The analysis aims to answer the quintessential question for any tourist town: where do all these shoppers come from? So merchants banded together in a collective effort to capture the zip codes of shoppers for two weeks this summer, once in early June and once in mid-July.
The first sign of a healthy business community was witnessed by the number of merchants that volunteered for the study.
“We had greater participation than anywhere we’ve ever done this exercise, and we’ve done it in much bigger towns than this,” said Aaron Arnett, an analyst with Arnett Muldrow and Associates, the firm hired to facilitate the study. “It blew them all out of the water.”
Waynesville had 65 merchants participate, most in the central downtown area, along with a few in Frog Level and Hazelwood and a couple along Russ Avenue.
But there’s more good news. Waynesville’s foot traffic is more diverse than any other town Arnett Muldrow has analyzed, judging by the number of different zip codes that cropped up.
“The number of unique zip codes is really the measure of a depth of the market,” Arnett said.
Shoppers with particularly unique zip codes, such as one shopper from Hawaii, may as well have been wearing a GPS tracking device. The data shows each place the Hawaii visitor shopped, bought coffee, ate lunch and then supper.
The consulting firm will ultimately dissect the data to learn more about the economy driving Waynesville. The hard data collected in the zip code study will be coupled with anecdotal and observational data collected through focus groups and public meetings to round out the analysis of Waynesville’s economy.
A big part of that analysis is the second-home market. The second-home variable was considered such a significant factor in Waynesville that the forms for merchants to record shoppers’ zip codes had two columns for second-home owners with a zip code here and somewhere else.
A cursory glance at the results from the first week of zip code collections indicates that second-home owners comprise 10 percent of the local buying power. Arnett said it will likely be much higher for some sectors, however. For example, several hotels and inns collected zip codes for the study.
“A hotel is not going to have any second-home clients,” Arnett said.
Lodging owners skewed the overall percentage by logging nothing but tourists on their forms. The same goes for two visitors centers that turned in zip codes. With the strictly tourist sector out of the picture, the second-home market will consume a much larger portion of the economy.
“We are going to have to slice and dice this a little bit more,” Arnett said.
The firm will actually slice and dice the data a number of ways, breaking down results by sector, such as art galleries versus restaurants, and by the districts of town, such as Main Street versus side streets.
The zip code study also is being conducted in Canton, where 15 merchants participated, nearly all of them from the central downtown district. Arnett said Canton’s participation was on par for what the firm typically gets from a town of its size. The firm was still entering zip codes collected by Canton’s merchants and did not have a preliminary overview yet. Arnett surmised that Canton’s business climate would reveal a more locally centered economy than Waynesville’s.
The study was instigated by the Downtown Waynesville Association and expanded to include other districts of Waynesville as well as Canton. The study is being funded by grants from several different sources: the Haywood County Economic Development Commission, AdvantageWest, the towns of Waynesville and Canton, and several local banks.
A second round of zip codes will be captured between July 15 through 22. Analysts hope all the same businesses that participated last time will participate again so they can compare the thick of tourist season in July with early June.