If you have ever passed by, or used the Texaco garage on Queens Road and wondered where that short pathway goes that runs between the petrol station and Papa John’s, well ponder no longer, for I have the answer. It leads to a small car park and building that belong to a company called Talk Back Studios. They have been there for 12 years now, although they have been in Beeston for over 20, having previously been based behind the Barrel pub on the High Road.
Talk Back are a small, family-run viewing studios, where market researchers come and interview groups of people about products and services and what they think of them. I have actually been there a few times myself and given my opinion on such diverse subjects as rail travel, energy company adverts and biscuits. People are recruited through external agencies and are selected by their profile, age, sex, social class etc, plus any other criteria that these companies require. It’s no use being invited to talk about nappies if you’ve never had kids.
The building itself was part of Thomas Humber’s cycle and car works, before becoming a textiles factory, then an engine workshop for a charity. There was another building in front, which was the car showroom, it’s where the petrol station stands. But it was destroyed in a fire.
The company was founded by Sue and Alan Harvey. Alan, a former marketeer with Thorntons, and Sue who ran the Merry Go Round Nursery on City Road decided to create a marketing company that would the best available in the East Midlands. And 20 years later, they have realised that dream. Their son Mike, a former photographer now manages the studio, as his parents have supposed to have ‘retired’. Although they still seem to work long hours there. Sue tends to meet and greet the respondents, while Alan makes the tea and looks after the clients’ needs. They also employ students from the university, through Unitemps to assist on an ‘as and when’ basis. While I was there a student called Chloe who is studying Public Health was assisting with the two groups that had arrived and was making sure that they got into the right room.
I met up with Mike at the studios and chatted to him at quiet times during the evening. Firstly, I asked him about the business. “We had outgrown the other building and were looking for somewhere bigger, and we came across this place. The landlord allowed us to gut the building and redesign it how we wanted it. We sandblasted the internal walls, and we have tried to keep the building’s history alive”. Reminders of the building’s cycling history can be found throughout the building, from photos of old bikes to the names of the meeting rooms. “We are also trying to be as green as we can. We’ve just about phased out single-use plastics, have installed LED lighting and will be getting a charging point for electric cars. We also had a reproduction made of the blue plaque that’s on the wall outside”. There are seven meeting rooms which can be rented during the day, as they are used during the evening for research purposes. These events tend to run from Monday to Thursday and tend to last ninety minutes to two hours.
Once you arrive, you are checked in and you sign for your fee. This could range from £30£70, depending on who the company are and what you’ll be discussing. You are then offered a drink and a snack while you wait. There are two sets of chairs, one red, one green. This designates which room you’ll be going in. The rooms have a one-way mirror so that company representatives can see what’s going on. Essential if it’s a very visual task, like arranging products in order of preference. The research is also recorded. In the past, this used to be on video cassettes. These days it is all done digitally, MP3 & MP4 and the files can be sent to the client via FTP immediately after the session. All mobile phones have to be switched off, as this can interfere with the recording equipment.
I asked Mike if they ever get any unusual requests from companies. “We’ve had a few. Once some sofas were delivered, as they were being tested by the group. We’ve also had seven toasters all working at the same time, as people were testing bread. But probably the most unusual request we get is when we have to dress the place like it is Christmas, but this can be in the middle of summer. Or in the middle of winter, we have to make the place look like you’re on a beach holiday. Sometimes even we don’t know who the client is so that we can stay impartial. But we have come across products that have been tested here.
If you want to earn some extra tax-free money, then go and sign up through some local agencies. The website for this is www. nottinghammarketresearch.co.uk