Data Collection: No Dashboard, Just an Ironing Board

As if to renounce one more convention of business, a Berkeley-area businessperson I know couldn’t find data, so he went out and got some of his own. He had to evaluate market areas.

For three days, he stood by an ironing board with a map on top in front of the Cheese Board in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. Each customer coming in or out got handed two stick-on dots, red to mark home and blue to mark work. His map quickly revealed patterns and commute routes.

As if to renounce one more convention of business, a Berkeley-area businessperson I know couldn’t find data, so he went out and got some of his own. He had to evaluate market areas.

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For three days, he stood by an ironing board with a map on top in front of the Cheese Board in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. Each customer coming in or out got handed two stick-on dots, red to mark home and blue to mark work. His map quickly revealed patterns and commute routes.

It was easy. “Everybody’s curious,” said Terry Baird, who had made a career of cooperative/collective food retailing. He had sold advertising for 10 years, and later found himself appointed to unravel the bankruptcy of a once-huge food distributor, an experience he calls “my MBA.” He approached it all without training, only logic and nerve, such as with the ironing board. “It’s like running a three-card monte. A group gathers around you.”

In 1996, he was part of a newly formed collective inspired by the Cheese Board. The new collective trained there as they decided on the new store’s location.

Terry’s question: would any of the proposed locations for a new store overlap another store’s market area?

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In three days, he had the answer. On weekdays, none overlapped. But on Saturdays, all did; that’s when people drove in from all over the Bay Area.

The best software might be the kind made without starch.

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