Case Studies


Homeowners:  In an effort to encourage water conservation, the leading Southern California water wholesaler hosted a “give away” of water efficient irrigation products.  Talking with homeowners to understand their installation experiences and product acceptance via focus groups elicited meaningful insights.  Heading out with the irrigation contractor to conduct “yard visits” where we got wet and dirty took the research to an entirely new level.  A spotlight was put on critical areas of deficiency and these findings were shared in a presentation to 26 water agencies.

Stroller moms:   A leading stroller manufacturer was looking to design the latest and greatest.  Moms were asked to complete a comprehensive Photo Journal sharing pictures of all the strollers they own with some strollers “in action”, a calendar of their usage, likes, dislikes, purchase information, and family lifestyle.  A treasure trove of information was compiled and brought into the dynamic focus group setting.  The ROI on this study encompassed a deep dive into a mom’s life with her stroller in addition to the valuable brainstorming of new concept development.

Catalog shoppers:  A catalog was acquired by our client and they wanted marketing and operations to immerse in the existing customer base.  Budget was limited and time was short.  A Research to Brainstorming event was designed.  Customers were recruited to complete a comprehensive Collage and Photo Journal providing a snapshot of their lives and much about their clothing preferences.  Focus groups were conducted with a very large, multi-discipline team observing.   Those observing had an assignment to capture specific “Hot Notes”.  Upon completion of the final focus group and over a pizza lunch, Thornhill Associates implemented a design to very quickly flip the Collage/Photo Journals, fresh focus group insights, and Hot Notes by engaging the team.  A rapid distillation of the key findings was conducted and marketing brainstorming ensued, allowing the team to immediately develop a first phase of action.



Water agencies, manufacturers, government, builders, environmental groups: Due to a serious need to raise the awareness of water issues and promote efficient water use nationwide, the federal EPA issued a grant to the CUWCC (California Urban Water Conservation Council) to study the feasibility of developing a national partnership on water use efficiency. Two over-arching goals included 1) identifying the best self-sustaining organization framework and 2) engaging multi-discipline partners nationwide to ensure interested partners should the organization come to fruition.

Multiple research components included an online web survey, stakeholder workshops with 25 – 70 representatives from water agencies, manufacturers, municipalities, environmental groups, and builders and developers conducted in six cities; and focus groups with appliance and irrigation manufacturers and East and West Coast water utilities. A newly-created entity was formed and the Alliance for Water Efficiency has been underway for several years.



Susan has conducted innovative research within the healthcare and pharmaceutical field utilizing powerful methodologies and techniques. A recent case study was conducted by Susan and a team of colleagues to understand the tipping points leading to Rheumatoid Arthritis patients considering the use of biologics for treatment. A hybrid-methodology research study was conducted with 31 rheumatologists, 25 patients considering a biologic and 33 patients on a biologic. Web-enhanced one-hour individual telephone interviews and three-day online discussion boards were used. One of the purposes of the study was to showcase the power of using “projective” research techniques in the world of healthcare.

A case study presentation entitled: Understanding Critical Tipping Points By Going Deeper Faster: Leveraging Mixed Methods, Digital/Online technology & Innovative Projective Techniques was presented at two 2015 national conferences: PMRG Healthcare Market Researchers Conference in Washington DC and the Qualitative Research Consultants Association in Orlando, FL. Download the presentation here [2.8mb PDF].



Conservation Market Study – Residential Landscape:  A leading water wholesaler was interested in better understanding attitudes and awareness of single family residential customers on the topic of landscape irrigation.  These insights would be used as a foundation in the development of a pilot program offering homeowners incentives to achieve greater landscape water efficiency.   The Thornhill Associates team  developed a robust multi-phase research design with each phase building on knowledge gained.  An online survey was conducted with 500 residents within the water district’s service area, one-on-one telephone interviews were conducted with select innovative water agencies to identify industry best practices, qualitative research was conducted with homeowners, culminating in the design of a recommended pilot incentive program.  As part of the focus group methodology, an online discussion board activity provided real time photos and videos of homeowners yards, irrigation systems and timers allowing us to “virtually” visit homes.  Based on the findings of this comprehensive study, the water wholesaler is finalizing the parameters of a new Conservation Incentive Pilot Program.



RESTAURANT: A well known family dining restaurant chain with many restaurants run by franchisees was suffering from general management turnover in excess of industry norms.  They did not know why people were leaving, did not understand the costs involved, and no one was accountable.  Traditional focus groups using a very effective collage projective technique identified and highlighted key issues and opportunities.  The research played a key role in a major retention initiative.  The company achieved a 50% turnover reduction in one year of both General Managers and Assistant General Managers and a 12% reduction in turnover of hourly employees, providing savings of approximately $2 million.  Thornhill Associates joined with the company in presenting this case study at the California HR Conference by PIHRA – Professionals in Human Resources Association.

RETAIL:   A leading retail not-for-profit in Southern California was experiencing difficulty in recruiting quality employees.  Thornhill Associates conducted a comprehensive research study having two key information objectives:  understanding the aspects of their retail store management positions that were perceived to be most and least valuable (research with current employees) and determining the perception of the organization as a place of employment and how that perception might be enhanced (research with outside or prospective retail store managers).   Specific key insights were identified to help the organization improve employment experiences and to position themselves to be more favorably viewed as a place of employment.



ROTARY CLUBS:  Member retention and strategic positioning – Following a pro-bono research project for the Rotary Club of Los Angeles, Thornhill Associates was hired by five other large Rotary Clubs (Sacramento, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Austin, Rockford) to conduct research with members providing clear direction on how to best position the Club for a successful future.

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION:  When the Qualitative Research Consultants Association needed to revamp their Annual Conference sponsor program, Thornhill Associates conducted one-on-one brainstorming interviews with 17 key conference sponsors to understand motivations for sponsorship and program level acceptance.  Treating the sponsors as “strategic partners” provided for engagement and ownership, resulting in the development of program highly successful both in increased income generation and sponsor satisfaction.