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Tools that tip the site-selection scales toward one location over another are always popular in retail real estate departments.

But after the economy faltered, those tools gained even more favor.

Prior to July 2009, Watsonville, Calif.-based West Marine Inc., the country’s largest retailer of boating supplies, had been using a simple mapping tool and a sales prediction model that the company found plenty effective for evaluating potential markets and sites. These tools allowed West Marine to understand its customer—his habits, where he lived and where he shopped—as well as predict sales for a location under consideration.

“When the economy collapsed, past sales were no longer a reliable indicator of future sales,” said Amy Honjo, research manager for West Marine. “The current tools were no longer adequate.”

What West Marine needed, Honjo said, was an application that would allow the company to visualize and analyze robust market data in-house to “make sure we fully understood our customers, and then connect that information with what was happening in our stores in real time.”

Connecting those dots would allow West Marine to make informed site-selection decisions, Honjo said.

West Marine turned to Fort Worth, Texas-based Buxton Co. and its MicroMarketer solution. The intuitive application, available in both desktop and online, profiles existing and prospective customers, evaluates sales and examines market potential. But even more, it allows West Marine to breathe its own proprietary information into the data in the software, which includes socio/economic data, demographics and psychographics, and analyze current and future consumer demand for locations.

“The new system has been very successful in helping us to make key decisions on our new store locations,” Honjo said. The tool, and the data it generates, has allowed Honjo to deliver in-depth maps and reports to the West Marine real estate committee, which in turn has fostered in-depth communication among the group.

“MicroMarketer has helped the people on the committee—from the CEO to the managers—understand the data in such a way that we can challenge it and add to it,” Honjo said. “That, plus the fact that we now have access to Buxton-provided data that we can marry with our own, has given us a very comprehensive tool.”

Training West Marine on the new application took less than a day. “We spent two hours training West Marine employees on the basics of the solution,” said Charles Wetzel, president of Buxton. “The next six hours were spent showing them how to answer analytical questions and incorporate data specific to their business.”

According to Wetzel, MicroMarketer will allow West Marine to expand its uses companywide.

“Typical uses include looking at acquisition, expansion and retraction efforts, territory development and sales strategies, as well as marketing functions that include strategizing and setting targets and determining market-level competitive influences,” Wetzel said.

West Marine has already decided that MicroMarketer has the potential to be cross-functional within the organization.

“While today we are using it strictly as a real estate tool,” Honjo said, “we can envision using it in a marketing capacity with perhaps adding in merchandising functions as well.”

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