Experts say now is the time for businesses to innovate and think creatively
December 27, 2009
■ Check out Moose Mountain Trading Co.'s Web page at http://www.moosemtntradingco.com.
■ Learn more about Winona's Restaurant at http://www.exploresteamboat.com.
Steamboat Springs — After a bruising 2009, members of the local business community are trying new ideas and strategies to succeed in 2010.
Wade Gebhardt, of the Steamboat Springs branch of Wells Fargo bank, spoke about the importance of innovation at a Business Outlook Breakfast earlier this month at Rex's American Grill. Gebhardt emphasized that now is a great time for forward-looking businesses, using a little ingenuity and discipline, to focus on capturing market share during the recession so sales are even stronger when the economy rebounds.
Local examples of new ideas spurred by trying times include Jenny Wall, of Moose Mountain Trading Co., where Internet sales begun in 2006 are thriving amid the recession; and Winona's owner Jamie McQuade, who is expanding the restaurant's hours to include dinnertime fare in an effort to regain losses suffered this fall.
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Wall has three people on staff who work solely in Web development and sales, taking orders by phone and updating the Web site from a back room in the store on Lincoln Avenue. The part-time staffers are crucial to the Web site's success, Wall said, because "you can't just build (a site) and then let it go" — maintaining a strong Web presence is a constant effort. But the effort and financial commitment required for Google ad placements and Web staffing are paying off. A map of the world on a back wall of Moose Mountain has thumbtacks on locations the store has made at least one Web sale. There are thumbtacks across the U.S., Europe and Canada, along with tacks on more far-reaching locations including Australia and Saudi Arabia, where Wall said the store sent a sweater.
"We've shown steady increases this year," Wall said about Web sales. "Our East Coast buying is phenomenal."
Steamboat resident Karen Lewer handles Web orders for Wall. Last week, Lewer proudly displayed a thick binder filled with the 378 Web orders Moose Mountain had received in December. That's 70 Web orders more than the store received in December 2008.
Debbie Baum, of Backroads Web Development, manages Wall's site. Baum said Moose Mountain uses pay-per-click ads, which appear on the right side of a Google page when triggered by a search for key words related to the store's inventory, and "organically" appearing ads, which Baum said appear in the standard Google list after a related search.
Baum said Google can charge as much as $100 per day during the holiday season for improved search results.
"The cost of doing this is not nothing," Wall said about Web efforts. "It's like another location."
Tracy Barnett, manager of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, has praised Wall's efforts for years, citing Moose Mountain as an example of how a business can not only stay afloat, but also strengthen itself through new ideas.
"I think next year may still be a tough year," Barnett said last week. "It's going to take some creative thinking, both personally and in business, to keep things rolling."
McQuade has begun opening her restaurant, traditionally a breakfast and lunch location, from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
"We're actually going to start doing it in the winter and the summer, just kind of an extension of our lunch menu," McQuade said about the extended hours. "We're not really trying to compete with the dinner crowd, we're just doing all of our hot sandwiches, soups and salads in kind of a casual family atmosphere. Trying to make up for fall and hopefully make a little money to cushion what's in store for spring."
McQuade said Winona's also is offering desserts, pastries and new coffee liqueur drinks in the evening hours. Her comment about "what's in store" for the spring was a reference to continuation of Colorado Department of Transportation work on Lincoln Avenue, a massive project that began with utility and sewer work this fall and is slated to begin repaving in April.
During the fall construction work, many local business owners said they were hoping for a strong rebound in sales from holiday shopping.
"It's really up and down depending on who you talk to," Barnett said about holiday sales. "They'll have a really killer day, and then they'll have two days where there's nothing."
Whatever their holiday sales, Gebhardt suggested several strategies for businesses heading into 2010.
He encouraged businesses seeking credit or loans to demonstrate past financial successes to show lenders that potential current struggles are anomalies brought on by the economy. Business owners should horde their cash to increase their account balances, Gebhardt said, while paying off other debt and credit cards, fixing any problems with their credit score and developing a keen understanding of cash flow.
He said there won't be a better time than now for smart risks, such as looking at real estate opportunities for a better location.
Barnett took a positive outlook for the economy and businesses in 2010.
"I think there's reason to be optimistic," Barnett said, citing her opinion that consumer confidence is increasing. "I think people are tired of not spending money — they're just adjusting how they spend it."
Brent Boyer contributed to this story.
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