SAN DIEGO – In the 1980s, you needed a car, a street map, some economic data and a notebook to evaluate sites for a new restaurant. “You’d spend hours driving around the market, scouting locations, looking at the competition, studying demographic characteristics of the area,” said Rob Reiner, director of real estate research at Darden Restaurants. “The belief was that you were an expert in the market.”
Such instincts, born of experience and tradition, continue to play a role today in location-based decisions like market research, site selections and operational decisions in industries such as retail, real estate, restaurants and manufacturing. But as business leaders realize ways they can analyze location data in conjunction with other strategic information to improve performance, they are supporting the adoption of analytics that include maps.
That was a key message from executives at the Esri Business Summit, held July 7 in advance of the mapping technology company’s annual user conference here. It is a shift that has been going on for years, participants said, slowed not only by business traditions, but also by the challenge of gaining traction within corporate IT environments. That leaves location analytics in need of business champions with the authority and budget to pay for their acquisition and implementation.
Speakers described their change management experiences on this path for about 500 attendees. At Darden, which runs Red Lobster, Olive Garden and other eateries, Reiner said business leaders drive his team’s work on market forecasts. That support has led them to build custom analytics, market segmentation studies, customer profiles, all bolstered by their including a location component, he said. “Field work still has value. This [work] is still a combination of art and science. But the acceptance of the tools is getting better,” Reiner said. The key is the quality of the tools and the skills of the users. And while geographic information helps management visualize and analyze data, the tools are just a piece of a bigger analytic process.
Where People Walk in the Mall
Real estate professionals at The Shopping Center Group have been evaluating locations and managing retail sites for 30 years for companies like Home Depot, Whole Foods, landlords and commercial developers. In 2011, the Atlanta-based company decided its 10-year-old GIS system was obsolete, said Gregg Katz, the company’s director of innovation and technology. The company chose the Esri platform after a 14-month evaluation process that ensured the system would meet requirements of 350 retail clients and 400 landlords who would receive access to real-time data.
That evaluation addressed the culture of the real estate industry and the need to empower new kinds of decisions, Katz said. “Commercial real estate has been a technology laggard,” he said, adding that managers “hate change. If it’s not simple it goes away.”
At the same time, The Shopping Center Group considers its brokers’ knowledge of local markets a key differentiator. For example, one retailer recently shared with pride the output from a site-selection software program that identified a prime new store location that the Group’s brokers recognized was the address of a cemetery.
Now the implementation is advancing cultural changes while also providing opportunities for new insights that emphasize using visuals to tell stories with data. Katz said his team began experimenting with kinds of analytics from Motionloft that uses sensors to track pedestrian traffic patterns in a shopping center, to show where shoppers enter and what times of day are busiest. The results indicated that rents could be higher on the side of the mall attracting more pedestrians, he said.
The illustration is another piece in the quest to “educate people how to tell a story” with location-based data. “We all have the same challenges in keeping up with technology changes,” Katz said. “It’s about making sure that everyone understands what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. … It’s going to be an ongoing process.”
Further along the path was Brad Puckett, GIS manager at Little Caesars. The quick-service pizza restaurant chain is implementing Esri’s ArcGIS software on iPads and iPhones. The idea is to give all users a common view of location data while encouraging them to buy in to a self-service model of consuming the applications.
“We give people the tool to find the information themselves and it frees us up to do more analytical things,” Puckett said. Those things include answering new questions such as how do stores with pick-up windows perform compared to stores without them. Which ones do better? And where are they?