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Spending habits changing

Cliff Thompson
Steve Links, middle, of Ptarmigan Sports in Avon finishes a sale to Avon residents Daine Voytoko and Jarrett Osborn on Saturday in Edwards. Michael Sineni, left, prices some new merchandice.
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That new breed has been more willing to ask questions and less willing to quickly whip out a platinum card, they say, with the consumer often is anticipating finding bargains, arming himself with information about the purchase and taking longer to make decisions.

That marks a fundamental change in the way consumers are behaving, says Tom Perfetti, director of sales and business development for Maximum Comfort Pool and Spa in Eagle Vail.

“In 1999 and 2000 (at the height of the real-estate boom here) there was more demand and people didn’t question how much they were spending. People are taking a harder look now,” he says.

How they’re taking that harder look seems to be driven by generational values, Perfetti says. People at retirement age seem to be more brand-loyal and responsive to sales and promotions while Baby Boomers tend to be more demanding and shop harder for value.

“Generation Xers,” he says, are “tech-savvy” and “use the Internet heavily to research what they’re buying – they often purchase based on the best price.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily more bargain-hunters out there,” says Georgette Van Buren of Minturn’s Eagle River Trading Company, which sells fine art and Western accessories. “I just don’t think anyone expects to pay retail any more.”

Real-estate effects

This trend is also holding in home sales. Sales of low- and high-end properties have remained strong. Last year countywide, real-estate sales totalled $1.5 billion, compared to the 2000 boom year total of $1.7 billion.

“A lot of buyers want to negotiate a deal and a lot of them are being very patient,” says Bart Cuomo, owner of Vail Realty.

“It’s no secret that the world (since 9/11) is different than it was,” says Dan Fitchett, managing broker of the Forbes Group. “(Buyers) translate that into “it’s time to bargain-hunt.'”

Sue Rychel of Coldwell Banker Timberline Properties says buyers are simply getting a lot more savvy, due in part to tougher economic times and a stock market that turned cash into dust.

“Overall, the buying market is very sophisticated,” she says. “They don’t want to make a bad investment.”

Finding a bargain in housing depends on a lot of factors besides just price, Fitchett says.

“What I’ve seen is the good properties, ones without functional obsolescence or deferred maintenance, are maintaining value close to their list price,” he says. “Bargain-hunters are more prevalent now, and buyers are having greater opportunities.”

John Slevin, owner of Prudential Gore Range Properties, says unlike the boom years, people now are being cautious about purchases.

“If you combine the fact that the stock market has dropped substantially and there is a threat of war and terrorism, they’re a little hesitant,” he says. “There’s some mentality of bargain-hunting out there in troubled economic times.

Retail

For Neal Press at Pepi’s Sports in Vail, it seems like there are more bargain-hunters this year.

“It seems like everybody is looking for a deal,” he says. “Everybody’s asking.”

At Avon’s Mountain Clothing, owner Robin Pieters says she’s seeing fewer customers at her clothing store this year. It’s because the economic times have finally caught up with locals, which form the bulk of her business, she says.

“The people that do come in are buying,” she says. “I’m just not seeing the sheer numbers. It’s quieter.”

One retailing operation that’s seeing an increase is the Golden Bear’s online catalogue, which offers jewelry, gifts and accessories.

“Sales on the site have been phenomenal,” said Birelle Stockton, director of advertising and marketing. “That’s in part because of everything that’s going on in the world. People aren’t travelling as much. If they’ve been here before, it’s a way to stay in touch.”

One surprise for Stockton has been the increase in corporate gift-buying. She said a number of companies have been ordering Vail-related gifts for employees and customers.

“We’ve had lots of inquiries,” she said.

At Vail’s Laughing Monkey, a women’s clothing store, owner Ghi Ghi Hoffman says this year customers seem to be making more returns than in previous years, although the reasons for that trend are not clear.

