Vail Valley businesses wary of national financial mess |

Vail Valley businesses wary of national financial mess

EAGLE COUNTY ” Luca Bruno is keeping his chin up and his head down at the same time.

Bruno, who owns two clothing stores in Vail, is trying to keep a good attitude in the midst of Wall Street’s continuing meltdown.

“You have to think positive,” he said.

But Bruno’s also been talking to his suppliers, and the news isn’t good. One of the people who sells his store cashmere goods told him this week that the New York market is “a disaster.”

For the coming season, Bruno is counting on repeat customers from Mexico City, where the economy is thriving at the moment.

“But the American consumer is going to be a problem,” Bruno said.

So Bruno’s cut his orders for the coming season by 20 percent. If it snows a lot, or the national economy picks up, his vendors have assured him he can get more merchandise on short notice.

Meanwhile, even as the prices go up for virtually everything, Bruno’s doing his best not to pass along all of those increases.

“Our margins are really low right now,” he said.

Beth Slifer, owner of Slifer Designs in Edwards, said business at her retail store is holding up. The company’s home-design business is still going strong, too.

But plans are changing, Slifer said.

Many of Slifer Designs commercial clients ” which include hotels and condo associations ” have put their renovation plans on hold. And that slowdown goes beyond bidding. Slifer said a lot of clients with contracts for work have delayed those projects.

“It’ll help tremendously if Congress passes the bailout legislation,” Slifer said. “Until then, some credit for projects has been stopped, and others who still have credit are worried their clients can’t get credit.”

Slifer said there’s been a “minimal” slowdown in her company’s retail ordering, “but I don’t know how long that’s going to last,” she said.

No one knows the ultimate effect Wall Street will have on Bridge Street. But for at least a while longer, Ralf Garrison things business owners need to stay calm and get ready for the coming ski season.

Garrison, the co-owner of the Mountain Travel Research Project, or MTRiP, is a consultant for businesses in the destination ski resort business.

Ironically, while retailers and others are cutting back, Garrison’s business is booming. He said he’s already had 65 requests for speaking engagements this year. He had about 25 for all of 2007. His company has also hired three new analysts.

But trying to make sense of the current markets is baffling analysts everywhere.

“In ‘Jurassic Park’ they said that chaos theory is trying to manage five or more variables,” Garrison said. “There are way more than five variables in play right now.”

Brokers and others in the financial business are urging clients to stay calm right now, and Garrison said that’s probably good advice for business owners, too.

But, he added, the next round of reservation numbers his company issues ” due around Oct. 10, won’t look good.

“Reservations are going to look flat right when they should start to rise,” Garrison said. “It won’t be pretty.”

But, he said, those numbers might pick up between now and the end of the year.

“Businesses may be reluctant to hire right now,” Garrison said. “But this is the time

when you need to be focused on customers.”

Chris Romer, the marketing director for the Vail Valley Partnership, agreed.

“Every business segment had better be really customer-centric right now,” Romer said “When you’re fighting harder for a piece of the pie, it’s not about you, it had better be about your customer. If you’re focused on your customers, you’ll have an easier time surviving.”

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

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