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Catawba College students are getting hands-on experience in marketing research by helping ascertain why people visit downtown Salisbury on special themed event nights.
The upper class students, all enrolled in Dr. Phillip Frank’s marketing research class through the Ketner School of Business, began gathering their research this fall using a customized survey to query downtown visitors. They collected surveys from Friday Nights Out, beginning Sept. 20 with Kids Night, with special activities set up for children. They continued gathering survey responses on three additional evenings: the Oct. 4 “Fall Leaf Festival,” which included different music venues set up in the downtown area; the Oct. 11 “OctoberTour Night,” which featured a Zombie Walk and contest; and the Nov. 1 “Sip and Shop.”
Individuals attending these events interacted with the marketing students and responded to prompts or questions on the survey. Most responses were made by the individuals using a Likert-type scale (i.e. 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree), while other questions required individuals to select from one or more answers. Some of the questions or prompts included: “How did you arrive to (this) Salisbury, N.C. downtown special event?” “How did you hear about this event?” “I go on trips primarily for the following reasons.”
Students also gathered demographic information from the respondents who were willing to complete the survey, including gender, age, zip code and marital status.
“We are looking at what brings tourists into downtown Salisbury,” Frank explained. “This survey will give the students an opportunity to get a real-life marketing research project under their belt before they hit the job market.”
Frank said that a number of the questions used in the survey came from the 2010 strategic plan survey that was completed by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce. He added that before the survey could be undertaken by his students, it had to have the approval of Catawba’s own Institutional Review Board, a faculty committee that approves all academic research before it is conducted.
“This was for the protection of the participants,” Frank explained.
Now, back in the classroom, students are analyzing the data they’ve gathered and learning to use a special software product for doing so — SPSS, an IBM product used for statistical analysis of social science data. During a recent class period, Frank told them not to be so concerned about the sample size from each evening because the numbers would be converted into percentages.
“Proportion negates sample size,” he admonished, and warned, “a survey can only show so much.
“The students need to interpret what their observations are saying. They were taking pictures, taking notes of what they saw, and gathering direct quotes from the survey takers to reinforce what the survey says. All of this is done to get at the heart of the research. Each night’s events could tell a different story.”
In addition to Frank’s students, three Salisbury non-profits and many of the downtown businesses will ultimately benefit from the results of the marketing survey. They include the Rowan Economic Development Commission, Salisbury Downtown Inc., and the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Before the fall semester draws to a close, the students will present their findings to representatives of these aforementioned organizations and to other interested individuals between 3 and 6 p.m. on Dec. 9 in Tom Smith Auditorium on Catawba’s campus. A reception will follow the presentation.
Frank’s students conducting the marketing survey include Jacob Breig of Greenfield, Minn.; Jordan Greene of Oak Island; Emerson Hughes of Windermere, Fla.; Jacob Jester of China Grove; Kimberely McConnery of Welland, Ontario, Canada; Trevor Sieracki of Austin, Texas; Savannah Tomlinson of Remsenburg, N.Y.; and Kimberly Weemhoff of New London.

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