McALLEN, RGV – Various public entities from the lower Rio Grande Valley say they are very pleased they helped fund a cross-border study by the Nielsen research group.

Proprietary information collected by Nielsen was unveiled to those who helped pay for the study at a private gathering at the Renaissance Casa de Palmas Hotel in McAllen on Tuesday. The aim of the study was to find out what TV stations the citizens of Reynosa and Matamoros watch, what radio stations they listen to, how often they visit the Valley and what they do when they are here.

Ana Lozano
Ana Lozano

After the meeting, lower Valley leaders held a news conference at the hotel to say they like what they heard.

“We are just happy to get our hands on some good data on the buying habits of Mexican shoppers,” said Ana I. Lozano, director of business recruitment and retail development for Brownsville Economic Development Corporation. “We know Mexican shoppers play an integral part in our economy. A lot of times we go out and tell people this. We say, please take our word for it, take a look at our successful retailers. But, we did not have any real data. Now, we have good data from a reputable organization. We are looking forward to putting it to use.”

A total of 1,503 Mexican citizens in Reynosa and Matamoros participated in the study last November. One third of these were questioned face-to-face and two thirds over the phone. The study found that the Valley receives about 3.5 million visits a year from those residing in Reynosa and Matamoros. On average, these visitors cross the border 48 times a year. The visits are mostly for pleasure, not business, the study found.

The cities to receive the most visits are Brownsville (38 percent), McAllen (32 percent) and Hidalgo (seven percent). One of Hidalgo’s big attractions for pedestrian crossers is the city’s large pulga, located next to the international bridge, which is open Wednesday through Sunday. Some visitors also visit Auto Zone, near the international bridge, because auto parts are cheaper in the U.S. than Mexico. Four percent of the visits are to Mission, three percent to Alamo and Pharr, two percent to Houston and Weslaco, and one percent to Edinburg, Harlingen, Mercedes, San Antonio, San Benito and San Juan.

Joe Vasquez
Joe Vasquez

Those aged 18-54 are more likely to shop while visiting than those aged 55 and above. Sixty-three percent visit as least once a month. For retail sales, 13 percent said they shop at JC Penny, 13 percent said they shop at Walmart, and 12 percent said they shop at Ross Dress for Less. For groceries, 41 percent said they shop at HEB, 35 percent at Walmart, and six percent at Costco.

Mexican residents were hesitant to say how much they earn and few reported that they come over to work in the Valley because many work in the black economy. The study did not capture the consumer habits of visitors from Monterrey, a market the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, among others, cultivates.

“This is a validation of most of the things we know, those of us who live here. We know a lot of people cross and they do a lot of shopping. It gives us quote, unquote, scientific data,” said Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez. Asked if funding the study was worthwhile, Martinez said: “It is smart planning.”

The study was funded through public and private entities. The public side included entities from Brownsville, Harlingen, Weslaco, Pharr, Edinburg, McAllen and Mission. The private side included TV and Radio media outlets. They learned that when Reynosa and Matamoros are added to the Valley’s numbers, the region becomes the fifth largest Hispanic market in the United States, larger than Chicago, San Antonio and Phoenix.

On behalf of its clients, Nielsen wanted to how many people come to the Valley from Reynosa and Matamoros, why they visit, whether they stay overnight, how many nights they stay, their mode of transportation, the frequency of their visits, which cities they visit, how much shopping they do, which shops they visit, how much they spend, what their favorite stores are, which restaurants they eat at, the frequency of international calls they make, whether they wire money back to the interior of Mexico, what vehicles they own and whether they own their own homes.

“This study affirms what we have always somewhat informally assumed, which is that Mexican consumers are a significant part of our retail economy. This study confirms that with statistics. It also affirms that we have a great opportunity to continue promote our region if we work as a collaborative group of people,” said Melinda Rodriguez, president of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce.

“As we move forward, it is in our best interests to work as a collaborative to promote Mexican citizens to come and visit Brownsville, Harlingen and the entire corridor. Through collaboration we have a great opportunity to promote our region. We can now focus our efforts in strategic areas.”

Melissa A. Landin, executive director of Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed.

“This study is going to be invaluable to the City of Harlingen and our Convention and Visitors Bureau. It provides us with information about our visitors from Reynosa and Matamoros, in terms of their spending habits and buying power and the number of times they visit our area. We were told on average that our visitors from Mexico visit us 48 times a year. Their visits are often for leisure. We know they are here to spend money and some of the target markets they look at are the automotive industry, fast food and retail. With that information we can market more effectively,” Landin said.

“We also know when they watch television, their viewing and listening habits. We have a better idea now where our marketing dollars should go. It is valuable information we have all wanted for our respective cities.”

Landin said Nielsen plans to conduct another, more in-depth study in the Fall. “That could certainly compliment the information we were provided today. We thank our visitors from Mexico, including those from our sister city, Matamoros. We invite them to Harlingen and our neighboring cities in Cameron County. We are here for them.”

Mike Gonzalez
Mike Gonzalez

Joe Vasquez, marketing coordinator for Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation, said his organization was happy to help fund the Nielsen study. “We are very happy with the study and the results. It provides a lot of data that we can analyze and use. It is good to know how often our Mexican visitors come to the Valley and where they spend their money,” Vasquez said.

Mike Gonzalez, executive director of United Brownsville, said a “huge takeaway” from the Nielsen study is knowing how large a market the Valley is when combined with northeastern Mexico. “One of the slides was very powerful. If you look at the top Hispanic metro areas, we would be the fifth largest, above Chicago, San Antonio and Phoenix. We need to sell this region as a region. Individually, we just cannot hit hard enough,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the focus on retail and quality of life is important for the region.

“It is hard to recruit the innovative companies, the Google’s, it is hard to bring in advanced manufacturing if you cannot offer employees quality of life. This study allows us to build on these efforts. It allows us to attract top tier retailers, which in turn allows us to capture more outside sales tax. We are actually importing more money into the region and the only way we can expand the amount we import is becoming a retail destination,” Gonzalez said.

“As a region we want to be a retail destination. We want to be the retail store for the people of northeastern Mexico to visit. We are in a great position because we share a lot culturally and we have a great location and proximity. How do we open ourselves up to these top tier retailers on the U.S. to be their gateway to Mexico? It is one thing to say the market is here. It is another thing to hire Nielsen, which is respected, which is almost like a third party independent auditor, saying, this is what the market size is. They put everything in data points, which is what we need.”

Gonzalez said he also liked the fact that public and private entities got together to pay for the study.

“For this to be effective it has to be a public, private, venture. On the public side, we need to be on the same page when we sell the region. Everyone has their own niche. We all have our strengths in the region. Now, let us work together to improve it.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Melissa A. Landin, executive director of Harlingen Convention and Visitors Bureau, speaking to the media at a news conference held by Lower Rio Grande Valley leaders at the Renaissance Casa de Palmas Hotel in McAllen. They discussed the findings of a new cross-border study conducted by the Nielsen research group. Pictured next to Landin is Mayor of Brownsville Tony Martinez.