Chamberlain Was (and Is) a Trailblazer

The recession and the subsequent slow recovery have claimed more than a few iconic businesses, but the one that stands out to me is the recent closing of Chamberlain Research. The news provided unfortunate proof that even a well-run business, one that had proven its salt in the fickle world of advertising and marketing, can sink in choppy economic waters.

Over roughly one-quarter of a century, Sharon Chamberlain’s business conducted more than 5,000 research studies for companies in Wisconsin and beyond. From her, I learned more about the science of revealing consumer behavior than anyone I’ve ever interviewed. Every time we explored this topic, she was the number one “go-to” person on my source list.

We talked about a number of things over the past decade or so, including how different (and better) business ownership is for women these days. Nothing is ever ideal, but like a lot of things, entrepreneurship is much more democratized than it was in the late 1980s, when Chamberlain launched her business. 

In the Greater Madison market, she played a leading role in helping women executives gain traction, joining other local trailblazers like Laurie Benson (Inacom), Marsha Lindsay (Lindsay Stone & Briggs), and Judith Faulkner (Epic Systems). 

 

More than anything in our discussions, I came to understand that market research is a fascinating science, and one that becomes more important as technology tools proliferate and evolve, and as social media can harm the reputation of a business. 

Thankfully, Chamberlain is not going anywhere, and will spend her “semi-retirement” actively, continuing to serve on area business boards and perhaps opening her own consultancy. 

Maybe she’ll be freer to provide advice and counsel to budding entrepreneurs, much like Laurie Benson has done (post-Inacom) with efforts like Count Me In’s “Make Mine A Million” program and countless other contributions. 

The community’s philanthropic base could suffer, however, as Chamberlain Research donated more than $1 million in market research studies to nonprofits in Greater Madison. Hopefully, she will continue to help them, too. 

On the plus side, 24 former Chamberlain employees will take what they learned and apply it in the business world. Not all of them will remain in Madison, but wherever they set up shop, they will have some Chamberlain-esque wisdom to fall back on.

Me too. 

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