EARLY — Aaron Farmer, senior vice president for The Retail Coach, was the guest speaker at Friday’s Early Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Farmer engaged local business leaders on the importance of growth and retaining shoppers locally to stimulate the local economy.

Farmer and his team put together a plan for Early, and Brownwood, to increase consumer opportunities to shop more within the regional zone and pump more money into the local economy. The regional zone is an area extending from as far as Dublin to the northeast, to the area just south of Abilene in the north, to Brady and San Saba in the south and Coleman in the west.

“This area is a regional destination,” Farmer said of the Brownwood/Early shopping district. “You have a very large trade area. This is where we found 80 percent of your shoppers are coming from.”

One of the main facets of the study was looking at competition within the region. Farmer’s group took Abilene, Stephenville and San Angelo into consideration for its “trade area.”

“We pioneered a license plate analysis,” Farmer told the packed house at the Early Chamber of Commerce. “We can go into any shopping center, scan a license plate and determine the home address of where the consumer is coming from.”

During the study done in May, Farmer found that “80 percent were from that trade area.” There was another study conducted on Friday and another one is planned for around the start of the school year, according to Farmer.

“Having that kind of information is powerful – knowing where your consumers are coming from,” Farmer said. “National retailers use this information as well. There is a lot going on here in Early. There are some things that will be happening in the coming months. Discount Tire is coming. They should be opening in 100 days.”

Farmer is planning to get the information gleaned from the study out to business leaders in the next two weeks.

“In that retail trade area, we determined there is 82,255 people that are shopping and this is their home base,” Farmer said. “The Early/Brownwood area, this is where they are shopping.”

The average income, according to the study, is $55,346 and the median income is $40,000.

“Having this information, knowing about your consumer, that is important,” Farmer said.

Economic growth was spotted during the study, according to Farmer.

“What is good to see is this area is growing,” Farmer said. “The trade area is growing. About 32,566 households are within that retail trade area, and in the next five years we are expecting that to grow by about 2.73 percent. Seeing positive growth is a good thing.”

Another aspect of the study was a “leakage analysis.” According to Farmer, this occurs when consumers leave their home shopping region to go to another.

“I’m hearing people are leaving on a pretty regular basis for items they can’t find here or stores that aren’t here,” Farmer said. “Our goal is to reduce that leakage. Let’s focus by reducing the leakage by 10 to 20 percent. If we can get people shopping here maybe once of twice a month more than they have been, that is going to keep that money here.”

A gap analysis was also conducted, using figures from the Early and Brownwood markets.

“Because you are connected to Brownwood, in order for this analysis to be accurate we had to include Brownwood sales and Early sales and make them one,” Farmer said. “Actual sales, we are looking at about $485 million in potential sales in the two entities.”

Currently, according to Farmer, there are 84,000 people shopping in Brownwood and Early with $1.3 billion in potential sales. If national sit-down restaurants were added into the mix there would be another “$5 million or $10 million” and “that will help everyone.”

Farmer told the crowd of business owners and employees the data can be given to “national retailers and national developers” to “point out leakage and open retailers eyes” and “gives them information to share with their real estate team to make a decision to come here.”

Farmer was also pleased to hear about the Shop Local campaign that is underway, and pointed out some key figures to the initiative.

According to Farmer, 6 cents of every dollar spent with a big box retailer is re-circulated into the economy. However, 20 cents of every dollar with a chain store is re-circulated, and 60 cents of every dollar spent at a locally owned business is retained in the community.

“That is one of the reasons why putting such a focus on local businesses and shopping local is important, because that money stays in the community more,” Farmer said. “I am really excited about what you are doing with the Shop Local campaign, and where we fit into that. Education is key to independent, local business success. Businesses must operate as a business and not as a hobby.”

Brent Addleman is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. He can be reached by calling 325-641-3110, or email baddleman@brownwoodbulletin.com. Twitter: @BWD_Editor.