Attendees of the Sixth Annual STI: PopStats Research Conference and User Forum
came to Austin, Texas, on March 23rd to 25th to learn new developments underway
at STI, how technology impacts market research, and to discuss shop with their
peers in the market research industry. Nearly 100 attendees rated the sessions
in this two-and-a-half day conference as having a high level of relevancy for
their businesses and the speakers as informative.
Along with Robert's annual discussions of New and Major Initiatives Taking Place
at STI and the PopStats Methodology Overview, several industry veterans shared
their market research insight with the group. This year's conference was the
first to have panel discussions and featured two: including a panel of these
grocery researchers discussing their technology tools of choice, and one with
three retailers discussing their adoption strategies for new technologies.
STI's Max Fisher introduced STI: Colossus to the attendees and discussed how
the data could have been used in some markets to predict the "great recession."
Andy Verostek from Del Taco presented an innovative look at data-driven myth
busters. Stef Robinson from Panera Bread illustrated how the company created a
research strategy that lowered losses from low-performing store locations.
These speakers were joined by several others - who all made the sixth year of
this annual event another success.
This User Conference Report includes synopses of all the sessions. It is both a
review for attendees and an overview for those who could not attend the
Wed. March 23, 2011
Thur. March 24, 2011
Fri. March 25, 2011
SESSIONS 1 & 2 - STI PopStats Data Methodology, Robert Welch
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
SESSION 1 - What's New and Major Initiatives Taking Place
Presenter - Robert Welch, Synergos Technologies Inc.
At this year's New and Major Initiatives discussion, Robert made the following
- PopStats data's U.S. population estimates in April 2010 beat the U.S. Census
Bureau's estimates. PopStats was within 3,422 of the actual Census, announced
in December 2010. Meanwhile, the Census Bureau overestimated the population by
- Robert introduced a new corporate-level marketing program that includes two
action figures, named Xe and Athena. The campaign will officially launch this
year. These characters will appear in an ongoing comic-book-style series to
promote awareness of the value of data and downside of misinformation across the
- With the group's input, a decision was made to release the new 2010 boundary
files in October using Tiger files, until other geographic files are ready.
- A new, more robust extraction program will be released in July 2011 for STI
- Very helpful.
- Missed and sorry I did.
SESSION 2 - Top Growth Markets for 2011
Presenter - Max Fisher, STI
One way to understand markets is by looking at them from a historical
perspective, said Max Fisher, STI's Colossus Product Manager, during his
presentation. He analyzed several markets across the U.S., all culled from the
PopStats annual list of the top-growth markets. He applied several data sets
within the new Colossus econometric data product to analyze these markets just
before the recent "great recession." He found that using the economic data it
was possible to have predicted the recession in some markets.
"Population shifts and demographic changes are intertwined with economic
forces," noted Max. "Our research found significant differences in the economic
health of several of PopStats data's top-growth markets." A white paper was
distributed to attendees and is available on the STI website, called: "STI:
Colossus Data Predicts the `Great Recession.'"
- Robert enhanced this presentation with his insights.
- I would like this expanded and the detail on why the markets were succeeding
SESSION 3 - How to Evaluate New Technology
Presenter - Brian Strickland, Family Dollar; Dale Caldwell, Kroger; Glen Boyer, Ross Stores
Researchers from three companies discussed how they evaluate new technologies
before adding them to their operations. Here are some of the many insightful
answers shared by the panelists in this session:
Q: Do you have a corporate roadmap for technology adoption?
A: Dale: No. Our research team will review and decide on which technologies
we need. We are not just looking for the next new innovation, but for products
that have the potential to improve our efficiency, productivity, and accuracy.
Q: When examining new technology what drivers do you consider?
A: Brian: We ask ourselves: Does it add value? Can we optimize it? Can we
share the data across the enterprise?
Q: Do you go looking for new technology?
A: Glen: We do. Often new data drives our new technology decisions.
- This is my favorite session of the day. I really liked the topic and
SESSION 4 - Developing a GIS Department from the Ground Up
Presenter - Stef Robinson and Phil Weick, Panera Bread
In this session, two members of Panera's GIS Dept. described how they turned
around the process of site selection - from a system based mostly on real estate
brokers applying their "gut feelings" on "good deal," to one based on site
selection data, GIS technology, and an internally developed risk assessment
The impetus for change occurred in 2002, when the fast-growing restaurant chain
was opening more stores, but experiencing lower sales. Once the GIS department
ramped up with data and tools the team began finding the problems with their
site selection process, such as store cannibalization. Panera created a risk
assessment system that ranked store locations from 1 to 5, based on metrics from
its highest performing cafes including: population density, retail density,
daytime workers, and trade area size.
