The Ashland Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Oregon University School of Business have teamed up to find out more about residents' buying habits.




The information could help local businesses boost sales and better serve new and existing customers.




SOU students will mail 1,500 surveys to randomly selected residents later this month. They hope to get 300 to 400 returned, said Professor of Business John Laughlin.




Each term, students in the Applied Business Research class work with businesses and organizations to gather information. They design surveys, process and analyze information and give reports about their findings, Laughlin said.




"It's a great experience for the students and we get good, solid data for businesses and organizations," he said.




The School of Business usually receives more requests for survey work than it can perform, indicating strong demand for the service. Two to four students usually work on each survey and the class completes several each term, Laughlin said.




Graduates put the skills they learned to use in the business world through such job tasks as employee surveys and targeted market surveys, he said.




For the Ashland Chamber of Commerce survey, students worked with chamber members to design the survey questionnaire. Chamber members suggested a range of questions, including what hours people want for shopping and whether limited parking is a deterrent to shoppers, he said.




Mary Pat Parker, director of public relations and marketing for the chamber, said the survey could help the business community learn more about what products residents would like to buy here in town.




Small manufacturers could also see if there is enough local demand to bring their products to market in Ashland, she said.




This term's survey focuses on retail businesses.




Students in the fall term class will probably do a survey about service businesses, Laughlin said.




The survey will also ask about Internet buying habits.




Over time, as other Applied Business Research classes do surveys for the chamber, information about Internet shopping habits among local residents should emerge, Laughlin said.




In related news, the Ashland chamber is sponsoring a workshop called "Improve Your Website Results."




The registration deadline is Friday. The cost is $35 for members of area chambers of commerce and students, and $45 for non-members.




The workshop is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday at Windmill Inn of Ashland, 2525 Ashland St.




National speaker Ed Taylor will teach participants how to cost effectively increase Web site traffic, get more leads and sales from a Web site and use videos.




Participants will learn about eye tracking studies, how search engines rank Web sites and how to boost sales with an improved "About Us" page.




Improving the content on an "About Us" page alone can improve sales, according to Taylor.




Parker agreed that a good company description can interest buyers.




"People feel more comfortable doing business with people they know," she said. "We may be buying more on-line, but we still want to know who we're doing business with."




For more information on the workshop and for on-line registration, visit /Page.asp?NavID=572.




Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.