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Published: Saturday, 11/12/2005

Survey firm helps steer automakers

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Barb Kravetsky, a 30-year employee of the Maritz Automotive Research Group, works in Maumee's data processing center. Barb Kravetsky, a 30-year employee of the Maritz Automotive Research Group, works in Maumee's data processing center.
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When the auto industry is on a roll, business is good for Maritz Inc.'s research operations in Maumee, which handles three-fourths of the customer satisfaction surveys vehicle owners receive from automakers.

Business is even better when automakers start to sputter. Then, input from customers about their experiences with dealership sales and service departments becomes even more critical, said Gary Eversole, vice president for Maritz Research's auto research group.

"When times get tough as they are in Detroit right now there is almost an increased need to understand their customers and behavior because they're really trying to retain customer loyalty," Mr. Eversole said.

With 400 employees and more than $100 million in revenue last year, the group conducts more than 40 million surveys a year by sending out questionnaires in English, Spanish, and French throughout the United States and Canada. The facility also handles Maritz Research survey mailings related to nonautomotive areas such as retail, hotels, and financial services.

Proprietary surveys done for automakers typically ask a variety of questions, such as how long of a wait a customer had for a vehicle being serviced or whether a salesman exerted too much pressure. Maritz Polls, meanwhile, look at issues such as how recent gas hikes affected driving habits.

Gary Eversole, group vice president for Maritz Inc., says the 400 Maumee employees primarily handle auto surveys. Gary Eversole, group vice president for Maritz Inc., says the 400 Maumee employees primarily handle auto surveys.
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Maritz Inc. of St. Louis, the parent firm, got into automotive research in the 1970s by acquiring a string of small players. One was the former Rogers National Research of Toledo, and Maritz has been growing in the area ever since.

When the local group moved from Sylvania Township to larger digs in Arrowhead Park in 1999, for example, it had 300 employees and roughly $70 million in annual sales. Today, about half of the operation's employees work in such areas as information technology and statistics. The rest are production employees doing laser printing, mailings, data entry, and other tasks.

Customer satisfaction has become increasingly important for both automakers and dealers, said Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association. The association this year launched its own research system, called NADA-24, that surveys customers about their dealership experiences within 24 hours of a visit.

"It's a key issue because the competition is so intense in the industry now among the brands," Mr. Taylor said.

Maritz's auto group also does more than 1 million telephone interviews a year with vehicle customers as well as online surveys. Telephone work is done throughout the country.

The Maumee operation, which has long used advanced technology, delivers results to dealerships and automakers online, often as quick as 24 hours.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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