"The new approach achieved profound results," said Stef. "We reversed the
downward trend in sales, and did a complete about face."
SESSION 5 - Tried-and-True vs. Cutting-Edge?
Presenter - Liz Cruz, Publix; Rob Stewart, Wegmans; Tony West, Whole Foods
In this panel discussion, three researchers from three grocery store chains
talked about their company's approach toward market research, including the use
of research tools - both traditional and cutting-edge. Here are very short
excerpts of each researchers' insights:
Tony West from Whole Foods said: "We use a mix of traditional and innovative
technologies to find locations. We use gravity models and other models, as well
as lifestyle segmenting. We have a very specific consumer demographic and we
don't open that many stores a year, so we are very selective."
Liz Cruz from Publix said: "One of our leading strategies is prioritization.
We look for locations that match our specific demographics, which are quite
narrow. We don't use gravity models, but are always looking for the next tool
to improve site selection, as well as purchasing and loss prevention."
Rob Stewart from Wegmans said: "We will add new tools here and there, but we
are not really that cutting edge. We've just started applying segmentation to
our gravity miles and are exploring opportunities with that approach."
SESSION 6 - Technology Round-Up
Presenter - Research Vendor Demos: X-Span Results and Trade Area Systems
Two vendors overviewed their product and service offerings for the attendees.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
SESSION 1 - Using STI Data for Discovery and Creating Custom Variables
Presenter - Robert Welch, STI
Robert described a variety of simple mathematical and GIS techniques for
organizing, filtering, and highlighting data elements that allow researchers to
develop new conclusions about their markets:
Expected Value Indicator (EVI). This identifies the kind of growth that is
occurring in a market: for example, new growth, old growth, and plateauing
growth. EVI acts as a filter to the quality or character of growth within
periods of time. This works best at smaller levels of granularity.
Ethnic (Race) Concentrations. This is one of the most popular maps, showing
racial concentrations in four categories: Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and
Asians. It provides an informative color-coded map of these concentrations.
(Simpson's) Diversity Indicator. This can be used to visualize concentrations
of populations in different categories, such as race and wealth. It doesn't
show race breakouts, just diversity levels.
- Always helpful to be reminded of the less obvious variables.
- Very helpful to hear Robert talk about custom variables and creative
- Great side-by-side map comparison and illustrating maps that are
- Very helpful info that I will apply.
- Great job, need more presentations like this related to practical application
of your data and put it into practice. The teaching format is successful.
- My favorite topic!
SESSION 2 Data-Driven Myth Busters
Presenter - Andy Verostek, Del Taco
In an entertaining and insightful presentation, Andy presented a variety of common myths
about sub-segments of the population - and busted through those myths using STI
data, such as the following:
Myth: Language is the biggest barrier to growth in ethnic neighborhoods.
Reality: Researchers can apply PopStats "languages spoken at home" data to
determine the percentages of languages actually spoken in homes in a market.
They will often be surprised at the outcome.
Myth: Employers equals daytime population. Reality: A market with lots of
employers could also have a large population of night-shift workers or employees
who work from home. WorkPlace can help breakout the actual estimated daytime
employment numbers of a market.
Myth: Cities have personalities. Reality: Income levels are key. High-income
levels drive luxury retail and services. Middle incomes drive daily needs and
some indulgences. Low incomes drive bare necessities. LandScape helps identify
these neighborhood personalities.
- Love seeing how others use PopStats and other variables to analyze markets and
trade areas. Would be great to tap into the minds of other users as dynamic as
- Andy's use of the data was discussed very effectively. Love the addition of
- Fun, clear, and interesting.
- Came away with some great brainstorming ideas on things to do in our own
- Entertaining and interesting.
SESSION 3 - Location Intelligence - Going Beyond Demographics
Presenter - Wayne Geary, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL)
One of the keys to site selection for many companies is labor. They need to
first answer the question: "Where is the labor?" before they can ask, "Where
should we open up a business?" Wayne presented an over of a technology created
at JLL that helps companies find the labor they need to operate their
The system was created by spending $3 million dollars on labor and staffing. It
includes custom-built labor indexes using STI data, including PopStats,
WorkPlace, and Colossus. In fact, the econometric data in Colossus is one of
the service's key distinguishers.
