Steamboat Springs Ashley Edinburg and Melinda Miller have been refining their destination retail niche in downtown Steamboat Springs for a decade. But it wasn't until they came home from boot camp this month that they fully understood how to capitalize on it.
"Our niche at Embellishments is that we specialize in fair trade products," Edinburg said. "We really have a story to tell, and now we understand that we need to completely do our marketing all around this."
Edinburg and Miller (Melinda is Ashley's mother and business partner) recently returned from Longmont with representatives of nine other Steamboat businesses who attended retailing consultant Jon Schallert's "Destination BootCamp." The purpose of the 20-hour workshop was to give business owners the tools they need to create a singular identity for their stores and restaurants - one that will attract customers from all over the nation.
Schallert spoke to an audience of about 80 people here in May 2006. He told the story of Williams Brothers General Stores near Philadelphia, Miss., where people come from all around to watch workers custom slice country-style bacon once a week.
Schallert observed that most small retail stores and restaurants are content to rely on the customers who live within 15 minutes of their storefronts.
"That limit is your own choice," he told his Steamboat audience. "It doesn't have to be that way."
By focusing the bulk of their marketing efforts on one product or service that creates a "wow factor," Schallert said they can lure in customers from a larger geographic region.
Other Steamboat businesspeople who took part in the boot camp included Vicky Roberts of Colorado Group Realty, Jodee Anderson of the Fiber Exchange, Paul Knowles of First National Bank of Steamboat, Teri and Shayna Sutherin of Over the Moon, Diane Davis of Steamboat Arts and Crafts Gym, Fritz Aurin of Steamboat Smokehouse, and Mainstreet Steamboat Executive Director Tracy Barnett.
Edinburg and Miller plan to build their reputation as an import shop that appeals to conscientious consumers by working with international suppliers who provide their craftspeople with good wages and working conditions.
"Free trade is really taking off," Edinburg said.
David Scully of Chase Oriental Rug Co. in Steamboat also drew inspiration from Destination BootCamp. His business sells high-end furniture and imports heirloom-quality Asian carpets.
Scully said Schallert helped him step back from the details of running a store and refocus on ways to grow the business.
"As an entrepreneur and small-business owner, you're constantly playing zone defense," Scully said. "Your head is revolving with thousands of things to take care of and prioritize. He helps you look at the bigger picture."
Scully has been building relationships with local design professionals and is now inspired to tap into new customers who can help him reach design professionals in distant cities, as well.
"We're in the process of building a new Web site where you can see all of our rugs online and search for them by size," Scully said.
With many new part-time residents buying homes in Steamboat, Scully wants them and their designers to be able to find his rugs at any time of day. Ultimately, he hopes to build relationships with designers beyond Steamboat.
"We'd like to ship to them for other projects," he said. "That's an ideal situation."
Edinburg said she returned from the boot camp with a greater awareness that Steamboat's downtown merchants have a stake in each other's success.
"We really have a great mix of stores, and we're in this together," she said. "I'd really like to see us meet once a month. We could be so much more powerful."