focus group facility

Facility Shake-Out on the Horizon?

Is a shake-out looming among focus group facilities?   Its definitely a topic among researchers at conferences and wherever “old quallies” gather.  The conversation usually revolves around the obvious fragmentation of our industry with all the new methodologies and capabilities popping up.  The speculation is that many facility owners may simply be holding on until their expensive, long-term leases expire so they can close down the facility.  There is no way to know if this is true.  If so, it represents a major shift in our industry.

The specter of a facility shake-out was raised anew with Leibowitz Market Research‘s announcement that it sold its facility building in Charlotte after 50 years in business.   They are “retooling” to better meet today’s needs.  Stay tuned.  Even so, it reminded me of other friends who have closed and moved on.  I wonder if there are more closings just over the horizon?

I don’t expect the facility business will completely go away any time soon.  But, we have to ask the question, “Will there be enough business to go around?”  If not, “What will the surviving industry look like?”  I think we will see many more closings.  The trends suggest it.  Business is fragmenting.  Owners are aging.  Leases are expiring.  Big firms are flexing their muscle.  Schlessinger keeps growing, Focus Pointe Global had a capital infusion. Fieldwork seems to be maintaining its network.

MRA’s 2012 Blue Book lists 424 facilities in the U.S.  The 2013 edition will come out soon.  I wonder how many will be listed then?

Fortunately, at 20|20, our facilities have been healthy and are adding capabilities to “retool” for the times.  So, its a little difficult for me to judge.  However, the signs point to a new age in the facility business.  If a shake-out is coming, lets hope for a soft landing.

 

New Online “Homework” Tool for In-Person Qual

Lets face it, focus group “homework” has not entered the 21st Century.  For decades, we sent respondents paper and pencil assignments or “diaries” and crossed our fingers hoping they will complete them.  Sometimes, you can find them completing the homework in the facility parking lot.  Some people forget completely.  Even when such “homework” is successful, it is hard to distribute, hard to collect and hard to analyze.  Plus, we researchers rarely get the assignments completed and analyzed in time to actually use the insights in our focus groups.  So, homework becomes yet another item to analyze when the groups are over.

Recent “innovations” such as email have helped marginally.  Email helps get assignments out faster and helps us to collect them.  But, it does not expand our capabilities or help us organize and analyze the homework.

So, 20|20 went to work to begin to solve this problem.  The result is a new  “Homework Tool” that is a modified version of our online qual software, QualBoard®, QualBoard Mobile™ and LifeNotes™ smartphone app.  Researchers can ask open-ended or closed-ended questions.  Respondents can respond with text and they can upload pictures or video from a desktop or mobile device.  Researchers can see respondent submissions almost instantly for virtually in-the-moment analysis.  So, the findings can be incorporated with the discussion guide to make the groups more efficient and insightful.

Because the Homework Tool is a modified version of the popular QualBoard, QualBoard Mobile and LifeNotes software, it is already fully-featured and battle-tested by 1000s of researchers and respondents worldwide.  Compared to current “homework” methods, this tool is faster, easier, more efficient and secure than today’s typical methods.

Why is such a tool important to a researcher?  Here are some reasons:

  • Accuracy.  Respondents can record activities and opinions from their desktop or mobile device.  These “in-the-moment” responses are more accurate than methods that rely on memory.
  • Compelling.  A picture is worth 1000 words.
  • Timely. No more paper assignments completed in the facility parking lot just before the group.
  • Complete.  20|20 monitors participation so non-participants are identified early and prompted to get started.
  • Efficient.  The researcher can analyze the information as it comes in allowing thoughtful changes to the discussion guide, resulting in deeper insights in the overall project.
  • Secure20|20’s software and process are secure to keep your data confidential.  We are compliant with the following standards:  PCI, HIPAA, ISO27002, and EU Safe Harbor.

Importantly, 20|20 provides project managers to manage the homework so you can focus on your research.  A 20|20 project manager helps customize your homework for online, monitors participation and helps with timely delivery of the results.  The researcher does not have to figure it out on his/her own.  Plus, 20|20 can manage the homework assignments anywhere, not just our facilities in Nashville, Charlotte and Miami.  Currently, the system is available in English and Spanish.
Susan Brelewski is taking the lead on the rollout.  If you are interested or for more information, you can contact her at 704.494.7873 or [email protected]  You can also download a product description here.

Are Focus Group Facilities Dead?

“No more viewing studios. Clients can either come out from behind the mirror, or not attend groups at all,” says Andy Cooper in a recent online issue of research. His article, “Hear me out: Let’s get rid of viewing studios” argues that viewing clients too often use it as a crutch. He says viewing groups is not worth giving up an evening of “The Apprentice.” Mr. Cooper seems to believe that viewing studios (focus group facilities in the United States) are unnecessary and actually can be counter-productive. Why not just shut them down?

Since October is Conference month, I have spent a lot of time discussing the fate of focus group facilities recently. As online qualitative research has exploded, researchers are beginning to wonder about the fate of the facility with the mirrored window. Most people, including me, believe that qualitative research will grow.  However, with the proliferation of online qualitative research techniques and the new-found freedom researchers have to conduct qualitative research online have led to valid questions about in-facility research.

My personal opinion is that qualitative research will grow as a percent of total research spending. However, I believe the bulletin board focus group, webcam focus group, mobile qualitative research and other techniques will draw significant share of the work traditionally sent to facilities. Therefore, the facility business has matured and is not likely to grow significantly.

Are focus group facilities dead? I don’t think so. But I don’t see them growing significantly as a category.  Also, though I sympathize with Mr. Cooper’s desire to get clients out from behind the mirror, the method is helpful–and a well-run, interesting focus group sure beats a night with “The Apprentice.”

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