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Drive Research growth shifts into overdrive after opening first office

By Adam Rombel

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George Kuhn, owner and president of Drive Research, in the market-research firm’s new office and focus-group facility in the Sherwood Office Park on Buckley Road in the town of Salina. (ADAM ROMBEL/ BJNN)

SALINA — Less than three years after startup and four months after opening its first office, Drive Research’s revenue growth is speeding up and the market-research firm is expanding its staff.

George Kuhn started Drive Research in June 2016 as a solo proprietorship, working from his home in Baldwinsville. The business focuses on voice-of-customer and customer-experience research using surveys, phone interviews, focus groups, and other research methods to obtain data. Kuhn previously worked in market research for more than 10 years at other local market-research firms including KS&R and Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS), before working for Advance Media New York (formerly Syracuse Media Group) as its research director.

Drive Research has grown to a team of nine people — four full-time employees (including Kuhn) and five part-time workers to help with research projects.

This past October, Drive Research opened its first office in an 1,800-square-foot space in the Sherwood Office Park on Buckley Road in the town of Salina. It includes office space and a fully equipped focus-group facility.

“All data pointed to us needing to grow our team and our capabilities here in Syracuse to support the additional project requests,” Kuhn, sole owner and president of Drive Research, says regarding the need to open an office after operating as a virtual company for more than two years. “It was time.”

Revenue at Drive Research doubled in 2018 compared to 2017, Kuhn tells CNYBJ. Since opening its new office, the company’s growth has accelerated. 

Through the first three weeks of 2019, Drive Research was “halfway to how much we made in all of 2018 in revenue. So, we are growing fast after we [opened] this office,” Kuhn says. “We closed a government contract…doing the math we’re hoping to have a real good year,” he adds.

The new contract is with the Education Development Center in New York City. This specific market-research study is being done for PBS, according to Kuhn. Other Drive Research clients include the New York State Fair, Syracuse University, VIP Structures, NBT Bank, and Advance Media New York. It has also worked with national and international clients like Google, T-Mobile, and Clorox.

Kuhn says that Drive Research will soon grow to a staff of six full-time workers. 

“We’ve got two positions we’re looking for right now. We’re looking for kind of a facility/office manager — someone who can help book the facility, manage a team of part-time recruiters, and also manage the front office here for us,” he says. The firm is also seeking to hire a marketing coordinator.

 

New office details

Kuhn says he looked for a new office over a 12-month period, including several downtown Syracuse properties. 

“We wanted to be downtown. We obviously knew we wanted to do a [focus group] facility. We had a lot of clients requesting that. The issues with downtown, obviously the parking, the accessibility… it was rough,” says Kuhn. 

“So, this spot being really close to downtown, highway access…you know, you can see 81 and the Thruway right there,” he says, looking out the window of his office. “Parking is free on-site, which was huge for us… and the fact that we’re still really close to downtown, really close to the airport was huge for our clients.”

Drive Research signed a seven-year lease for its space at 6702 Buckley Road, which it moved into in late October. Kuhn says his landlord is Mufale Partners of Fayetteville. Onondaga County property records list the owner as Sherwood Office Park LLC, but describe the property as Mufale Office Lots.

As part of the custom office build-out, Drive Research offers a focus-group facility that includes a one-way mirror for clients to watch participants engage with each other about key topics like brand sentiment, customer satisfaction, and new product development.

“I’ve rented a countless number of focus group facilities across the country over the past decade. I wanted to make sure we offered some of this latest cutting-edge technology here in Syracuse,” Kuhn says. 

Drive Research randomly selects and recruits participants to come to the facility to include them in its research. It often includes 90-minute to 2-hour group discussions with a moderator leading the group. Participants are paid for their time and feedback, usually ranging from $75 to $250, depending on the project.

The company previously used local partners’ conference rooms and hotel conference/event centers to host these focus-group discussions, which it can now do at its own facility.

When asked how critical the focus-group facility is to his business, Kuhn says, “Pretty critical. We have a lot of clients who do qualitative research. We have a mix of national clients and local clients … If they want to do qualitative work, having an official facility is key. It’s really nice to have all the systems and equipment, where they can record it and it can be official and they can watch from a different room.”

In addition to the focus-group facility, Kuhn says having office space where the firm can meet with clients and prospects helps his company’s standing. “I think [having the office] adds a certain level of credibility. I wasn’t naïve to think that we probably lost some business that we weren’t aware of because we didn’t have a physical location,” he says.

Kuhn says he still intends to eventually open a downtown Syracuse office. But when he does, Drive Research will keep its Salina office for its focus-group work.