Tom Blazer looks at dual computer screens from his office in Mount Pleasant, pinpointing consumer spending and travel patterns of specific geographic areas.
At a glance
CEO & Founder: Tom Blazer
Headquarters: 528 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mount Pleasant
Concept: Software development company that uses demographic and consumer research and mapping technology to show the most ideal locations for retailers to place a new location.
Snapshot of clients: Dillard's, Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Radio Shack and Oreck.
"Here is an example where somebody is trying to do an understanding of whether or not they can put a certain store somewhere," he said, after a few clicks of the mouse. "You can see here in green there is a gap and there is supply that is not being met."
The color-coded analysis system is the brainchild of Blazer's company, eSite. The firm creates programs that incorporate scads of national, regional and local demographic and consumer research sources with mapping technology that covers real estate markets across the country.
Based on that data, eSite's software generates a detailed map that shows the most ideal locations for retailers to open a new location.
"It's hundreds of millions of pieces of information being queried to get to the answer we want about that particular location in the United States," Blazer said.
Hitting the target
Blazer, a former commercial real estate broker, founded eSite in 1997 to better understand commercial markets.
One of the company's first tasks was to help Spartanburg-based family restaurant Denny's with its development plans.
Since then, eSite's client list has grown, and so has technology to explain consumer habits.
Blazer stopped short of identifying all clients because of privacy agreements, but said many are "household names" that include Dillard's, Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Radio Shack, Oreck, Le Crueset, Buffalo Wild Wings and The Container Store.
The Container Store tapped eSite when the Texas-based storage retailer went public late last year.
"We helped them understand how much bigger they can be than they are now," Blazer said.
The task added to what company officials described as a long-standing relationship with eSite.
"Together we identify areas of our core customers, evaluate potential new store opportunities, and prioritizing target markets, (work) to secure the growth of our beloved brand," said Valerie Richardson, vice president of real estate for The Container Store.
Industry experts say aggregate geographic and demographic information is vital for merchants, offering factual insight for new locations and even which items to stock on shelves.
"These tools combined with the consultants' experience are very effective in helping companies find locations," said Denise Ogden, a retail expert and assistant professor of business administration at Penn State University. "In general, the location selection for a new or growing business is one of the most important decisions that are made. A mistake in site selection ensures that a business will close."
Blazer's company also sports technology for market research and other data analysis. It's a marked change from the early days of clunky three-ring binders and paper spreadsheets.
Automation has replaced a lot of work, which includes eSite's own programs that can crunch numbers and other information. The information comes from various subscription databases, and eSite's computer backbones are stored at remote locations, Blazer said.
The company also has forged partnerships with other firms like geographic information system software developer ESRI and Dutch-based navigation company TomTom.
Those deals have helped eSite create its Trip2Trade program, which gives clients - from retailers to health care facilities - access to TomTom GPS data that they can use for selecting store locations and improving existing operations.
"Here we are in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, in this sleepy little place, and we are doing some pretty exciting work," Blazer said. "We work with some of the smartest, richest, they-can-have-whatever-they-want-in-the-world types and they trust us to make decisions that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars over time."
Blazer said one industry challenge is privacy of information, cautioning that eSite doesn't receive or store personal information.
"It's a combination of number of databases and we have consumer spending at every household, not individual households, but I know what people in your neighborhood spend and you're one of them," he said.
Blazer describes some of eSite's work as common sense that is boiled down into factual databases.
"It's things like you don't put a store selling coffee on a side of the road away from where consumers are driving home from work," he said. "All of this is common sense, you just have to have a high set of tools that go beyond intuition."
The company occupies a winding maze of small offices in a nondescript two-story building on the Johnnie Dodds Boulevard frontage road. Most of eSite's 20 workers are based in the Mount Pleasant office, which includes software architects and geographic information system analysts.
The workforce ranges from 20-somethings to those in their 70s. They run the gamut when it comes to educational backgrounds. Blazer says that helps shape unique programs for clients since "this is not something you can learn in school because we made it up."
"I'm joined by these like-minded people who can think methodologically," he said. "We can do something with that thought and we turn it into a machine that can do all this work."
Blazer says eSite has some other programs in the works, which will be an ongoing process since the firm continues to adapt to client needs.
During the recession, he helped companies downsize locations, and today the rebounding economy has some growing.
"Software is fuel," Blazer said. "We use it and we change it all the time, and we have morphed from what we were in 1997 to what we are now. I'm quite sure we will morph again as the world changes."
Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 or Twitter @TyrichardsonPC.
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