"We were able to identify multiple geographies of opportunity for our clients,
thanks to our robust data populating the system," said Wayne. "We can tell our
clients with confidence, `here's the right location for your business.'" The
technology won the prestigious Da Vinci Award for Innovation.
- Understanding the corporate real estate application of demographics is very
- This is a company I could see us working with, so I found it interesting to
learn their data and global coverage.
- Nice to see a top-notch system and data set.
- Very interesting and cool applications of data and technology.
SESSION 4 - Display Holography: Historical Survey and Recent Developments
Presenter - Mark Holzbach, Zebra Imaging
Mark introduced and explained digital holography for the attendees. He provided
several interactive examples of the "hyper-realistic" technology in practice.
"Having it look just like reality is the goal," he said. "It's being used
currently in the military and is being commercialized to provide 3D
visualization for complex location-based decision making. It's one area of
technology that is growing - and many people are working on it."
- It sure was fascinating.
- It's nice to see a presentation that is interesting and fun even though not
- I found this entertaining and educational.
- Really interesting, but not something I could see us using in a practical
- Interesting, high-tech future outlook was a good topic.
- Cool technology, not very applicable, but interesting none the less.
- It was fascinating and awesome to see someone so enthusiastic about what they
SESSION 5 - The Perfect Location - Now What?
Presenter - Susan Cordts, Adaptive Technologies, Inc.
Once a location is selected, expectations for success run high within companies.
Everyone wants to see revenue, profits, and customer bases build - and quickly.
But sometimes, despite the best intentions and research, a site will
underperform. What can a business do in this situation? Susan addressed this
issue in her presentation.
She gave an example of a client who had two non-performing new locations. To
try to understand the problem, asked: Who are the actual customers? Once the
demographics were identified the stores made modifications in product offerings
and discounts to appeal to them.
"We help companies better understand the real story of their locations using
objective data," noted Susan. "By making business decisions based on that
research we turned both of these locations around within 12 months."
SESSION 6 - Assessing Retail Opportunity Using Market Outlook
Presenter - Sam Lowder, ROIC
How does supply and demand in a trade area impact market research? Sam explored
this question in his presentation using data from STI: Market Outlook. "You
can analyze trade areas on a finer gradient level using supply and demand data,"
He provided several examples of MO data in action. For example, if the data
shows that in a particular trade area the demand for auto parts is $1 million
dollars of business and there is already a supply of auto parts of $2 million,
the trade area would clearly be a high-risk location for another auto parts
store. MO provides an opportunity to find opportunity gaps that businesses
might otherwise miss.
- Good presentation and funny too :-).
SESSION 7 - Technology Round-Up
Presenter - Research Vendor Demos: Forum Analytics and Alteryx
Two vendors overviewed their product and service offerings for attendees.
Friday, March 25, 2011
SESSIONS 1 & 2 - STI: PopStats Methodology
Presenter - Robert Welch, STI
Robert rounded about the two-and-a-half day Conference with explanations of the
PopStats' methodology, the five-year forecasts, the 10-year projections, and
PopStats Expected Value Index.
Regarding the methodology, Robert said that the PopStats estimates are
calculated on multiple computers working together in a pseudo-parallel
processing manner. "We have created a self-correcting artificial intelligence
modeling system that learns from itself." Here is a brief description of the
Four models comprise the PopStats' model:
- Zip+4 Model. This model is based on over 28 million ZIP+4s, representing over 116 million households. This model is the primary determinate in understanding population growth and decline. Vital to the process is that STI maintains its own street files that feed into PopStats, because "we do not want spurious third-party data entering into the calculation."
- Postal Delivery Model. This model is based on postal delivery statistics provided by the postmasters in each market across the country. This model's primary purpose is to understand trends in existing populated areas.
- Spread Model. This model, which is based on macro-level postal counts, performs double-duty: It both calculates populations in rural areas where ZIP+4s are limited, and serves as a checks-and-balance for the previous two models.
- Census Model. This is the grand master of all the models, which STI also calls the "black box." It pulls together the other three models using an extreme set of heuristics (if-then questions). In short, it is the final decision-maker of the estimate.
The PopStats methodology includes automated processes for overcoming any and all
anomalies present in the data, including ZIP+4 inaccuracies, data smoothing
issues, conversions (lofts), and overrides. If a client has a question about
PopStats' estimates, Robert will research the issue. The client should first
gather as much detail as possible, include any third-party evidence that
supports his or her position, and be patient during the evaluation process.
Robert will verify the issue, check the underlying data, check soft sources, and
report back to the client in a timely manner.