Jackson — When Dan Davis drew out a five-year business plan on a paper tablecloth at Scrooge’s Pub 20 years ago, he thought he had a pretty good idea for a research firm, one that might last until a better opportunity came along. But from the get-go, his best-laid plans went awry.
“My first client needed a survey done for a men’s clothing store in Jackson six weeks before we were scheduled to open,” said Davis, founder and president of Southern Research Group (SRG) in Jackson. “Being an entrepreneur, I couldn’t turn down the business. But the joke is that we had four phones on two folding tables, but we only had enough money to turn on three phones.”
Today, SRG is a marketing research and political consulting firm located in the landmark triangular building at the corner of Briarwood Drive and Interstate 55. The firm’s diverse client list includes Boyd Gaming Corporation, U.S. Postal Service, The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC considers Vicki Clewis, vice president of research and a 15-year company veteran, a leading expert in the field.
Davis has traveled the globe working on high-profile political campaigns, including the presidential election in the Phillipines and the prime minister’s election in Jamaica. He has done work for Mexico President Vincente Fox, three U.S. presidents and other politicians, ranging from local supervisors to U.S. senators.
The Impulse Survey of North America gives SRG the highest comprehensive score of any research facility in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, and compares it to firms in markets such as Atlanta, Dallas and Miami. The firm, which has lined its trophy shelves with countless POLLIEs, ADDYs and other awards, has 32 full-time employees and as many as 200 part-time workers manning three phone shifts.
SRG is the only research company in the state that is an accredited member of the Marketing Research Association and that is classified as a full-service operation, featuring a phone center, a focus facility and staff analysts.
Approximately 90% of the firm’s work is handled at its Jackson location, with the balance shared by SRG’s sister company in Virginia.
“I never dreamed we’d be in business this long,” said Davis. “It’s been a fun ride. I consider myself the luckiest person in business to get paid to do what I love.”
Davis grew up dirt-poor in Neshoba County, not realizing until the fourth grade that most people owned more than one pair of pants. A big break came when he worked on the Reagan presidential campaign in 1984, tirelessly alternating between raising money and setting up phone banks. After the victory, he came up with the idea of establishing a research firm in Jackson.
“The decision was whether to stay in Mississippi or go to Washington, and I wanted to stay here,” he said. “I had learned enough to know what didn’t work, so I thought I could give it a shot. Back then, my life consisted of picking up my free secretary, who’d worked with me through the Reagan campaign. I’d drop her off at the office at 7:30 a.m. and then work as a salesman during the day. Every evening, I became the phone supervisor. Around 10 p.m., I’d take home surveys and look at them until two o’clock in the morning. Every day, we did it all over again.”
Davis initially leased space on the second floor of the Woodland Hills Building, directly above Piccadilly’s Cafeteria. “Every night I came home, my clothes smelled like creamed corn,” he said. “I can’t stand the smell of it today. I remember I had to buy the lease out in six months and move on.”
The firm grew into one of the largest and most high-tech phone centers in the Southeast. Two years ago, SRG added a focus group facility on the fourth floor. Last December, because the firm had increased its clientele to a national scope, Davis changed the company name from Southern Research Group to SRG. “So little of our business is in the South anymore, so the connotation gave the impression that ours was only a regional business,” he explained.
SRG handles perception studies, particularly for banks and hospitals, and is also branching into city government. “Because of rising taxes and other factors, people are starting to be more sensitive to the value they’re getting from their city government, especially politicians,” said Davis.
Consumer research projects vary from customer service analysis to product development, and mystery shopping remains a healthy niché market for gauging customer reaction.
On-site surveys using handheld computer technology now garners instantaneous information for clients. Casino industry clients especially like the fast and accurate feedback so they can make customer service adjustments as quickly as possible, said Davis.
“Research is much more a critical factor today,” he said. “If companies don’t do it, their competitors will.”
Within the next 12 months, SRG plans to add another focus group facility to accommodate one-on-one professional interviews, and may add another focus group facility, one that reflects a living room setting. The firm might also pursue more mock trials.
“Overall, we’ll probably turn it up another notch,” said Davis. “We’re having too much fun not to.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.