your doors.
Now that you are in business, after a Census count is taken, you look to see how and if the population has shifted and what that could mean to the number of target customers you previously had in the area.
What are the needs and demands of this "new" population that surrounds you? Of course, if you have been open for years, word of mouth might dominate any shift of populations for the short-term. Eventually, however, you might find yourself offering products and services that nobody wants because the population's needs have changed, and you neglected to explore offering different products or services. Blockbuster and Hollywood Video come to mind.
Bottom line is it's worth your time to look at the Census numbers and trends. Do you still have an adequate number of target customers to keep your doors open? If you do, great, but keep in mind you need to always work to see how you can reach more people in the "new" demographic around you.
But what if it looks like your customers are moving away sooner rather than later? What could you offer to the "new" population based on the type of products and services you know you can deliver? Are there new markets or products and services you can move toward that would service them?
If you are lost as to what the new population might need, do some research. Find out what the new population's consumer expenditures are, what goods and services they require based on their lifestyles, and look at any of your competitors who seem to already be serving this "new customer." You can find information on websites such as sba.gov, bls.gov/cex, and entrepreneur.com, and by contacting your local Small Business Development Center to help you with the research.
If you realize you can offer a new product or service to meet the new population's needs, get out that handy budget you made a few weeks ago, and work the numbers. See if you can make a profit from offering a new product or service. Keep in mind your current capacity, workforce, inventory levels and expenses, and how the new products or services will impact them.
If it doesn't look profitable, can you do anything differently to make it profitable? How much investment will it take? If you absolutely cannot go in another direction with your business, make plans to focus on offering new products and services to your loyal customers. Ask them if there is anything different you can offer to them.
Never forget about the customer service aspect that impacts your current operations and any future new ones.
No matter how little or how much a shifting demographic can impact your business, know that it does and will impact it eventually.
As a business owner you must be proactive and innovative to take the steps that will keep you in business over the decades of Census counts and population shifts that occur during the long life of a successful business.
Lisa Barr is a senior business adviser for the University of Houston-Victoria Small Business Development Center.