Friday, February 19, 2010

[FIND] Lexicon - Snapshot Demographics

Redefining the term: think portraiture in a world of snapshots.

Several demographic data providers offer what they call “snapshot demographics,” a quick glance at the demographic profile for a predefined area. These demographic profiles include very basic information gleaned from U. S. Census data, maybe augmented with proprietary projections. You’ll see variations on the 1/3/5 mile rings around a specific point, a set 25-mile radius, or maybe even a defined neighborhood. The data includes population, households, population by race, % owned, % rented, and some level of data relating to income.

The website offers a demographic analysis tool they actually call “snapshot demographics.” It’s a tool that distills the data down to two vital data points: median income and population.

For broad-brush analysis, these tools are excellent to get a developer started--a way to quickly identify areas that meet their criteria, areas that fit within their investment parameters. But what if there’s no neat, two-data-point indicator for a specific property? What if an investor knows, through experience, that a specific district within a broader neighborhood, despite the indications of the demographic profile, is ripe for development? What if a business owner wants to put a boutique retail store in a spot that, left to the auto-generated demographic profilers, doesn’t appear to meet their investment parameters?

Our answer: [FIND] demographics, portraiture in a world of snapshots. Not to keep beating the analog horse, but let’s ride this one a little further. Think of a snapshot of you. A picture that someone took of you…I don’t know… Maybe you just finished flipping burgers over a hot grill, just got out of the water at the triathlon, you look tired, sweaty, worn out, beat up. The light is bad, your face is shadowed, and your love handles are a bit too visible. Would you want anyone to base their opinion of you on that one picture?

Now think of a picture taken by a professional photographer. NO…not glamor shots, but a true professional photo taken by someone who spends the time to know you, to capture your personality. The lighting is painstakingly arranged, the film is carefully selected, and the clothes you choose are your favorite and best fitting. The picture is…well, it’s a picture of you.

In the lexicon of [FIND] Investigations, snapshot demographics is more akin to the latter. While we don’t set design and hand-pick the demographic indicators, we do take the time to observe, document, and analyze a specific location. We get to know the place, study it, provide you with a focused, street-level, clear picture of the demographic make-up. Of course we’ll gather the requisite Census level data, information freely available to anyone with a half-assed connection to the internet. We will also provide you with a detailed profile of the neighborhood (maps, graphics, growth trends, real estate value trends, etc.), a thoroughly documented profile of the people who visit the area as a point of destination (whence the customers come, where they live, how far they drive, what they drive, etc.), and detailed real-world information on competition within the neighborhood as well as competition from similar businesses in other (similar) areas.

In short, [FIND] Investigations' version of snapshot demographics is a detailed portrait of a specific place. We provide clarity.

[FIND] Demographics: Portraiture in a world of snapshots.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Snapshot Demographics: the pursuit of real, street-level intelligence requires the art of patience.

Recently the [FIND] team found itself in Apalachicola, Florida. We were not working, just traveling from one job to the next. In our never-ending pursuit of excellence in dining, we strolled through the grid of streets that makes up downtown Apalach, a four or five block neighborhood with boutiques, restaurants, and antique shops.

We settled on Hole in the Wall Seafood and Raw Bar. It was the restaurant’s first night open, and we sidled up to a long high-top table to share a simply-prepared and delicious low-country shrimp boil and a bowl of homemade gumbo.

It quickly turned into one of those nights. Owners Jeff and Debi Fletcher–the kind of people whose warmth and openness immediately puts you completely at ease–poured us a couple of glasses of complimentary white wine as an anniversary gift. The next thing we knew, they closed the shop, pulled out guitars, and commenced with the serious fun. Before the night was over, we’d come to feel quite at home there, as if we were among old friends, and Debi had even wrapped up to-go dishes of seafood casserole for us, without being asked, in case we got hungry again.

Jeff, the brilliant 50/50 partner in the venture, and I had a long chat about opening restaurants. I asked him about the process…, site selection, figuring out what’s going to work. Jeff told me a story that, well…sure sounded a lot like surveillance.

Jeff sat across the street from the storefront, the one soon to be called Hole in the Wall, for several weeks before they settled on the spot. He simply sat and watched. See, they had already narrowed it down to a few sites, but liked this one best. They still weren’t certain their concept would work. So Jeff sat… and watched. He made note of how many people walked down the street. He kept a log of which nights were heavy with foot traffic. He observed the stores and bars on the street and realized that there was no where in the immediate area that served simple, family style food: a place where a guy returning from a day fly-fishing on the flats could sit and grab a snack while his wife ambles her way through the antique shops; a spot to grab a late night snack after the party down the street. He identified a gap in the market, a need. He was, by virtue of taking the time and patience to sit and watch, better informed than most new restaurateurs.

His willingness to set up surveillance, to document and make note, and to observe human behavior was the key to their making the final decision to dive into the restaurant business. The very backbone of the investigative process applied to a real-world situation.

I spoke a couple of months ago to a marketing guru here in Nashville. We discussed the idea of putting our investigative skills to work for someone looking to open a restaurant. The idea was simple: watch the competition, observe, document, and analyze their clientele. Identify gaps in the market, niches, and unfulfilled needs. Then we could take that information to the client and advise them of our findings. Sure, there are relatively inexpensive demographic profiles available to retail developers, broad-brush tools that offer a socioeconomic picture of a predefined area. Our approach to this type of analysis, however, is called snapshot demographics: a single, focused, clear picture of a specific situation, a more analytical and street-level demographic profile.

Turns out…our brilliant new idea had already been put into practice by an intelligent, well reasoned, restaurateur in Apalachicola.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

[FIND] Science: Our Eyes Miss What's Rare

Julianne Greenberg spends most days staring at images of women's breasts. She's a radiologist, and it's her job to search hundreds of X-rays every day for signs of breast cancer.

She admits, she's looking for a needle in a haystack.

In that, she's a lot like airport baggage screeners scanning thousands of suitcases a day for what's incredibly rare - weapons, bombs, or anything else that could threaten the safety of airline passengers.

On NPR's All Things Considered, Alix Spiegel reported yesterday on recent studies that looked into how the brain works when performing visual searches for something rare or difficult to see - such as breast cancer amongst thousands of healthy breasts, or a gun inside one single piece of luggage.

As for whether trained experts in the real world can overcome this "prevalence effect" (i.e. people's tendency to miss anything rare), scientists are still investigating. Meanwhile, as reporter Spiegel concludes, we'd all best be realistic about the imperfections of the human brain and, as PIs, our ability to spot a subject's generic black SUV every time after six hours of watching a busy street full of similar vehicles.

Hear the story (or read a transcript) here at NPR's website, where you can also take a quick test to find out how well you notice small changes in a visual landscape.