Bracing for the big boxes
The sign and the neighboring Super Wal-Mart – though probably not as scenic as the sun setting on the jagged peaks of the Gore Range – are expected to lure droves of shoppers from across the High Country and the Western Slope to the Vail Valley when the stores open this summer in the Village at Avon.
Avon store-owners, some a little wary of the big boxes, are wondering if the flood of customers will spend some money outside of the mega-stores.
“It will be interesting to see how the traffic flow goes – whether people will go through Avon or just get off and right back on the interstate,” says Ronda Niederhauser, who owns the Columbine Bakery with her husband.
David Courtney, co-owner of Beaver Liquors, expects his well-known store will lure customers who’ve traveled to the big boxes from Summit County and western Eagle County.
“(The stores are) going to bring people from Eagle, from Silverthorne – and Beaver Liquors is already a tourist attraction,” Courtney says. “Some people never leave Summit County or Eagle, but they’ll come to The Home Depot or Super Wal-Mart and they’ll be stopping in here.”
Avon shop owners’ should start thinking about how to more directly attract The Home Depot’s and Wal-Mart’s customers, particularly the first weeks the stores are open, Avon Town Councilman Pete Buckley said at a council meeting Tuesday.
“What have other communities done to take advantage of the grand openings?” Buckley said. “I’m sure there are some good ideas out there.”
Buckley suggested getting the big boxes to agree to print coupons on their receipts for Avon stores and restaurants.
“We’ll have people from five different counties shopping here that we didn’t have before,” Buckley said.
Bob Angel, a sales associate at the Vail Daily and former executive for the large chain Petsmart, says he brought the retailing company’s big box stores into small neighborhoods made up of small businesses. But far from forcing the small shops out of business, the arrival of such mega-stores – and the customers they lure – can be lucrative for small businesses, Angel says.
“The biggest thing is they can’t try to compete with the big boxes,” Angel says. “What they need to do is analyze their businesses and adjust their merchandise accordingly so they’re not carrying the same items.
“They can go up-scale or lower-scale,” he adds. “As long as there’s a different mix they have an opportunity to be successful.”
The big boxes don’t want to drive smaller shops out of business, Angel says. In fact, he adds, if the big boxes don’t have something a customer wants, it’s part of their customer-service strategy to send shoppers to smaller surrounding stores.
And businesses that don’t compete, such as restaurants, have to be ready for an influx of customers, Angel says.
“Every one of the restaurants adjacent to the big boxes is going to have a big increase in business,” he says. “They all need to make sure they watch their customer-service level. That’s really, really important.”
Restaurants that can deliver meals to store employees will also see a jump in business, he says.
Courtney says Beaver Liquors isn’t planning any drastic changes.
“We’re just plugging along doing the same thing as we’ve been doing, but (the Village at Avon) is definitely something that’s in the back of our minds,” he says.
But Beaver Liquors will expand its wine cellar next fall to “put the nail in the coffin,” he says.
“My wine cellar’s already bigger than everybody else’s store. Making it even bigger makes us even more of an attraction,” he says.
Niederhauser and her husband aren’t planning major changes to their bakery, either, though she says they’re a little concerned the Super Wal-Mart’s grocery store will steal customers from City Market across the street.
“City Market is a big draw for us, but we usually try to worry about our own product rather than somebody else’s product,” she says.
While the steady stream of shoppers will likely spark the local economy, the two big boxes may irreparably change the valley, Niederhauser says.
“I feel for valley as whole because it’s the small-business owners who are really going to be affected,” she says. “It’s going to take away the small town feel.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.