"Big box" has been the biggest buzzword on the Steamboat Springs retail scene this year, and Karl Steidtmann, chief economist for Deloitte Research, will talk Thursday about how national trends and brands are affecting the Yampa Valley.
He will speak at 1 p.m. Thursday during Economic Summit 2004 at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.
"I am going to talk about the changing face of U.S. retailing, its growing role in economic development and the importance of retailing as a reflection of 'place' in a community," Steidtmann said.
Steidtmann devotes his professional life to economic forecasting of retail sales activity as well as spotting consumer and technological trends. He has personal insight into Steamboat's economic situation because he spends a portion of the year here.
Steidtmann says it is worthwhile to take steps to preserve independent businesses in Steamboat.
"The independents are under siege and have been for some time," he said. "I will talk about the consolidation that is taking place in retail and what it means to towns like Steamboat. Keeping independent businesses that are unique is critical to maintaining a sense of place that is being lost in many parts of the country."
Steamboat has lived with a few big-box retailers for more than a decade. However, new commercial centers being built here have heightened the sense that the local retailing scene is about to change forever. Steidtmann said it's important to realize there are at least three distinct groups of consumers here, and they have different desires and expectations.
Tourists are not what Steidtmann would describe as "destination shoppers."
"Most of the shopping done by visitors in Steamboat is not destination shopping. It is impulse shopping," he said. "Tourists do not come to Steamboat to shop. It is more like a free gift with purchase. They come here for a lot of other reasons, but they will shop if there is something that is unexpected."
While they may find the same national brands here as they do at home, they also expect to find unusual goods offered by one-of-a-kind shops.
"If all they found here were the chain stores and restaurants that they had at home, then yes, they would be disappointed," Steidtmann said. "As the number of independent stores and restaurants shrinks, the value and importance of the remaining independents grows, which is why I am somewhat optimistic about independents.
"There is a great polarization of retailing taking place with the big getting bigger, but the real independents doing well, as well. It's the retailers in the middle who are losing market share and getting squeezed out."
Steamboat's year-round residents and seasonal residents have different needs, Steidtmann said.
"Steamboat is not just for visitors," he said. "There are two other customer segments that are just as important: full-time residents and part-timers like myself. The retail need of these groups is more toward destination shopping, which is one of the reasons why the big-box retail issue is so controversial. We want the convenience and low prices that the big-box retailers bring, but we don't want the 'genericization' that they represent."
Finally, Steidtmann said, Steamboat's independents are a source of strength.
"Steamboat has seen a few major chains come to town, Starbucks, WalMart, Blockbuster to mention a few," he said. "But relative to the rest of the country, Steamboat still has a larger share of its retail business in the hands of local businesses, and this is a strength of the business community that we need to build upon."
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