Focus on customers is key in tough times |

Focus on customers is key in tough times

VAIL ” Katie Kukar was happy to hear a call to action. Now she wants to see some action.

Kukar was in a crowded Vail Town Council meeting room during a presentation Tuesday morning that included Vail Resorts Chairman Rob Katz, Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland, Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler, former town council member Kent Logan and tourism consultant Ralf Garrison.

Kukar, a partner in The Parents Handbook, a local publication, said she agreed with Logan when he said Vail’s town government, business community and Vail Resorts need to take action now to heavily promote the coming ski season.

“I loved that,” Kukar said. “We need to take action. We need to so something, and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll take the next step.”

Garrison, one of the owners of the Mountain Travel Research Project, a consulting company that tracks lodging occupancy, one of those steps needs to be a tight focus on customers.

“There’s going to be competition, from other retailers, from other destinations,” Garrison said. “You need to manage that competition by focusing on value that isn’t necessarily a discount. The trick is to discover how people in different segments spell value.”

Whatever is needed to retain loyal customers, though, Garrison said business owners need to face something he and others are increasingly calling the “new normal.”

“People are going to have fewer assets,” he said. “The dollar’s going to bus less and less. In that environment, it’s never been more vital to have the right products and packages in place.”

Kukar said she liked hearing about Vail Resorts’ plans to market its ski areas in the coming season, but said he was hoping to hear about a plan of action for other businesses for the coming winter.

At the moment, though, all that exists is a plan proposed by Logan and other members of a group comprised of several retired business executives. That plan involves putting together a winter marketing committee, and using money and expertise from Vail’s summer marketing programs to focus on the winter season.

Logan and other panel members Tuesday talked about the need to work together, something Michael Hecht welcomed.

“It’s human nature to have individual agendas,” said Hecht, who’s in the commercial real estate business in Vail. Hecht said his perception over the last few years is that town officials, the resort company and the town’s business community have often behaved as a “three-headed monster.”

“In the current times, though, we need to present a united front,” Hecht said.

But no matter what local businesses do this winter, Larry Agneberg said a lot of the valley’s future is out of its control.

“I’m not sure there’s any magic bullet,” said Agneberg, a longtime veteran of the local real estate business. “It’s time to be creative, and keep our heads above water. We’re in uncharted waters.”

Since no one in August predicted the global financial meltdown of September and October, predictions about the future are iffy, at best. But Garrison did have a prediction: The current slump will run its course eventually and the market will turn around when it does, he said, fortune favors the prepared.

“You can use a crisis as an agent of change,” he said. “Then you can move the way you want to move.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or

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