Census points way to success

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The Independent Online
WHEN Allders, the department store group, was looking to expand recently, it carried out detailed market analysis before making a pounds 13m investment. For a few thousand pounds, it was able to evaluate the site's potential for its business and find out what kind of goods it ought to stock if it made the move.

The company that carried out the work was CACI, a US-based international operation that builds up consumer profiles, market assessments and other information to sell to companies eager to put a little science into their plans.

Retailers, particularly supermarket groups, have proved particularly keen on the concept but other industries are catching on. Greg Bradford, CACI's managing director, admits that much of the work done lately for building societies and banks has been related to rationalisation.

He adds, however, that CACI's business is based on helping companies to expand.

CACI starts with census data, such as the results of the 1991 survey now being published by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. Although it isprohibited from receiving information about individuals, CACI does get data on small geographical areas of about 150 households, which is then analysed.

Using what Mr Bradford calls this 'basic building tool', the company produces an Acorn (A Classification Of Residential Neighbourhoods) that puts each small geographical area into one of 38 types.

The idea, Mr Bradford says, is that people living in the same area are likely to have similar incomes and spend their money on similar things. The value of such information to marketing people is obvious.

Karina Mellinger, CACI's associate marketing director, points out that a high degree of sophistication is not necessary: 'A lot of people may not think they've got a database. But a high street optician with a shelf of patients' record cards has one.'

Alternatively, somebody about to start their own business can save a lot of trouble and - for a small investment - a lot of money.

'A small restaurant opening in Richmond can come to us and for less than pounds 100 find out about their area,' says Ms Mellinger, who is keen to stress the role the geographical classification can play for small firms.

The results of the 1991 census show that the recession has altered the consumption picture across Britain. With affluent areas no longer as predictable as they were, companies that do not take the scientific approach may receive some unwelcome surprises.