Local producers gathered in Craig on Wednesday to try to put their hands around the concept of creating a regional brand.
Although the group did not establish what a regional brand would be, it was able to pinpoint the next steps producers in the region can take collectively to better market their products.
The all-day forum in Craig brought together soap makers, silversmiths, storeowners, agriculture producers and craftsmen. It also included representatives from the marketing and banking sectors, local elected officials and representatives from economic development boards.
The group identified four top priorities: creating a baseline study and survey of existing local products, creating a regional marketing plan, establishing a Northwest Colorado brand, and tying local products with cultural and heritage tourism.
The Community Agricultural Alliance, Yampa Valley Partners and the Yampa Valley Economic Development Council organized the forum in an effort to find ways to keep agriculture viable in the Yampa Valley and to offer services to local producers.
Part of the challenge faced by local producers, from ranchers to artisans, is finding ways to compete in an increasingly global market. Small producers have to battle economies of scale and higher costs for labor and transportation than their international counterparts.
Other producers talked about the challenges of marketing and expanding their businesses. In a lunchtime speech, Wendy Lee White, marketing specialist of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, noted the importance of marketing and said local producers could tap into her department's Colorado Proud brand.
"A good product with good marketing beats a great product with poor marketing every time," White said.
The key is finding a way to differentiate the local product from outside product and, by doing so, adding more value to it, producers said.
"You are not going to compete with the Pacific Rim," Craig jewelry maker and metalworker Bernie Rose said. "It's more of how do you get the value of your product to the customer, that you are buying pieces of the region and pieces of the people."
Regional branding can conjure images of the area the products come from, such as those used for the Napa Valley or Tuscany, but also essential to the concept of regional branding is the stories the products tell about the region and the person who made it.
Tammy Villard, who is a co-owner of Villard Boutique in Craig, told of the success of a soap made in Meeker that she sells at her store. The draw of the soap, she said, is the story behind it: the drops of holy water that are mixed in with the soap, the different Bible versus written on the back and its connection to the area.
"You get the emotional ties and after you get the emotional tie, the pocketbook usually follows," Community Agriculture Alliance co-chairwoman Tammie DeLaney said.
By the end of the day, the group realized it will take many more hours and more market research to settle on a regional brand. They talked about connecting the brand to the area's Western heritage in a way that goes beyond the Yampa Valley and defines the Northwest Colorado region.
The group agreed one of the first things it needs to do is develop a list of what producers are out there and what they need. That list would gather the names of local producers, what they produce and how much they produce, who their target market is and what their needs are.
Noreen Moore, who works with the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said they could include some of those questions on a Routt County survey being done this year about location-neutral businesses.
The group also talked about the potential of tying cultural and heritage tourism with local products. The link seemed like a natural fit, Moore said, with each historic stop having products for sale by local producers.
"Aren't local products part of local heritage? Isn't that part of who we are," Moore said. "It seems to me it is all part of the same thing. I would think we could combine efforts with heritage tourism."
Others in the group suggested that perhaps Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., which uses the image of the area's western heritage, could help the group set up a shop near the ski area to sell local goods. They also suggested that Ski Corp. could hold historic seminars to tell the story of the area's past.
By the end of the day, the group had established a steering committee with the tasks of creating an inventory of local producers, looking into doing feasibility and marketing studies, finding a brand name and creating an organization structure.
Their next meeting will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 8 in Craig.
-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229
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