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Using Google Maps to Research your Market

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As the recession continues, my local high street has seen an increasing number of shopfronts either boarded up or shuttered. While it would be a good time for an enterprising business to grab some prime retail space, how would they know which vacant property is the right one for them?

As I said during my New Entrepreneur blog series,  before you start a business, it’s important to conduct market research to ascertain the viability of your business plan. If you’re going to go into retail, part of this is knowing where to place your business, and how much competition it is likely to face.

Using Google Maps for a bit of market research is remarkably quick and easy. Once you have the address of a vacant property that you might be thinking of leasing, you can use the “Search nearby” function to check to see how many other retail outlets are in the vicinity, and how many operate in the same business sector as you. Not only that, but you can also see where the local transport hubs are, which will give you an idea of whether your proposed store is convenient for pedestrians or will necessitate a car journey to reach you.*

An example: my local newsagent has closed and is currently vacant (the picture above is not my street, but a bit further up the road). Knowing its address, I inputted the postcode and had a search for other shops that would sell newspapers and cigarettes, namely bookshops, other newsagents, and supermarkets.  This brought up 18 other businesses within a short walk from the empty store, including one cluster where there was a choice of four shops virtually next to each other. If I were thinking about opening a newsagent, I wouldn’t consider the empty store a very good prospect.

In contrast, when I looked for  a bakery, there was nothing. True, most people buy their bread at the supermarket, but there is a butcher across the road from the supermarket on the high street that seems to do quite well. In fact, the nearest bakery turned out to be in the next neighbourhood, which is a way to go for a currant bun. So a prospective baker might find the empty store enticing, given the lack of competition.

What Google Maps couldn’t show is whether or not the empty store would be suitable for a new bakery. It isn’t. It is essentially a house that has been converted to have a small shopfront where one of the reception rooms used to be. It just goes to show that while internet searching might be good for initial research, there is nothing to be pounding pavement and checking the area out for yourself to make sure your research is accurate.

*Note: I realise, for certain regions, that Google Maps is not as detailed, so consider this post to be geared towards areas that have advanced mapping.

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