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Elmhurst College study explores city’s business appeal

ELMHURST – New businesses may be choosing to open in other nearby towns instead of Elmhurst because they don’t know what Elmhurst has to offer, according to a recent Elmhurst College study.

“We asked them if they could help us take a look at why people either open a business in Elmhurst or don’t open a business in Elmhurst,” said Assistant City Manager Mike Kopp at an April 28 Development, Planning and Zoning Committee meeting.

M. Kelly Cunningham, director of Elmhurst College’s MBA program, Elmhurst College alumna Erin Brice and current student Jane Gooby began working on the study in September with help from Sherry Smoak, Marketing Research Program director at Elmhurst College’s D.K. Hardin Center for Market Research.

Cunningham and Gooby, a sophomore marketing research major, presented their findings to the committee.

The study found one reason owners of new businesses gave for not choosing Elmhurst was they had little knowledge about what Elmhurst had to offer them and their business. Other reasons owners gave related to their existing clientele base in their current location and wanting to open a business close to where they live.

“They were unfamiliar with the demographics, and they were convinced it wasn’t a shop local town with enough customer appeal,” said Gooby of those who claimed little knowledge of Elmhurst.

The study relied on responses from businesses that opened within the past two years in 10 surrounding communities. While Elmhurst College received a 12 percent response rate – lower than the 20 percent researchers had hoped for – Cunningham believed his team discovered valuable information.

“The interesting thing is that a lot of the feedback we got was very consistent. So the validity of their responses and the accuracy of them filling out the surveys was pretty good,” Cunningham said.

Businesses which indicated they “seriously considered” opening in Elmhurst, but did not, were located in Glen Ellyn, Hinsdale, La Grange and Lombard.

The study also concluded that city support was not a large driver of new business, and the majority of business owners did research on their own about locations before opening their business.

Cunningham pointed out that Elmhurst provided more useful information on its website for potential new businesses than many other municipalities he and his students researched.

“I believe it when they say people don’t know what Elmhurst has to offer,” said committee Vice Chairman and Third Ward Alderman Dannee Polomsky.

Growing up in Naperville, Polomsky related she didn’t know much about Elmhurst until she visited later in life.

Committee Chairman and Fifth Ward Alderman Scott Levin pointed to niche businesses as a possibility to draw more business.

“That’s why it’s so difficult … People come from far and wide to pay $400 for a pair of jeans, but then other people come here because it’s an entertainment district,” said Kopp about trying to define the widely varied Elmhurst experience.

Committee member and Seventh Ward Alderman Mark Mulliner wondered about the future of brick and mortar businesses, especially bigger stores.

“You’re not seeing the big stores,” Cunningham answered. “They’re little chocolate stores, little wine shops, little niche businesses that seem to be attracting people in that town to that business.”

Cunningham said Elmhurst College wants to continue to research new business in Elmhurst, whether it be through creating a marketing research focus group panel, talking with local businesses, or by another means.

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