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One, Two, Three, Four: Bellwether's Community-Focused People Counters
by
Posted On July 20, 2021
A bunch of people come into the library. They borrow some books or DVDs or perhaps attend an event, and then they leave. This happens every day at every library around the world without attention being paid outright. But in the background, every library is keeping track of these important moments. This invisible and always-happening thing, often referred to as “the people count,” is one of the core metrics that libraries all over the world use to measure the impact they are having on their communities.

But as libraries become busier, questions come up: How are we going to count all of these people? On top of that, how are we going to read and interpret the data? Enter Bellwether, a New Zealand-based company that is focused on using people-counting to help businesses, libraries, museums, and other institutions grow, adapt, and thrive in our modern society.

MARKETING AND MILKING COWS

Bellwether started when Phil and Amy Elliott, a husband-and-wife team, recognized that there was a huge gap in the metrics and data that businesses in New Zealand were capturing. “I realized in working with my marketing clients that they were not getting the full picture of how their businesses and organizations operated. They had data about sales and things like that, but they didn’t really have any metrics on who was visiting their sites and how many were actually coming in. That’s when I started to realize that there was a lot of power in counting people,” Amy says. At the time, Phil was toiling away in the dairy farms of New Zealand, while Amy’s marketing background found her working with all sorts of businesses around the country. Bellwether's team

During its first year, Bellwether grew slowly and steadily as it took on new customers throughout New Zealand. “Our first sale was done while Phil was milking the cows, and I took the call to set things up in a nearby barn,” Amy explains. Fast-forward a few years later, and now Bellwether has more than 3,000 people counters installed and operating all over New Zealand and Australia. 

In the beginning, Bellwether had a strong focus on working with businesses, but recently, it dove into working with libraries, museums, and other public facilities. “We’re working with libraries and museums of all sizes,” Phil notes. “It doesn’t matter how big or small the library is because all of the data these institutions are collecting with our people counters will help them understand their place in the community.” As libraries continue to change with the times, they are becoming much more focused on being community centers where all sorts of things happen. The Elliotts believe that the data libraries collect with their people-counting system can benefit these institutions greatly. “Knowing how many people come in and out of your libraries at certain times a day will help with things like rostering, knowing when to offer certain programs and events, and overall help libraries keep up with the many changes going on in the world,” says Phil. Just as quickly as he ends his thought, Amy chimes in with, “And it will give them an amazing set of information that they can use to justify their funding, argue for increases where they are needed, and to even monitor things like how often carpets, chairs, and other bits of infrastructure will need to get renewed or replaced.”

Bellwether is not just a company that sells people counters. It’s a team, it’s a family, and it’s focused on helping people, organizations, and businesses when it matters.

THE KINGPIN

The family connection doesn’t end with Bellwether’s people-first focus. It even extends into the technology that it offers. The Elliotts knew that the key to doing people-counting was in providing their customers with technology that is accessible, easy-to-use, and well-put-together. The main element in the Bellwether story is its online dashboard. “It is the kingpin of what we offer. The camera and that technology is the easy part. The software behind Bellwether is what is special,” says Amy. Developed by Phil’s brother Scott Elliott—a paramedic by trade who taught himself coding—Bellwether’s online dashboard is the company’s heart and soul, giving those who use Bellwether for their people-counting service a reliable and extremely easy-to-use tool that provides them with real-time data to help their organizations grow. Here’s a sample dashboard:

Bellwether's dashboard

“When we first started off, we used a third-party online dashboard for our people counters. It got really boring really fast. All that we were doing was paying for access to tools that really didn’t suit our customers’ needs,” Amy says. Bellwether had to develop something that fit users’ needs and provided the right tools to help their customers grow their business. She continues, “People-counting cameras are installed on-site, and all of our data is securely transmitted back to us via 3G/Wi-Fi and then collected in our dashboard. The data is accessible in real time, with the ability to search historical datasets and complete analysis on events, long weekends, and marketing campaigns, etc.”

TAYLOR SWIFT AND USING DATA TO UNDERSTAND OUR COMMUNITIES

I didn’t expect Taylor Swift to enter the conversation at any point during my time chatting with Amy and Phil, but here we are. The story goes that Taylor Swift performed in a town that uses Bellwether people counters. The local council in the area had previously decided to work with Bellwether and install people counters on main walkways in the city. The idea behind this was to measure trends such as times when people were out and about in the city and how that correlated to retail sales figures, as well as to see if major events (like a Taylor Swift concert) had an impact on the region. Phil tells me, “The city ended up seeing that there was a big change on the day that Taylor Swift was in town. The data showed that there was a significant increase in the amount of people out and about on that day, visiting shops and eating in restaurants. The city was able to use this data to show that big events like this did indeed bring people into the city and stimulate the local economy.”

Now, imagine libraries, masters of data collection, working with their communities to bring together a local snapshot of what’s happening in the communities in real time. Library visitor data, plus all of the other data that libraries collect (borrowing, event attendance, etc.), plus data captured by local communities around visitors, events, and more can all be combined to create an in-the-moment snapshot of what’s happening, which could also be used as a road map for planning and growth in the future. Amy notes, “There’s so much data out there to collect. If communities (and libraries) begin to understand and leverage this data, they will start to see amazing patterns that will no doubt help them grow.” We all know that libraries change lives and support communities. This is one way to make sure that these things continue to happen.

THE FUTURE

Over the next few years, Bellwether is focused on expanding to the U.S. and working more with libraries and museums. “Libraries are some of the nicest and best customers we have worked with,” says Amy. “We get so many amazing insights from these very important cultural institutions, and these insights can help communities grow together.” Everything is linked together indeed, and Bellwether knows that. It’s not just about how many people go in, out, and in again in our libraries. It’s about understanding the patterns that exist in our communities. Bellwether is there to help you not only capture those moments, but also to better understand them so that librarians out there can continue to draw closer to the goal.

Images courtesy of Bellwether


Justin Hoenke is a human being and a librarian. He's worked in public libraries all over the U.S. and is now based in Wellington, New Zealand, where he works as a team leader of libraries and community spaces for the Wellington City Libraries. His professional interests include creativity, public libraries as community centers, and music. Justin likes to make music when he's not in a library: open.spotify.com/artist/1rsixHTImWdxa3DKEP6iWd



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