Practice What You Preach

Utah’s Unique Demographics Create Niche Opportunities

Devin Felix

June 6, 2013

Utah is known for many things, including top-notch ski slopes, stunning national parks, a thriving business climate and the 2002 Winter Olympics.

And, of course, Mormons.

Ever since Brigham Young led his followers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and declared it to be the place, Utah has been known for being populated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed 58 percent of the state identified as LDS. While that portion is less than in previous decades, no other state has such a high concentration of any single denomination, and certainly none as distinctive as Mormonism.

Academics who study demographics consider Utah and parts of Idaho and Arizona to be a distinct ethnic area, known as the Mormon cultural region, says Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah. “The footprint of the Mormon culture region is just ubiquitous,” Perlich says. “It articulates itself in so many spheres.”

One of those spheres is business. Many local entrepreneurs understand that Utah’s religious demographics present opportunities that don’t exist elsewhere. Here are a couple who have been able to capitalize on those opportunities:

Called to Serve, Called to Shop

At any moment, there are between 50,000 and 60,000 people working as full-time missionaries for the LDS Church around the world. Most of them are young men and women between ages 18 and 21, and most had to do a lot of shopping before they left.

New missionaries receive a list from LDS Church headquarters detailing exactly what they are expected to bring on their missions. The list consists largely of clothing, and locally owned clothing retailers such as Mr. Mac have catered to missionaries for decades. Even retailers based outside of the Intermountain West such as Macy’s and Men’s Wearhouse have been known to adapt in Utah to attract missionaries and their families.

But MissionaryMall takes the business of selling to missionaries to a different level. “Our brand is built and centered on one core philosophy: We help missionaries,” says owner Jon Theobald. “The question everyone in the company can ask at any time while working is, ‘Am I helping missionaries?’”

MissionaryMall operates three stores—two in Orem, including one for men and another for women, and one in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The store started in 1997 as an online-only store, but eventually opened brick-and-mortar stores in response to customer demand.

Anyone is welcome to shop at MissionaryMall, of course, but every aspect of the store is customized to the specifics of missionaries and no one else. For example, missionary life can be hard on clothing, so most of the store’s suits are supplied by a company that specializes in durable uniforms for high-end hotels and restaurants. In addition to suits, shirts and ties, the store also sells rain gear, toiletries, shower sandals, first aid kits and just about everything else on a new missionary’s must-bring list.

And everything is covered by a two-year guarantee.

The store also has a missionary registry, which operates like a wedding gift registry: Missionaries register for the items they want from MissionaryMall, and their family members and friends can access the list when buying gifts.

The salespeople at MissionaryMall have all completed missions themselves, so they understand what a departing missionary is likely to face, Theobald says. Even its business hours indicate that the store’s focus is on missionaries and Mormons: It closes not only on Sundays but during sessions of the church’s twice-annual general conference.

The store’s narrow focus is a big part of why it’s been successful, Theobald says. “Other stores have to focus on general menswear, business suits, womenswear, franchise and corporate expectations and policies. We have a lot of flexibility to do what we need to do to help missionaries and just focus on that business.”

“Our business model is basically the same for any business,” he says. “Offer the best products, backed by a great guarantee, and sold and serviced by people who are the most knowledgeable experts in their field.”

An Ounce of Preparation

LDS leaders and scripture have long encouraged church members to keep stores of food in their homes to prepare for both short- and long-term emergencies. For decades, many LDS faithful have worked to keep up to an entire year’s supply of food for their families. As a result, Utah has become a hub of the long-term food storage industry. There are now about 43 companies in the United States in the market, and about 70 percent of them have headquarters in Utah, says Mark Hyland, CEO of Daily Bread, a Kaysville-based company that makes and sells freeze-dried food.

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