The familiar real estate adage stressing the importance of location still rings true in today’s competitive business economy. Understanding where a new business location is best suited involves more than selecting a busy street or successful shopping center. Today, multiple layers of information can be extrapolated, incorporated and analyzed to create a literal road map for successful business development. Providing an extraordinary level of analysis is the business model of the newly formed Datastory Consulting, a MacKenzie Company. Under the leadership of 18-year veteran of the technology Matt Felton, President, along with his team of GIS Specialists, Datastory develops intelligent and informed business analysis in easy to read maps that enable the client to “see” beyond the spreadsheet. Based on client criteria, Datastory compiles data in multi-layered map-form in such a way that businesses can determine where their next location should be physically, and why. They can also apply this intelligence gathering into maps that target marketing efforts toward the right audience, leading to better decisions for client investments in both the short and long term.
Datastory’s premise is that every business has a story. They utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and research to provide the story and outcomes. “The story is already written,” says Felton. “We gather information from local, state, federal and proprietary sources to begin the process, and use maps to illustrate the story.” While Felton makes it sound easy, they utilize multiple resources, including sophisticated software, intuitive research and psychographics to interpret the mass of data available. Psychographics are key to creating a picture of customers – who they are, what they value, where they live and play, what they buy, where (and what) they drive, whom they support – in other words, they can reveal buying habits, opinions, interests. Layer this with demographics (age, home values, income, etc.) and infrastructure (density, mobility, etc.) and you begin to see the capabilities of the reveal.
“Owners are best at managing their business.” said Felton, “By generating a map-based perspective on consumer trends and lifestyles, business leaders are given insight into what their organization needs to do in order to thrive and where best that prosperity will occur.” This kind of information is valuable to many businesses, especially so in fields such as health care, banking, real estate and nonprofits. “Maps are a visual compilation, with layers of color-coded data that can be manipulated so that piles of charts and graphs are turned into a readable story specific to a business goal,” says Felton. “They explain the ‘why’ of the ‘where.’” Beyond the short term, GIS can extrapolate a big picture of what a business’s current trends might look like down the road, crucial information for planning purposes.
The relationship between Planet Fitness of Maryland and Datastory illustrates this successful partnership. The franchise has seen incredible growth with 20 locations in Maryland. Datastory provides information, in map form, to answer questions like: what real estate is available to buy for the next location? How close is it to an existing store? Who lives in that area and will the addition of a Planet Fitness be a good fit for them and for the franchise? Maps and analysis produced by Datastory and MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate help to answer these questions and reveal many others by tracking changing markets and then speculating where the next group of potential members is waiting. Planet Fitness uses a map in which its membership lists are turned into color-coded dots based on club-affiliation. The information from current members helps these business partners see emerging patterns that predict trends of where new clients will be and when they likely will need a Planet Fitness near them.
Felton got his start in maps at Towson University where his interest in geography was sparked by a mandatory course, which quickly developed into a passion. He double majored in Geography and Economics, and received his Masters in Information Systems from Johns Hopkins University. Because of Felton’s experience with both the developmental and applied uses of GIS, he was tapped by Governor Martin O’Malley for a seat on the Executive Committee for MD iMAP, an open portal offering access to multiple levels of Maryland mapping data, integrating data into a network that is more efficient and user-friendly.
Felton and his team are self-proclaimed “geeks” and love what they do. “Every story is unique,” says Felton. “Each client is a unique experience and offers an opportunity for creativity,” he continues. “The challenge is to be as prepared as possible and provide our clients with the specialized service they need.” The expertise behind the maps that Datastory creates offers a common language for the “tech guys” and the “business guys” to use to apply appropriate questions, then provide answers and business solutions.
–Vicki K. Franz contributed to this article.
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