Routt County businesses work to attract local customers
Steamboat Springs — When Derek Hodson was on stage to accept the Navigator Award for Business of the Year for Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare, he exhorted those in attendance to “buy local.”
His thought, Hodson said Friday, was that the people in the audience of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association event should be the first to support Steamboat businesses.
Indeed, the Chamber’s Board of Directors made reviving a sustainable buy local campaign a priority for 2014.
The I Shop Steamboat campaign for the holidays is the first phase, Chamber CEO Tom Kern said, and work will begin in earnest on the year-round effort in the new year.
The effort would be largely focused on the retail sector, according to Kern, and there’s certainly opportunity to increase the share of disposable income that’s spent locally in certain categories.
But measuring the effectiveness of a buy local campaign would be tricky and require help from consultants. Kern said any plan the Chamber comes up with likely will be an awareness campaign to inform residents of the benefits of shopping local.
Routt County business owners know well the benefits of making sure their stores fill the needs of locals, and they’ve adapted to an environment where online shopping has become increasingly convenient and big box stores in other cities draw Routt County residents.
Hodson, who is the manager of Ski & Bike Kare, said the downtown store does the majority of its business with locals and second homeowners.
Hodson estimated that a 20 percent drop in business during the locals-driven shoulder season would mean hours would have to be scaled back for the equivalent of two to three full time employees.
The store is running a 20 percent off promotion through Nov. 29 to thank locals after winning the Navigator Award.
However, in general, locals discounts can be hard on businesses, taking a little more of the margin from establishments that pay higher wages and possibly rents than comparable businesses in larger metro areas with wider customer bases.
Hodson said the downtown store considers the buying preferences of its predominantly local customer base when stocking, and the mountain location sets its inventory differently based on its higher tourist traffic.
All That Jazz manager Bronwyn Rittner said her store stocks a lot of new vinyl and has expanded its inventory beyond music to create an atmosphere that people like to shop in.
“We spend a lot of time listening to our customers,” Rittner said Friday.
In addition to the unique vibe, she said, the store also stocks items from local artists.
Zirkel Trading celebrated five years in business last week, said owner Steve Hitchcock.
Hitchcock said local customers make up a large part of his business but he makes no distinction between part-time and full-time residents.
People typically only shop for clothes a few times a year, he said, so whether a customer spends 365 days per year in Routt County or 100 days per year, he likely will see them the same number of times.
The challenge is to find an assortment of products that is unlike what they can find at other stores in Steamboat or at the mall wherever else they spend part of their year, Hitchcock said.
Not all spending equal
Buying a local product from a local business brings it full circle, Rittner said.
When a tin of hand balm from Steamboat’s Rising Sun Ranch Creations is sold, All That Jazz and the ranch make money. Both get some income that could find its way back into the local economy.
Not all local spending is created equally. A purchase from the producers in Yampa Valley Food Co-Op returns more money to the local economy than purchasing a brand name item from a chain business. There are many ways money filters out of the local economy through products themselves, the businesses that sell them and how employees spend their wages.
Buying isn’t the only way to benefit the local economy: giving to Routt County nonprofits puts money to work in the community and hiring from the local talent pools raises the level of disposable income.
Buy local is a very “feel good” sentiment, Hodson said. The Chamber acknowledges its campaign likely will be centered on awareness rather than driving certain metrics.
But buying local does have less tangible benefits, as well: the social aspect of visiting a store, passing neighbors in the aisles, developing a relationship with the store owner who knows just how you like your bike tuned and personal satisfaction derived from contribution to a sense of community.
“You just feel good,” Hodson said.
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When Steamboat Springs Middle School band director James Knapp saw a production of “Matilda” performed on Broadway, he knew he wanted to bring a version of it to town.