Sales-tax revenues

Retail sales-tax activity, as measured by receipts in the town of Vail in December, were up 10 percent – but anectodal evidence suggests retail activity in January and February was lower than December.

Eagle County’s sales-tax receipts leaped 19.6 percent in December over the previous December, County Administrator Jack Ingstad reports. However, the number of airline passengers at the Eagle County Regional Airport in February decreased in number by 0.4 percent, he says. Traffic at the airport is generally held to be a measure of the volume of people traveling to the resorts in Eagle County.

The uncertainty caused by world events has also had an effect. Van Buren says she’s had a number of customers buy with the justification that they’ve always wanted something and that they might as well buy it now because they might not be around tomorrow.

But that uncertainty has presented conflicting behavior, too.

Led Gardner at Sonnenalp Realty in Vail says twice in the last two weeks he’s had potential purchasers of multi-million dollar properties say they were holding off until after the impending war with Iraq is over.

“We’re in untested waters. After 9/11, we all had customers call us and say (Vail) is a safe haven,” he says. “Once we go to war, we might see more of that.”

Van Buren, however, says she’s seen customers use war and terrorism worries to justify a purchase.

“Since 9/11, I’ve seen people coming in and saying they’ve always wanted to buy one of these and that they decided to get it now because they might not be here tomorrow,” she says.

Beaver Creek a bargain?

Typically, it’s difficult to wedge the word “bargain” into a sentence using the words “Beaver Creek.”

But that’s what one ski-ticket rating service has done. Internet-based top10ticket.org, which rates the best ski-ticket deals around the globe, has ranked Beaver Creek’s $99 April lift ticket promotion third-best around.

The promotion allows skiers up to six days of skiing and snowboarding at Beaver Creek if tickets are purchased 14 or more days in advance and used between April 5 and 20. The children’s ski package for kids 5 to 12 years old costs $79.

The No. 1 promotion, meanwhile, according to top 10, is American Skiing’s $199 ticket package that allows skiers to ski every day through the end of the ski season at Killington, Bear Peak, Attitash, Mount Snow, Sunday River or Sugarloaf. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.killington.com.

Top10 is an independent group of skiers and snowboarders who search for lift-ticket deals and posts e-mails about what they find. Top10 recommends all people reading the e-mails independently verify all deals.

Top10’s top-10 ticket deals are:

1. American Skiing – $199 deal for Killington, Bear Peak, Attitash, Mount Snow, Sunday River and Sugarloaf/USA.

2. Mt. Bachelor, Ore. – $10 all-day lift tickets March 14 through 16, in conjunction with a Salomon promotion.

3. Beaver Creek – $99 six-day promotion for skiers and boarders using the mountain April 5 to 20 and purchasing advance tickets.

4. Butternut – Maine’s Ski March Free promotion requires you to purchase a ski pass for the 2003-04 ski season. Passes cost $199 for adults, $159 for juniors and $99 for seniors.

5. Brundage Mountain Resort, Ketchum, Idaho – $199 season ski passes for the first 5,000 people purchasing them before April 15.

6. Diamond Peak, Calif. – a $30 lift ticket if you bring in a ticket from another resort used within the last five days. Offer is valid in March 2003.

7. Taos, N.M. – Ski for $24. It’s being touted as a way to ski like a kid again, offering kid’s lift ticket prices to adults.

8. Mt. Bachelor, Ore. – Three ski/snowboard lessons for just $39 for the first 100 people ordering advance tickets. Price includes equipment, lift ticket and lesson. These Accelerator Sunday lessons are offered March 9 and 16.

9. Donner Ski Ranch, Calif. – Monthly Special Value Day: March 13, lift tickets are just $3; April 17, lift tickets will cost just $2.

10. Waterville Valley – will offer a $69 College Spring Pass for college students. The pass will be available through the end of the ski season. On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, all lift tickets will cost $17 and April Fool’s Day you can ski for $1.

For more information, visit http://www.top10tickets.org.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com.


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