Making it work

Small businesses persevering through challenges

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Residents may be used to seeing businesses come and go in Hayden. Dead slow seasons and problems getting the word out about their products can be the end for even the most optimistic business owners.

But growing local support, more out-of-town visitors and a business climate ripe for growth are giving a new generation of businesses reason to persevere through those challenges and create a niche for themselves.

"You've got to believe in what you sell, you've got to be strong, and you can't give up," said Vicki Morgan, owner of Affordable Furnishings & Collectibles.

With a small advertising budget, Morgan has relied mostly on word-of-mouth advertising and a yellow and red sandwich board at Jefferson Avenue to attract new customers to her store, which has been open for about a year.

Although 2004 was tough, Morgan is seeing more and more regular customers from Craig and Steamboat Springs, as well as second-home owners and tourists.

Pricing her vintage and antique furniture lower than similar stores in Craig likely has helped pull in specialty customers seeking those types of items, Morgan said.

"I'm constantly getting people in that didn't know I was here, and that's what keeps me going," she said.

Word of mouth doesn't just happen between customers, it happens between businesses, and that also has helped bring new clients to Morgan, who has networked with other businesses through organizations such as the Small Business Association in Craig.

The association is a valuable source of information, offering classes about cost effective marketing and ways to expand your business. The classes turn out to be a form of advertising, as business owners meet and refer clients to each other's products, she said.

Carving a strong niche is important for all businesses, but restaurants also include flexibility in their business plans.

Although Triple Crown baseball players and people passing through Hayden provide good summer business, restaurants depend on locals to help pay the bills during slow seasons.

But with so many eateries in Steamboat Springs and Craig, Hayden restaurants -- even with the help of promotions, coupons and other advertising -- are challenged to attract residents who work and eat out in those towns.

Ross and Tracey Barnhardt, owners of Wolf Mountain Pizza, decided to open on Sundays earlier in the spring than usual. It proved to be a good decision.

"Yesterday was a booming day," Tracey Barnhardt said on a Monday earlier this month. "This is definitely filling a niche on Sunday afternoons and evenings."

Changes like that can help people realize they can expect to eat in Hayden.

"I think a lot of people are striving to support local businesses," she said. "That's what I've heard from customers."

But keeping doors open is just part of the equation. Restaurant owners also work to keep their menus interesting to customers.

Kevin and Alaine Montgomery, owners of the Food Mill, added Mexican fare to their menus on Fridays and Saturdays. Brian Brittingham, owner of the Groundhog Cafe, is considering adding an oriental or Italian night to his schedule.

"I try to change the menu every few months just to keep it fresh -- implementing specials that work, taking away things that aren't working," he said.

After six months of working with customers' hours and tastes, Brittingham said he's settled into a groove.

"I think I've got a pretty good handle on what to do and how to make adjustments," he said. "I expect to be here for a few years, at least."

The Hayden Economic Devel--opment Council wants to help Brittingham and other businesses and also attract new businesses. The EDC, made up of seven local residents and business owners, is working on a Web site specific to economic development in Hayden.

The Web site, which should be up and running this summer, will provide businesses and potential businesses with information about new land-use codes, a directory of existing businesses, developments and projects happening in the town, EDC members and other resources.

The EDC can help prospective businesses through the development review process in the town, help them locate property and discuss possible incentive packages, said Terry Jost, EDC chairman and president of Mountain Valley Bank, which opened last year.

With big residential developments in the planning stages and a new business park about to break ground, Hayden's economic outlook appears strong. Patience, however, needs to balance that optimism, Jost said.

"I think growth is going to be good and increasing, it's just going to happen over time," he said. "I put this bank here for the future -- not just for today but for what Hayden is going to be five, 10 years from now."

Timing business growth in Hayden isn't just about the economic climate, it's also about the kinds of businesses that will be attracted to the town and welcomed by its residents -- business owners interested in being part of a community.

"The kind of businesses that are going to be interested in us aren't individuals solely profit-oriented," he said. "They are interested in quality-of-life issues."

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