Survey: People buy out of town

Most purchase cars, clothes

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The results of a consumer preference survey show that consumers are spending money outside of Routt County for many of their goods but are keeping the dollars local when it comes to buying services.

What the survey didn't show is how much money that is and what can be done to bring it back to the community.

Prepared by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Economic Development Council, the survey asked year-round residents where they bought more than 30 items, ranging from groceries to furniture to hospital services.

The survey's focus was on leakage, the term for when money leaks out of the community as residents shop elsewhere or online.

The survey found leakage occurred 50 percent of the time or greater when residents shopped for automobiles, investment services and traditional consumer goods such as clothes, boots and shoes, household items, furniture, electronics, books, gift items and home computers.

Residents indicated they bought less than 30 percent of all their clothing, furniture and home decor and accessories in Routt County.

The item on the list with the most leakage was home computers. Just 13 percent of the computers were bought inside the county, while 60.5 percent were bought online.

Leakage happened 20 percent of the time or less when shoppers bought groceries and alcohol, banked, purchased real estate and had computer repairs, automobile maintenance and health services.

The majority of goods on the list had a leakage rate of more than 50 percent, while almost all of the services on the list were purchased in Routt County 50 percent or more of the time.

Groceries and alcohol were the goods with the least amount of leakage. Residents indicated they purchased just 11 percent of both outside the county.

"We eat, drink and bank here," EDC President Scott Ford said.

The survey was sent to 2,000 residents in Routt County, which is about 25 percent of all Routt County households. Of those surveys, the final return count was 436. The survey was focused on year-round residents and did not include part-time residents, the business community and visitors.

Ford, who assembled the raw data and provided the initial statistical analysis, pointed out that one of the lowest leakage rates occurred in health services.

The survey showed that area residents purchased hospital services, physician services and dental services close to 80 percent of the time in Routt County.

In a write-in question at the end of the survey asking residents to name what store they would like to see come to the area, 90 percent of the 70 percent who responded said they would like to see Target. Almost 10 percent said they would like to see a Home Depot.

The study also held focus groups in other communities in Routt County to find out why shoppers left the area to buy goods and services.

Deb Alpe, from Colorado State University and the Routt County Extension Office, worked with the focus groups and said they felt almost like confessions as residents admitted why they did not always shop at home.

She said Steamboat residents were split on leaving town just to shop and shopping while they happen to be in bigger cities for other business.

"Without fail, (the groups) said if they had time they would almost always hit Sam's Club, Target and Home Depot," Alpe said.

Residents said they tended to shop locally because of the personal relationship with owners and employees, long-standing relationships with businesses they trusted and the atmosphere of shopping in a small town.

Her empirical findings corresponded with the statistical data. Residents in the focus group said they shopped outside of the area for the same items that had high leakage rates in the survey.

The survey did not attach a dollar value to the items that residents were buying outside of Routt County, meaning no hard number was given on how much money the area is losing from consumer leakage.

"I think this is a huge step for us," Ford said about the findings. "I think as soon as we get closer to understanding the dollar amounts, it gives us a feel for where this should go."

Alpe also said the survey did not identify where the tipping point was when a higher priced item or a smaller selection outweighed the familiar faces and benefits of shopping in Steamboat.

The Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County Commissioners received copies of the first cut of the survey Tuesday. A more detailed report will be given at the Steamboat Springs Economic Summit on May 28 and 29.

At that time, Ford said the community would discuss how to use the survey to help plug particular leaks.

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