Consumers will travel 17 mins to reach a local business

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When marketing a local business it can be difficult to judge how far you should extend your catchment area for attracting new customers. Small businesses neither have the time nor the resources to waste on targeting consumers who may not consider them local enough to be a viable business for them to use.

It’s more beneficial to target those consumers in your immediate area, but how do we know how far is too far for a local business? Just how ‘local’ do you need to be to attract new customers?

Enlisting the help of our US consumer panel with put this single, simple question to them:

How much time are you prepared to drive for to visit a local business?

We presented the panel with 13 business categories and asked them to enter a driving time against each category.  We had over 800 responses (all US based) to the poll and the answers are displayed & analyzed below.

Select Business Categories 

With literally hundreds of Business Categories & Sub-Categories in existence we needed to condense these down to a manageable amount so respondents could complete the survey easily, and so the results could be easily reported.  

We selected 13 sample categories which cover the majority of industries & sectors. If you don’t see your specific category then you you should be able to find a category that share similar traits & customer profiles with yours – e.g. ‘Specialist shop’ could be a bike shop or computer store, or for an Osteopath you can equate yourself to ‘Doctor / Dentist’.

13 Local Business Categories

Restaurant / CaféGeneral Shop
Clothes ShopDoctor / Dentist
Pub / Bar (don't drink & drive folks!)Gym/Sports Club
Specialist Shop (e.g. bike shop)Garage / Car Dealer
Hair / Beauty SalonYoga Class /Alternative Therapies
Wedding Shop / VenueRealtor / Surveyor
Accountant / Solicitor

How long would you consider driving to a local business?

There have 4 charts below which present the findings of this question and provide some interesting demographic splits.

But rather than just present the data in a bunch of charts we decided to create a simple, clear infographic which shows the key findings. This is our first-ever infographic and we’re rather proud of it! So please feel free to borrow & embed into your own blogs & presentations.

Driving Times to Local Businesses Infographic

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Driving times – All Respondents

Driving times - All Respondents

Key Findings:

  • Customers will drive further to a wedding shop than other local business categories
  • Customers will drive a shorter distance in search of leisure pursuits (eg. pub, gym, yoga)

Analysis:

A wedding is for many people a once in a lifetime event, so local businesses offering wedding related products or services can expect to attract customers from further afield.

Local leisure services such as gyms, sports clubs, yoga class, pubs & bars are considered less essential and will therefore struggle to attract as much business from outside the immediate local area.

Essential medical services such as a Doctors or Dentists will attract customers from further away. Interestingly clothes shops feature highly – possibly down to the personal nature of the product – consumers are far more particular the clothes they wear compared to say the items they may find in a general store.

How far will different age groups travel to a local business?

How far will different age groups travel to a local business?

 Key Findings:

  • Very little change in habits depending on age
  • Local business attraction has less to do with age and more to do with habits / preferences

Analysis:

It’s clear that overall, age doesn’t play a big part in the decision process. The average time that a consumer is willing to travel to a local business is 17 minutes and this has little change depending on age groups.

However, there is a slight change with the types of local businesses that those of different age groups will travel to. The categories of local businesses that showed the biggest differences in travel time are shown below:

How far will different age groups travel to a local business?

Key Findings:

  • Younger age groups will travel for longer to visit a local wedding shop / venue
  • Older age groups will travel for longer to visit an accountant / solicitor

Analysis:

There are two types of local businesses that produced notably different results for different age groups; Wedding shops and Accountant / Solicitors.

This may be more of a reflection on the importance of these two ‘events’. In 2009, the average age of people when they first marry was 27.9 (US), so it stands to reason that this age group would typically treat it as more of a special occasion.

It’s more difficult to suggest that one age group uses an accountant or solicitor more than another, but there is evidence to suggest that older customers will certainly travel for longer to visit one.

How long men / women will drive for to get to a local business

Whilst women will generally drive for a longer time to visit a local business (women = 17 mins men = 16 mins), there is very little difference overall. However, there are types of local businesses where there is a clear difference in preferred travel time between men and women: 

How long men / women will drive for to get to a local business

Key Findings:

  • Women are more willing to drive for longer to visit a local business that interests them
  • Men will travel further to reach a specialist shop, accountant, pub or gym
  • Women will travel further to reach a local clothes shop, car dealer, realtor, general shop, hair salon or yoga class

Analysis:

There are 4 types of local businesses that demonstrate the biggest differences in terms of gender – and in all 4 it is women who would drive for the longest. 

Women would travel on average:

  • 5 minutes longer to visit a local wedding shop
  • 4 minutes longer in to visit a local clothes shop
  • 5 minutes longer to visit a local hair / beauty salon
  • 3 minutes longer for local yoga class / alternative therapies

Although the majority of the differences are marginal, it does demonstrate that men and women view different local businesses with varying importance levels.

Ross Marchant Ross Marchant

About the Author

Ross is the Marketing Manager for BrightLocal. With 8 years SEO & content experience, Ross spearheads our marketing & CRM initiatives which focus heavily on creating useful & informative content. Ross coordinates the research program at BrightLocal which delivers unique insights into both the SEO industry & local consumer behaviours. When he's not analyzing data or creating great content, Ross is a passionate fan of Chelsea FC (who isn't?!).

