Market study shows lots of ‘leakage’

Sweet Home residents say they would like to shop locally, but when they can’t most go to Lebanon and Eugene, which helps translate into losses of some $37 million annually from the local business community.

Those were two findings from the early returns of two surveys being conducted by Marketek, a firm specializing in market analysis and economic development for downtown revitalization projects, that has been commissioned by the city and Sweet Home Economic Development Group to do a marketing study for Sweet Home.

Mary Bosch, a Marketek consultant, met with more than 20 local business people, political leaders and residents in a hastily called meeting Thursday, Nov. 19, to discuss those early returns and get some feedback from the participants.

She said the process of developing a marketing plan for the city, which is her ultimate goal, requires reflection €“ which was what Thursday’s meeting was about, market and consumer analysis, and then taking action, which will involve coming up with strategies for helping local businesses and recruiting new ones.

Bosch said the solutions may not be simple.

“I like to emphasize in the work that I do that what I relish is complexity,” she said. “There’s never one answer.”

The surveys, which were posted on the city Web site,, in late October, ask about local residents’

spending habits, what goods and services they would like to purchase locally, and how they feel about the local economy and businesses. A companion survey for business owners asks about their experiences with the city, the community, the economy and other aspects of the business environment. Most of the questions are multiple choice and the survey takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Though the response to the surveys thus far has been relatively low, Bosch said that in this particular type of study the response rate does not have to be as high as it would be for more “statistically focused” surveys, such as exit polls, where the reliability of information increases significantly with a higher number of responses.

“After 100 surveys or so the themes are well-established,” she said, adding that if she can get at least another 100 responses “that will be a nice representation.”

“We want to reach out to all facets of the community,” she added.

Bosch said the purpose of the meeting on Thursday was to report preliminary results of the surveys, which still are available at the city Web site, and to pick the brains of the people who attended the meeting.

She presented demographics of the city and school district populations and presented data on the existing retail balance in the Sweet Home market area, noting that the “leakage” of dollars for goods and services not available locally is estimated at $37,012,679.

Participants in the meeting made it clear that they thought Sweet Home needs a downtown facelift.

“I think we’ve made progress, but there are so many old, dilapidated buildings,” said Lerena Ruby, who operates the Seamingly Creative sewing shop on Main Street.

She said downtown storefronts rent so cheaply that people who don’t have the wherewithal to be successful in business often open up shop and last “two or three months.”

Bosch and other meeting attendees suggested that prospective business owners should be given some help, possibly through a business license process that would provide information to help prospective business people count the cost.

But others said when advice has been given, it’s been rejected in the past. Ruby recalled how former SHEDG Economic Development Director Karen Owen would visit businesspeople to offer advice “and they’d be offended.”

SHEDG President Ron Moore agreed. “The point is, they’re not willing to take advice,” he said.

On the positive side, participants said that the increasing numbers of younger business owners with creative ideas, the quality of life in Sweet Home, “reasonable” real estate prices, good schools, the development of improved lake facilities, and other factors all are making the community a more attractive place to live and do business.

SHARE Steering Committee Chair Tom Hammons said the SHEDG Commercial Exterior Improvement Program is expected to be funded at $20,000 next year, up from $8,500 this year, and will not require matching funds, which will “sweeten the deal” for those interested in improving their facades.

Other suggestions included building on the success and reputation of the Oregon Jamboree and promoting it to local

residents, encouraging local merchants to take advantage of the visitor population during the Jamboree and beefing up local shopping traffic on Saturdays in Sweet Home.

“Take a walk downtown on Saturdays from 10 to 2,” said participant Ozzie Shaw.

Some at the meeting also said that steps need to be taken to retain existing businesses and, as one participant put it, “foster” them.

Bosch said she has “very tried and true” methods she can suggest to encourage local residents to shop in Sweet Home.

She said she plans to hold another meeting after the New Year, where she will present a “more elaborate” report on the results of the study and talk about actions that could be taken. She said she also wants to meet with local business owners to talk about what other communities are doing to solve problems like Sweet Home’s.

“You can’t guilt trip people into keeping their dollars local but you can inspire them,” she said. “You have a lot of merchandise here. It’s not readily apparent when you’re driving down the street. How do you communicate that?