News Column

Reaching Out to Hispanic Consumers

Oct. 15, 2012

Jennifer Hall, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

Hispanic Consumers

St. Joseph's Hispanic community continues to grow. This influx of diversity has caused many businesses to switch gears and focus more on their new clientele.

A current snapshot of the population shows that the United States is home to 309 million people, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Of that number, about 51 million are Hispanic.

Zulima Lugo-Knapp feels businesses could reap the rewards by simply understanding the products, as well as the culture.

Plantain, or "platano," is a popular fruit often used like a potato. Ms. Lugo-Knapp, an adjunct professor at Missouri Western State University, said the fruit is a main staple in Hispanic cooking and is not widely available.

"Businesses are missing the opportunity to offer these things," she said.

Serving Their Needs

Local grocery stores recognized years ago the need for more ethnic foods. Many have incorporated an aisle designated entirely to Hispanic foods, even Chinese foods.

"You can't really be ahead of the ball on those things," said Gary Swanson, a local businessman.

Mr. Swanson's family had been in the grocery business for decades and had a store in Savannah until it closed in 2000.

"When there's a market, you can afford to have it," he said. "I remember when we first got kiwis."

He thought the fruit was a neat item, but once he bought it for his store, he had to learn to make jelly with it because no one bought it. He remembers the same thing with yogurt (although he never made jellies with that).

The increase of Hispanic foods, or any international foods, is a good thing, he believes.

"If you're an American, whether it's music or food, you want to experience it," he said. "It's the American way."

Ms. Lugo-Knapp said the idea of marketing to the Hispanic community goes a step further from popular items used in recipes. Clothing sizes are troublesome because a majority of Hispanics are smaller people, she said.

"I may not even like the styles (of shoes), but I'll buy them because they fit," she said of her size five shoe.

Ultimately, she said it boils down to a few main things -- trust and ease.

"Sometimes it's just easier to do things in your first language," Ms. Lugo-Knapp said. "If you went to France and you can speak French, wouldn't it still be easier if you could speak English? It's the same concept."

'An Immediate Trust'

In recent years, signs like "Hablomos Espanol" have popped up at local businesses. The sign tells Spanish speakers there is someone who speaks their language inside.

Steve Colson hasn't put a sign up, but knows that Angel Espinosa is spreading the word. "We recognized that he would be good for business," said Mr. Colson, general manager of Randy Reed Chevrolet.

The two men had a business relationship for years when Mr. Espinosa relocated from Florida to work at the dealership as a sales associate.

"Angel has really gotten involved in the community," Mr. Colson said, "to let them know someone is here to help them."

As soon as someone walks through the door who's a little cautious, or maybe doesn't speak the best English, Mr. Espinosa steps in.

"He recognizes there is opportunity there," Mr. Colson said. "You see the connection and there's almost an immediate trust."

Mr. Colson notes a lot a differences between his dealership in the Midwest and his counterparts on the coasts. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, he saw sales representatives speaking 15 different languages.

Based on research by General Motors, the Hispanic population is the fastest growing one, and they purchase a lot of cars.

"It would behoove us to have somebody there to help," Mr. Colson said. "It's a big deal. Hispanics have wants and needs like everybody else, and there should be places they can go and feel comfortable."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

For more coverage on the automotive industry, please see HispanicBusiness' Auto Channel

Source: (c) 2012 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)

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