Market research traditionally has been a tool for larger, more established companies to learn the needs and behaviors of their clients and customers.
Meliora Research LLC leaders believe it does not have to be that way.
Co-founders Jonathan Siegel and Mitch Sanders established the firm last year with a goal of bringing market research tools to companies of all sizes.
While working at Harris Interactive Inc. in the mid-2000s, Siegel ran the Election 2000 polling program while Sanders was an expert in weighting. They came together again in 2012 after Siegel was caught up in a round of layoffs at Brighton-based Harris Interactive.
The two worked with a third partner, Laurin Frisina, who died in June at age 29, to create a company to expand research capabilities to firms that could not afford such services in the past.
"For almost all of the history of the market research industry, there were only a couple ways to get data and they were all high-cost," Siegel said. "Then in the late 1990s the Internet offered new and cheaper ways to do research. But instead of taking these new tools to people who have never been able to afford research before, most firms marched to their Fortune 500 clients and told them they could do it cheaper."
The new Internet polling tools allowed established research firms to do more and cheaper work with their existing clients, but few firms used them to approach new clients, Siegel said.
That is the group Meliora Research aims to reach.
"There are a lot of organizations that always thought of market research as something they couldn't afford," Siegel said. "Maybe if they had $5,000 in their budget that could squeeze something out, but it wouldn't be anything too interesting or enlightening. That's not the way it has to be anymore."
Siegel has been doing research himself in the past few months, networking and doing some pro bono work with organizations to learn how they are using tools like Survey Monkey, an online survey and research system. He found that many are using programs too cheap to learn anything from their clients, and many others do not know how to properly interpret results.
"We found that there were a lot of companies that, if they could just hire someone for a few hours to teach them how to use the tools and how to put together questions, it would make a big difference," Siegel said.
Siegel compares the situation to a small company keeping its own accounting records. A business owner might do the bookkeeping on a software program but send the records to an accountant at the end of the year to identify errors and find the most tax deductions.
These small companies can take the same approach with research, Siegel said. For a few hundred dollars, they could hire a consultant who unlocks their ability to connect with clients and do research.
Reaching this group could open up many possibilities for Meliora Research but would mean going outside the comfort zone of the research industry, Sanders said.
"There are a lot of companies around here that routinely do market research, and if we work with those companies, they would be familiar with us and we would be happy to work with them," he said. "But there's a lot more that could be done, a lot of small businesses and non-profit groups that haven't even thought yet about doing market research."
Meliora Research already has a few openings to reach clients, Siegel said. One is with companies using QR codes for smartphones and other mobile devices. Customers can scan these codes, take a brief survey, and in response receive coupons.
Siegel said this is a great tool for small, locally owned restaurants not connected to major chains.
"You could have every smaller restaurant in Rochester doing this, and it would help them learn more about their customers," he said.
The company has another, bigger idea to help clients connect with their customers. Sanders said the company envisions a Rochester Community Survey, a broad effort that reaches the metro area and allows companies to learn more about potential customers.
The community survey would need enough companies to sign on for it to be feasible, which could take a few more months, Siegel said.
"There are lots of ways to get information nationwide," Sanders said. "But we thought it could be very useful to have something similar in the Rochester market for the local companies or non-profit groups that want to understand something about the opinions or preferences or behaviors of a certain group."
Since the company was started in December 2012, gross revenue at Meliora Research has topped $100,000, Siegel said. He and Sanders are the firm's sole employees. There is room for more growth, but it will take a careful approach, Siegel said.
"What we've learned from people is there's a real need for this kind of approach, but the challenge will be connecting with the businesses and finding price points they can afford," he said. "We know we have a lot to offer them."
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