Goldmine of data: U.S. Census statistics offer valuable insights

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The U.S. Census was conducted throughout 2010, as it is in this country every ten years. What continues to improve is the business intelligence garnered from the data and the ability of the Census Bureau to communicate this information.

The relevance to the concession stand is simple: Sometimes we try new products, follow new trends, try creative ideas fresh from the drawing board, and sometimes we just go with the cold, hard facts. Data! It may feel like you get overwhelmed with it, but the new interactive website of the U.S. Census bureau is loaded with insightful statistics to help you build and manage your food programs.

Your ability to understand the consumer, and communicate directly through social media to that consumer, should include a trip around the U.S. Census data. Demographic representations of race, ethnicity, age and, of course, population are all charted for the largest city down to the smallest town. The website, 2010.census.gov., is now being fully populated with detailed census data, state by state, throughout the summer from June to August 2011.

How does this affect theatre concessions? Because knowledge is power and if you want to run a great concession stand versus an average one, know thy customer. What is the population of the town or city that your theatre sits in? What is the full demographic, including age, race and ethnicity? What does your primary region look like if all your locations are concentrated? What are your largest concentrated regions to focus on? Perhaps much of this data has been gathered the old-fashioned way, through multiple sources and spreadsheets. But this summer, the U.S. government is making it easier, faster and smarter for you to renew, refresh or begin your number-crunching. Just a few of the things that census data can help you with are social-media communication, menu choices, and distribution.

Social-media communication begins with understanding the demographic of the customers that frequent your theatres. Want to start a fabulous e-mail campaign program to all your customers? Better hope they are over the age of 20, because teenagers don’t e-mail. How about a texting program? What are the economic realities of your primary city centers? Is a texting program the most cost-effective means of communication? There are always Facebook and Twitter, currently viewed as normal social settings, not trends. Do you want Facebook pages for your company corporate or should some of your larger city centers of population have their own dedicated pages? Targeted approach versus national approach issues need clarification from the population realities of your sites.

Fact: There are now approximately 311 million people in the U.S. as of June 2011, and five states hold 115 million, or one-third of the population. Add the next five states and you have 155 million, so half the population of the U.S. resides in 10 states out of 50. So this explains why election tides swing on a few key states, why the most populous cities are found in these states, and why the demographics of these areas matter to you.

Menu choices are directly related to the people that you are serving. If you are serving an area that has a greater Asian population or Hispanic population, you may be able to increase sales with a sushi bar or churros at the concession stand, which have become quite common in California theatres. You also must look at household incomes to accompany ethnicity, which explains why the Palladium Theatre in San Antonio that caters to a large Hispanic population, but decorated in Greek style with a full gelato bar, has a sushi bar that does quite well. It’s a divergence from the normal food prepared at home and therefore a specialty. The size and demographic surrounding the theatre support its diversity very well. Menu choices are not always self-evident and census data can help.

The same fact quoted above also has a great impact on food and beverage distribution costs. The higher the concentration of delivery weight, gross dollars and general stops, the lower the distribution cost. Longer distances between stops and lighter loads per stop all correlate to lower-density population areas, hence higher distribution costs. This affects all food and beverage decisions in terms of menu choice, promotional item rotation, and new item development. Food simply costs more in remote areas and it’s a linear graph to lower costs in heavily populated cities. This will always factor into distribution costs.

Having to search for demographic data can be tedious and unfruitful. Take advantage of the information the government is providing free of charge, on a readily available, fully interactive website, based on the most current census of 2010. It’s worth your time to evaluate or re-evaluate the audience that you are selling to in order to better serve them.

Please send comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.