10 Responses to “Consumers will travel 17 mins to reach a local business”

  1. Boyd Butler

    Ross, this is a very interesting survey. What strikes me is that most business owners won’t have looked at their market in terms of drive time and how this geographic element can be used to target potential clietns. Local SEO has a “name of town” focus but it shows that a drive time focus, perhaps expanding local SEO efforts to include neighbouring towns/villages within a certain drive time can have great benefits to a business in terms of getting leads online. Cheers for the insight.

  2. Gene Maryushenko

    I really appreciate the thought behind this survey and it’s attempt to describe local consumer behavior. However, I have a question for you:

    Why did you decide on using time as a variant vs. distance?

    The reason I ask this is because time and distance can be vastly different in terms of how far people are willing to travel. For example, in an urban area such as Southern California, one can make it from Orange County to L.A. in 30 minutes (on a good day) yet I can’t think of anyone who would actually travel that far to see a specialist / doctor. I can certainly understand that specialized services will attract people from further away, but your data could be skewed quite a bit depending on where people live. It would be a good idea to provide a little more background about your survey, where the people who took it live (urban vs. rural)

    Another thought: there is no indication whether the people on your panel have actually used businesses in all of the categories presented to them. Did you first ask if they used the type of business (perhaps recently, I know my memory is not that great going years back), then ask for feedback? Or were you asking for feedback from everyone despite whether they actually used such businesses in the past. Realtors, Accountants, Doctors, Specialist Shops – these are not exactly the types of businesses people use all the time. Depending on their qualification their responses could skew findings.

    It’s kind of funny that people would drive that long to a gym, maybe they count the total driving time as part of the entire time they were “at the gym”. I like your findings about wedding shops – shows how much people care about that special moment in life!

  3. Paul Stevens

    Great article and graphics Ross. I live in a rural area and it is a 30 minute drive to the nearest urban area with a population of over 10,000. So I am sure the numbers for local businesses around me will be different. Having said that, I am also sure the same principle applies.

    As well, as evidenced by the wedding shop travel times, if the purchase is large enough, or significant enough, marketing further afield makes sense. It would be interesting to know the make up of your panel. Any consumers from rural areas?

    Your results are important enough that it would be worth it for a small business, or business group to run a similar survey for their own area.

    Just one more note. You do mention that the times shown are averages. If the results actually formed a bell curve, then it might make sense for businesses to consider marketing to a distance 20-25% further out than the distances listed here.

    Thanks for the very useful info.

    Paul Stevens
    Bootstrap Local Marketing

  4. Joe L

    Very interesting article. Thank you for publishing this research.

    I agree drive time would be probably one of the best ways to target local. I wonder how you would do it in markets with very unpredictable traffic patterns?

    In Southern California driving 15 minutes might take you 5 miles or less. 15 minutes in some medium sized cities would take you 10-12 miles.

    Is there a data source that you use that translates drive time into distance by geographic location? If not, how do you target drive time?

  5. Mary Bowling

    Hi Ross,
    Thanks for the local surveys. I’ve been enjoying them.

    It would be very helpful if you added some more info to your surveys, please. In this one, for example, I think it makes a world of difference where the people that you polled are located- UK?, US? Elsewhere? Everywhere? Thanks!

  6. Myles Anderson Myles Anderson

    Hi Mary – great to have you stop by the BL blog :)

    This survey was 100% US participants. We have made this clearer on the survey results now. We are able to filter our consumer panel based on country, age & gender. We don’t have too much detail on exact location within the country but will be finding our more about this aspect shortly.

    Thanks again, Myles

  7. Ross Marchant Ross Marchant

    Hi Gene,
    We did consider using distance rather than driving time. However, we thought that time travelled was more of a relative marker. Firstly we assumed that more people would have a length of travel time in mind as opposed to a specific range of miles, and secondly as you and others pointed out, people in different locations would have very different attitudes towards how local a business actually is depending on their location.

    E.g. travelling 20 miles to use a local restaurant might not seem unreasonable in a remote area, but in a large city or dense urban area the same distance may be completely unacceptable as a distance to travel to a local business.

    Having said that, the same can be applied to both sides – as Paul pointed out, a 15 min drive in one area could take you a vastly amount of miles to another area.

    I agree that it would be very useful to run the results again with the location data we have from the survey results. This will be something we’ll pencil in on our to-do list!

    Thanks to everyone for all the comments.

  8. Sid Raisch

    Then there’s the Internet website and online shopping venues that can “localize” any business as well as bringing one that is only a few minutes away a few keystrokes away.

    I I think you were wise to use time rather than distance. Also consider that specialized businesses may enjoy more frequent visits from their customers that live OR WORK closer.

    Another factor to consider is the commute time for work, which can be much higher than time given to shop.

  9. Douglas

    I live in Milwaukee, WI, and even in average traffic the majority of the city and nearer outlying areas are accessible within 15 minutes. It would be great to see this data adjusted for population size and/or metropolitan area size. But thanks for the great info as is, as well!

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