Gaining valuable information through marketing-research projects

''Your opinion counts.'' That's the slogan adopted by Pat Heakin, who has been making opinions count for 20 years, as president of her own business, Heakin Research Inc., headquartered in Homewood, Ill.

When her children were almost grown, Mrs. Heakin looked around for something she could develop into a career and which, for a few years, would not take her away from her family. ''I decided I could do market research from home,'' she recalls. ''I got a few clients and put myself in business.''

From the beginning she was fascinated with what people said about the products they were using and with the ways that companies could use this valuable feedback information. She soon discovered that people needed a channel for getting gripes, thoughts, and wishes off their minds and that they liked the assurance that someone out there was listening and heeding.

From that beginning, her business has grown steadily to include 12 offices throughout the country, 80 full-time employees, and about 800 part-time workers. She now has a client list of over 300 manufacturers, advertising agencies, and research firms which cover the whole spectrum of products and services.

Over the past 10 years, she says, the whole field of marketing research has doubled or tripled. Companies cannot afford to make mistakes in today's economy, she explains. They want to be right about the products they present and to know that people want and need them.

That is why an army of marketing researchers works day in and day out, soliciting opinions on everything from the toothpaste people prefer to where they are planning to vacation. The opinions and attitudes of working women, Mrs. Heakin says, are of particular importance, because these people are hard to reach; because they have discretionary income of their own; and because their purchasing habits, as widely varying as they may be, are of intense interest to manufacturers.

''Voluntarily participating in a research survey, whether it is on the telephone, through the mail, at home, or in a shopping mall, can really make a difference,'' Mrs. Heakin says. ''This kind of field research (which also includes product sampling and opinion groups that are brought together for a couple of hours of discussion) often results in improved products and in new products designed to serve stated needs. People who are investing in and developing new products count on this very reliable information. It is often a signal to decisionmakers. It also works to keep bad products off the market.''

Typical complaints heard by marketing researchers include those about banks that are open only when you are working, grocery bags that don't last until you get home, clothing with no washing or cleaning instructions on the label, makeup that wears off in two hours, meat packaged so the fat and bone are hidden from view, and service stations that don't check your oil or clean your windows.

If you should be in doubt about the legitimacy of a person who terms himself a marketing researcher, ask for the name and telephone number of the company that he represents and check it out if you have any qualms. There are a few phony researchers around, but they should not discourage people from giving the useful information upon which business depends.

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