When James "Cotton" Flynn realized his business wasn't reaching a large segment of the population, he decided to do something about it.
With the help of Hall Marketing, a local advertising firm, Mr. Flynn hired a Spanish-speaking model from Atlanta and put together a bilingual commercial for Acura of Augusta, the car dealership he manages.
"It was an experiment that has been very successful for us," Mr. Flynn said. "We're getting some business that we know we wouldn't otherwise get."
He said most of the new business has gone to the dealership's used-car department. Since the commercial aired, he said, other local dealerships have congratulated him on his success in tapping into the area's Hispanic market.
"Anytime you have an opportunity to invite new customers and speak to them directly, you should do it," said Donna Hall, co-founder of Hall Marketing.
According to figures released by the Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in Georgia grew 300 percent from 1990 to 2000. With the growth in numbers came a growth in spending power.
A study done in 2001 by the University of Georgia Terry College of Business estimated Hispanic buying power in Georgia at more than $4.7 billion.
"If you don't address this fast-growing population of people, you are missing the boat," Mrs. Hall said.
While mainstream companies are beginning to seek out Hispanic customers, businesses owned by and geared to Hispanics have been in the Augusta area for some time.
Besides the growing number of Mexican restaurants, several grocery stores have sprung up in the metro area that carry products primarily for those of Mexican descent.
"We just want to bring a little bit of home here," said Pedro Brito, manager of Mi Pueblito Grocery Store in Grovetown, where customers can find racks of Mexican music and Mexican-made boots and belts, as well as groceries.
Mi Pueblito, which has a sister store in North Augusta, even offers telephone cards designed for calls to specific Latin American countries, such as Peru and Colombia.
Other businesses also are reaching out to the Hispanic customer. In Atlanta, more than 20 periodicals and several radio stations serve the Hispanic population. In the Augusta area, La Vida Latina is available free and offers articles on topics ranging from legal advice to entertainment. It also is available in five cities in South Carolina.
Anibal Ibarra, one of two Augusta correspondents for La Vida Latina, said he called the newspaper's president and offered to contribute - provided it was delivered to Augusta.
"I told him we needed a voice," Mr. Ibarra said. "This area is Latinizing, and we need to be heard."
Mrs. Hall said she expects more businesses to market directly to the growing Hispanic population. Mr. Flynn said he plans to do a second bilingual commercial, which Mr. Ibarra said would be greatly welcomed.
"The level of consumerism of the Hispanic is big," Mr. Ibarra said. "We like to shop."
Reach Louie Villalobos at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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