Steamboat’s plans for biking could offer business opportunities | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat’s plans for biking could offer business opportunities

Bikes filled racks and littered the fence Friday evening in front of Sweetwater Grill in downtown Steamboat Springs. Realizing a business benefit from the cycling initiative will take a communitywide effort, leaders said, from the rebranding of Steamboat Springs as a biking hub to efforts from local businesses to more closely identify with cyclists.

— Bike Town USA president Grant Fenton wrapped up Friday's section of the second annual Steamboat Springs Bike Summit by insisting the term Bike Town USA isn't a marketing ploy, pointing out that while the group's stated 2012 goals include a bike skills park, way-finding signs and beginner mountain bike terrain, they do not include anything about marketing.

Still, much of Friday was dedicated to the financial implications of a continued focus by Steamboat Springs on cycling.

The short-term news may not be good for local business owners, but organizers insist the long-term outlook is remarkably positive.

The key, they said, is in rebranding summer in Steamboat Springs.

"Steamboat is branded as a ski destination in the winter. It's really simple, and the public understands that. I don't think we truly have a brand in the summer," said Robin Craigen, a local business owner and the leader of the Bicycle Friendly Business committee through Routt County Riders. "Our brand is somewhat generic, a lot of the characteristics we share with other mountain towns. We have a lot of events, which are good opportunities to bring people here for the weekend, but we need to decide if we as a community can brand ourselves as a biking destination."

Craigen said it will be neither quick nor easy for local businesses to cash in on Bike Town but that it's definitely possible.

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He's hoping as much as anyone. He and his wife run Moving Mountains Chalets, which rents vacation homes in Steamboat. Craigen said 90 percent of his business comes during the winter. When asked if he'd realized a biking bump yet, he was honest.

"The sad reality is no," he said. "We see a different pattern of business from summer to winter. Summer is a small part of our business because it's not economical to rent a house for just two or three nights. … We do very good on weekends, but we don't have a compelling message to get four-, five- or six-night stays."

In his position with Routt County Riders, Craigen has helped identify 11 Steamboat businesses as bike friendly. He said everything from a bike rack out front to a focus on sustainability help land a business on the list that he expects to double before long.

The trick for a company isn't in selling out to bikers but in aligning a business strategy in a way bikers appreciate and catering to what can sometimes be unique needs.

The message emanating from the summit was that the endgame can be worth it. Speakers from Fort Collins and Boulder pounded that point home. City of Fort Collins cycling guru Dave Kemp pointed to bike shop/bars that have opened in that city and to the resounding success New Belgium Brewery has found while embracing cycling as much as any company in the country.

Matt Kolb, meanwhile, found his own success by biking in Boulder. He started Pedal to Properties, a real estate agency that can sum up several of the day's points. He said when he first started, the biking proved a novelty, and it wore off. He doubled down on his business idea, however, sticking with the bikes but improving his company with better, more enthusiastic Realtors.

It wasn't just the bikes, he said, but the bikes played a part.

"Now we're one of the top five agencies in Boulder in volume," he said. "We're definitely not one of the top five agencies in size.

"People laughed at me. They still do. Sometimes at a closing the other Realtor will ask, 'Did you ride your bike here,' and chuckle. Then his client will say, 'Oh! You're the Pedal to Prosperities guy!'

"We have the best Realtors in Boulder, and they're doing this because they believe in it. There's a real team concept."

Kolb even came with a Steamboat-specific tip for a rebranding effort.

The University of Colorado football isn't off to the hottest start this season, but he said he's still expecting the Buffalos to usher in a different kind of autumn in Boulder. The school's jump from the Great Plains-focused Big 12 to the West Coast-centric Pacific-12 could bring an entirely different kind of customer to Colorado.

While Texas A&M Aggies and Iowa State Cyclones may have been quick to jump in and out of the state on airplanes, often casting a leery eye at Boulder's uniqueness, Ducks from Oregon or Bears from California will be more likely to soak up the Rocky Mountain lifestyle.

There's no reason that can't include a trip to Bike Town USA.

"What I'd do, find out when those home games are and advertise there and say, 'Hey, drive up from Boulder to Bike Town USA,'" he said. "They are people from affluent communities in the Pac-12, and they're bringing a whole different element to Colorado than we've ever seen before. Steamboat has an opportunity to capture that."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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